Everyone was caught off guard in 2020. While every federal agency, organization or company conducts disaster and continuity of operations planning, the COVID pandemic largely exposed the holes in those plans. But that presents these organizations with an opportunity: Now is the perfect time for self-evaluation, to determine what did and didn’t work, and reconsider the way organizations prepare for disasters and disruptions.
Damien Eversmann, staff solutions architect at Red Hat, said many companies are now looking at automation as a way to fill in these holes in their continuity of operations plans. He said most have been exploring automation in general for a while, but now they’re specifically looking at enterprise automation.
“Think about the early auto industry’s manufacturing pipeline,” Eversmann said. “For a piece of sheet metal to become the car’s body, it has to be cut, bent, and riveted. People had to perform each process, and then set it in a stack for the next person. Each individual process is short, but then it could sit in the stack for days. Automation can cut the time required to perform each process, but enterprise automation connects the dots and takes the downtime between each process out of the loop.”
And that downtime between processes has become a problem during the pandemic. With everyone working remotely, it takes longer to hand off jobs between employees. Collaboration software helps, but it’s not the same as being in the same office as your coworker. So jobs started taking even more time. Add to that the extra complication that people aren’t going to offices or other physical locations in person anymore; they’re looking for services online instead. So applications that used to service hundreds or thousands of people are now having to service hundreds of thousands.
“Bringing automation in can streamline the steps,” Eversmann said. “Some states in the Midwest had enterprise automation in place before the pandemic. They had actually started to automate different steps and processes. And they experienced fewer delays. Now I have other customers looking into it because they’re suffering.”
And as the government begins to realize the benefits of remote work and considers making it permanent, at least in some cases, that will create more opportunities for automation. Agencies will see more benefits due to having more processes to streamline.
Most disaster plans have run into hiccups, Eversmann said, because there are two ways to approach disaster planning. The first involves trying to map out the unknowns. But by definition, they’re unknown, and there’s no way to plan for all unknown contingencies.
“The better approach is not to have a plan for everything, but to develop more flexibility, implement tools and processes to be more flexible,” Eversmann said. “Break down monolithic processes into smaller pieces that can be moved around. People are starting to see a better way to plan for disasters. That’s when you actually see all the processes, when you start looking at more efficient, more flexible ways of doing things.”
Take, for example, trying to spin up an app in a virtual machine. This requires at least the virtual machine itself, the operating system, the application, and the proper configuration settings. Eversmann said there are six to eight different things happening in what is essentially an ethereal process right now. And with everyone working remote, the delays in each of these steps are just getting longer.
“So can you parallelize these steps? Can you break them into smaller pieces?” Eversmann asked. “During high stress times, instead of trying to list out the unknowns, look at flexibilities. Ask ‘where can we bend with stress, or rearrange around the stressors?’”
Eversmann said agencies usually want to buy a technological solution to fix a problem. But lately, he’s seeing a shift toward agencies instead asking “who can help us learn how to fix this problem?” It’s a nuance, but it’s important, he said, because agencies are going from throwing money at finding a solution to enabling themselves, which in the end better prepares them for the future.
“Sometimes it’s culture, sometimes it’s people or processes,” Eversmann said. “That’s the DevOps trio: people, processes, tech. People are realizing that not everything is a tech problem. Instead, we can work on all three together.”
For a lot of people, the fallout from the pandemic is the first time they’re waking up to the fact that they can’t always just buy the newest and greatest tool to fix the problem. Instead, they need to start changing processes, changing the way people work together to adapt to the new paradigm.