How automating IT tasks allows your small business to focus on what matters: Growth
🕒 5 min read
✏️ Rich Gore
Maintaining, troubleshooting and upgrading IT infrastructure can be a thankless but critical task. It’s repetitive, prone to error, and can cause real frustration among your IT staff. Automating some of those IT tasks is a great way to reduce downtime during maintenance and upgrades, improve accuracy, decrease costs and, most importantly, free up your skilled IT engineers to do what they were hired to do.
Is IT automation right for small businesses?
Even if your business is relatively small, you’re probably already dipping a toe into IT automation, whether you know it or not. For example, your IT manager may be manually copying and pasting configuration changes to, for example, all 200 of your network switches. This is a good start, but it’s still time-consuming and requires a standard environment with standard equipment.
To automate your IT tasks a bit further, consider adding some scripting, a type of coding used to automate processes using languages like Python or Puppet. Using one of these scripting languages, you can automate a previously manual process with an app built to perform that task. While this isn’t a fully automated approach – you still have to keep an eye on it and occasionally troubleshoot – it’s a great step that can really improve speed and accuracy
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Examples of automated IT tools
If you’re looking for a more automated solution, consider using more advanced programmable tools. Network Services Orchestrator (NSO), for example, can implement specified changes automatically without human intervention. It does this by connecting over the internet via an API.
For even more orchestrated automation, there are tools like Ansible, which works much the same way. But in addition to making requested changes, it will notify IT staff if it runs into a problem. Once instructed how to deal with the anomaly, it uses artificial intelligence to understand how to fix that problem if it arises in the future.
IT automation 2.0
These methods can go a long way toward improving accuracy and speed while reducing cost and frustration, but they still require that you have staff on-board who know how to use scripting languages. Not every small business has that capability. That may be reason enough to consider even higher levels of automation. In some cases, equipment comes with its own built-in automation, which can significantly lighten the load.
Cisco’s IOS switches and routers, along with its other management tools, for example, come with Ansible scripts ready to automate common IT issues like provisioning, configuration and updating, and self-healing.
IT automation in the cloud
There are even higher levels of automation – both cloud-based and on-premises – that require even less input from your company. These can be extremely useful in small businesses with small or relatively non-existent IT staffs. In the cloud, consider a service like Cisco Meraki, which manages devices on your premises via a cloud service.
It’s ideal for smaller businesses or remote offices or larger businesses, because the cost is based on the number of pieces of equipment you want managed. In fact, Cisco is migrating all of its small and medium sites to Cisco Meraki.
What about on-premises IT automation?
If you prefer an on-premises but highly automated approach, you might opt for something like Cisco’s SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) or SD-Access (Software-Defined Access), which both handle automated provisioning.
SD-Access works inside branch offices, where wireless access points and wired devices connect into a switch or switches, while SD-WAN connects outside the office. Because each is augmented with artificial intelligence, they can quickly learn what’s normal for your network and will flag you if it identifies something it considers abnormal.
Up-skill your workforce and focus on business growth
With all of these options, no business – large or small – should have to depend on manual IT troubleshooting, upgrades and maintenance. But even the most automated systems sometimes require a bit of programming here and there. So when you’re looking to hire, look for IT engineers with the skills to work the new generation of simple automation tools.
It'll be worth it in the long run. With an automated IT infrastructure in place, your IT team can focus their time on what really matters in your business: growth.