Why throwing more people at your IT migration problem won't help

Barry Angell, CTO of Juriba, explains the benefits of automation

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By Guest on 22 September 2017
Why throwing more people at your IT migration problem won't help

You know you are in a pickle when you are six months into your migration project and you still haven’t got any numbers on the board.

As the responsible project manager, you are frustrated. There are a thousand questions running through your head: What went wrong? Where did the time go? What can I do to get this back on track? Is there a way I can accelerate this to get back on schedule? Should I increase the number of resources dedicated to this project?

Throwing more people at it certainly seems like the right thing to do. After all, you need to be seen to be doing something! This is the route that many a project manager has trodden! But what most project managers have come to realise is that throwing more people at it doesn’t always translate into a faster project. Only automation and appropriate tooling will do that.

Today, everything gets automated — from ordering household supplies (just think Amazon Dash Buttons) to sophisticated white-collar jobs.

According to a recent study entitled The Future of Employment, 47% of total US employment is at high risk to be potentially automatable in the near future. While this might sound shockingly high and incredibly scary, there is another side to the coin.

While automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will result in significant job cuts across many industries, these technological advances also allow companies to retrain their workforce and boost productivity.

Just look at Accenture, the IT giant recently replaced a workload equivalent to 17,000 jobs using AI, robots, and automation. No employee was let go. Instead, they were retrained and used more effectively in other areas of the business.

Every year, millions of IT assets are migrated to new and updated platforms as part of enterprise-wide IT transformation projects, such as Windows 10 rollouts, hardware refreshes, or Office 365 migrations.

Considering the thousands of dependencies and countless tedious manual tasks that come with these kinds of initiatives, one would think that these projects would be prime candidates for automation.

Yet the methodology behind these business-critical projects is still stuck in the 1990s — with big teams of people, old-fashioned elbow grease, and hundreds of manually updated spreadsheets — while automation, Big Data, and AI take a back seat.

Most project managers rely on manually updated spreadsheets and hand-cranked databases. There are several reasons why project managers look to a manual approach for IT transformation management.

For one, many IT professionals insist on what they believe to be a proven approach. They want projects managed with the help of countless spreadsheets, data manipulated manually, and databases that are hand-cranked because of their familiarity, their ease-of-use, and general availability.

For another, IT project managers often abide by the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” They already struggle to chip away at mountains of ever-increasing IT debt while facing hiring freezes and stagnant budgets. Now add mission-critical Digital Business Transformation initiatives into the mix, and it becomes clear that they are not willing to take any risks by investing in or adopting a new technology. The argument is that there simply is not enough time, nor are there enough resources to implement it.

In reality, the opposite is true. Enterprise IT teams can no longer afford to waste precious resource productivity by handling tedious and repetitive processes manually. The velocity of change and the rigor required to work through upcoming IT change initiatives no longer allow for wasted capacities or inefficient use of your workforce, let alone the increased cost, risk and business disruption that this brings.

The crux of the problem: Inherent inefficiencies will balloon your project resources and budget. In typical business life, the purpose of spreadsheets varies from making simple budget calculations to more complex pivot tables and charts to visualise data. However, these tools were never designed to spearhead such complex projects as IT migrations with thousands of multi-dimensional data dependencies.

Spreadsheets are not designed to be collaborative platforms from which you update your team on scheduling changes, nor are they built to handle the inherent complexities that come with migrating tens of thousands of users, their devices, and applications or mailboxes.

For example, in the discovery phase, your resources would create a data export with all in-scope devices including all installed applications. By way of magnitude, even a small project of just 1,000 devices will easily generate more than a million data rows. Larger enterprises can be looking at over 100 million rows of data to aggregate, sift and sort.

Even if you add another hundred people, it would still take you weeks to manually go through this amount of data to get an understanding of what your IT landscape looks like. And even then, you cannot be sure you are dealing with accurate data as the spreadsheet is instantly out-of-date with the live IT environment!

Another example is how the community of project managers has to work. They wrestle with spreadsheets every day to get a handle on their task prioritisation and tracking, delegating work through other spreadsheets as they go. They try to provide status reports or communicate updates to their team — actions which quickly become impossible as the number of out-of-date files multiplies. But even with more people on the project, everyone gets slowed down by waiting on someone else, or by the inability to gain access to the information they need to do their job.

Instantly out-of-date spreadsheets and hand-cranked databases create efficiency bottlenecks that cannot be overcome by just adding more resources. Throwing more people into the mix just exacerbates the problem, creating more of the inefficiency you want to remove. Yes, initially your project will see a short-term boost of activity, but soon the mounting inefficiencies will cause your productivity gains to flatline. It certainly does not exponentially make your project faster. In fact, you may now be spending double what you used to, but making the same slow progress!

Numbers from the frontlines: How much is automation going to accelerate your project? We recently collated data from hundreds of IT transformation projects in which we successfully helped enterprises around the globe ready more than five million assets for a platform migration.

We wanted to dig deep to find out 1) where the biggest cost and time-saving potential is, and 2) how automation actually impacts the productivity of your IT Transformation team. One thing really stood out. When planning and executing an enterprise IT migration project, you have to work smarter, not harder.

While the cost and time savings at the beginning of the project are relatively modest, enterprises will spend most of their time and effort in discovery, rationalisation, and assessment. Not surprisingly, the workload skyrockets in the execution with command and control, end-user engagement, deployment orchestration, and reporting. This is where automation provides the most impact.

We averaged the potential efficiency gains across your entire IT transformation team that you can expect by implementing the right tooling. The results are astonishing. While the efficiency gains are dependent upon the role and vary from 10-40%, every work stream in the project team benefited from an average 27% increase in productivity. (If you are interested in the exact data, check out our blog post on the subject.)

Conclusion: Complex IT transformation projects with thousands of dependencies require adequate automation and orchestration tools the world’s largest companies are already using automation to eliminate onerous and repetitive tasks. Gartner already predicted in 2015, that by 2018, “digital businesses will require 50% fewer business process workers and 500% more key digital business jobs, compared with traditional models.”

And considering the skill shortage that 64% of US CIOs recently reported in the KPMG’s 2016 CIO Survey, the average company is very likely to be operating a few employees short of a full team. Attempting labour-intensive manual processes like IT migration means putting intense stresses on teams that are probably overworked to begin with. Do you have enough project managers, engineers, and other FTEs to even consider a manual migration?

Barry Angell is CTO at Juriba

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