Orchestrating a Symphony of Application Automation

Aug 3, 2015 10:42:16 AM

There is a reason orchestras have a single conductor. Can you imagine the cacophony that would result if a horn section performed out of sync with a string section? Or if the percussions played a faster beat then the woodwinds?  But in IT management, it’s all too common for organizations to have separate automation platforms conducting individual software elements. In fact, this is often the cause of an increased IT complexity that results in degraded performance and reliability. For instance, SAP’s popular customer relationship management (CRM) software includes a built-in job scheduler – the Computing Center Management System (CCMS) – with some limited capabilities specifically designed to support its unique platform (such as to analyze and distribute client workloads). But this is an independent tool requiring administration and monitoring tasks separate from any other automated solutions. An average IT organization will need to manage dozens of similar management platforms, each with its own unique interface and operating parameters.

The execution of complex business processes typically requires the coordination of a number of automated elements performing in a particular sequence. If any tasks are performed in the incorrect order or a prerequisite task fails to complete successfully, the job will fail. To compensate, organizations often initially attempt to coordinate multiple automation processes manually, but invariably learn the futility of the approach, typically after a business-impacting failure has occurred. Certainly the potential for human error is accelerated any time there is a reliance on manual processes. For instance, administrators may inadvertently skip critical steps or initiate them incorrectly. This is not to suggest any particular incompetence with IT professionals, but just to acknowledge the basic reality that people sometimes make mistakes.

Perhaps the greatest challenge with manually coordinating disparate applications is the need to access multiple interfaces. Sometimes referred to as “swivel-chair management,” users must interact with multiple consoles to synchronize events and correlate dependencies and other critical information. I’ve even known administrators who relied heavily on regularly cutting and pasting information between consoles in order to complete critical business processes. Obviously, that reliance on repetitive tasks is far from reliable and unnecessarily time-consuming (or as I often referred to it – “IT integration for the inept”).

Job scheduling is the key to consolidating all the individual application elements into a single automated business process. In fact, the very purpose of job scheduling is to ensure automated services are always executed at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. Job schedulers allow organizations to create workflows for complex business processes. For instance, deploying an application may require packaging the software, delivering it to a target device, installing it, and configuring it to meet business and user requirements. Each of these steps (and perhaps many more) requires an independent process either created by the organization or provided by a third-party vendor. A job scheduler can organize each of these steps and ensure they are executed in a way most effective to the business. To continue our example, the application deployment could be scheduled to occur during off-hours when the target system is not in use or license data could be pulled from a database and injected into the installation process.

While job schedulers will be able to orchestrate most tasks in a complex business process, there will still be some tasks that could fall outside the solutions management capabilities. SAP’s CCMS solution noted earlier is a great example of this. Since CCMS is coordinating its own independent workflow (which can really be considered a sub-workflow of a larger business process), a typical job scheduler will not be able to interact with and make adjustments to any individual tasks managed by CCMS. Similarly, the data management application, Informatica PowerCenter, provides rudimentary scheduling capabilities but cannot incorporate processes external to the solution or connect to a basic job scheduler to perform more complex tasks.

To avoid unreliable manual processes for coordinating tasks, job schedulers should offer direct integration with these independent tools allowing full scheduling control of all elements in the business process from a single console. In this way, a complex business process can be built into a single workflow and controlled from a centralized interface that manages all relevant applications and services in a coordinated fashion. With this level of control, IT professionals are transformed into conductors, orchestrating an entire symphony of applications with a simple gesture – and that’s music to my ears!

For more information on how HelpSystems enables centralized job scheduling, including support for SAP and Informatica environments, go to: http://www.helpsystems.com/skybot/skybot-scheduler


Steve Brasen

Written by Steve Brasen

Steve Brasen is a Research Director leading EMA’s practices covering endpoint management, identity management, and access management. Steve’s career at EMA follows 20 years of “in-the-trenches” enterprise experience in IT management, operational support, and engineering for high-technology, telecommunications, and financial institutions, including: MCI Worldcom, Bell Communications Research, UNIX International, Salomon Smith Barney, and Agilent Technologies.

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