Revolutionising industry with automation

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Could the fully autonomous data centre be closer than we think? Matthew Beale, modern data centre architect at Ultima, explores the marriage between man and machine when it comes to establishing the data centre of the future.

The cloud means all businesses can scale as and when they like and the IoT will bring hyper-connectivity that will accelerate the speed of change further. Automation will drive productivity and competitive advantage. But how should companies approach their digital transformation journey?

As RPA (robotic process automation) continues to gain pace in UK businesses, recent industry successes make this a good place to start. RPA is the process of using software robots to automate mundane, repetitive tasks. Once these are automated, companies can look at moving to more complex AI-based automation tasks. For example, using visual and cognitive intelligence to deliver more advanced automation that draws information from multiple sources and interprets it to deliver improved business intelligence.

Ensuring the infrastructure is right

Enterprises need to look practically at their infrastructure, workforce, and security, and consider what they need to change to enable their business to be set on a positive path to digital transformation. 

Take infrastructure to start with. Employees can, and should, have secure access and data sharing wherever they are located, as this offers enormous benefits to business performance and productivity. There are a whole host of technologies available from leading companies like Microsoft, VMWare and Citrix that allow secure and easy access to business applications and data irrespective of location and device. Working with a managed services partner allows the organisation to have the right combination of technology to create a successful modern workspace on a scalable and flexible ‘pay-as-you-go’ model. 

Engaging with a cloud services provider will then ensure that the right platform is chosen and that security requirements are met. Moving from on-premise servers to the cloud removes the burden on IT and improves business agility by provisioning apps and desktops faster. 

RPA in action 

Once infrastructure and security is sorted, the real fun can begin. At Ultima, we have been using RPA technology to automate our own back-end operations and we’ve seen productivity rise by a factor of two since implementing the technology across five processes. We’re using RPA to aggregate sales pipeline data from 32 individual spreadsheets and systems and presenting the data in PowerBI. This has saved eight people hours per day, a saving of one full-time admin head at £20k per year. Not only that, but the information can be run at 100% accuracy multiple times per day. 

We’ve also automated our first-line helpdesk for our managed services clients. They can now self-serve using chatbots and RPA which means our costs are reduced so we can serve more customers with the same headcount. It’s also improved customer satisfaction as they like to solve their own problems in a short space of time which automation allows.  

Automating the data centre

With business operations realising the benefits of RPA, it’s time to look at the centre of digital transformation – the data centre.As we enter this new phase in how businesses as we know them operate, it’s essential that every element of production is in digital form to be controlled by a central platform. As a result, the data centre will be required to manage increasingly complex machines, infrastructures and data more effectively. 

Human error is by far the biggest cause of network downtime. This is followed by hardware failures and breakdowns. With little to no oversight of how equipment is working, action can only be taken once the downtime has already occurred. The cost impact is much higher as focus is taken away from other things to manage the cause of the issue, combined with the impact of the actual network downtime. Stability, cost and time management must be tightened to provide a more efficient data centre. Automation can achieve this.

Automation minimises the amount of time that human maintenance of the data centre is required. Robotics and machine learning restructures and optimises traditional processes, meaning that humans are no longer needed to perform patches to servers at 3am. Issues can be identified and flagged by machines before they occur, eliminating downtime altogether. 

The first level of automation provides information for administrators to take action in a user-friendly and consumable way, moving to a system that provides recommendations for administrators to accept actions based on usage trends. From there, automation leads to a system that will automatically take remediation actions and raise tickets based on smart alerts. Then you move to a fully autonomous data centre utilising artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) which determines the appropriate steps and can self-learn and adjust thresholds. 

The future of automation: Humans and machines working in harmony

The next level of digital transformation will be to move from intelligent automation to artificial intelligence and human to machine work. Expertscalculate that the productivity ratio of robot to human is 6:1. By reviewing processes that are worth automating, software robots can be programmed and verified to repeat the process again and again. Whatever the process, robotics ensures that it is consistent and accurate, meaning that every task will be much more efficient. This empowers human teams to intervene only to make decisions in exceptional circumstances. 

Compliance will improve with automated controls and digital rights management. All this will be driven by RPA, analytics, chatbots, cognitive services and IoT. The possibilities for improving automation in business and data centres are never ending; it’s always possible to continually improve the way work is carried out. The result will be improved quality of service for customers and more time for businesses to focus on their own profitability and innovation.