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Automatic IT

Automatic IT

Business functions such as accounting, logistics and human resources have all benefited from IT-led process automation — everyone, it seems, except for the IT department itself. But that’s all changing thanks to the growing acceptance of automated process management systems

The Business Doesn’t Stop

For the Australian transport infrastructure company Asciano, its opportunity for automation came as a result of its very creation. Asciano was formed from the rail transport and ports and stevedoring operations left-over from the merger of the transport companies Toll Holdings and Patrick Corporation in 2006.

The systems architect at Asciano, Paul Rashleigh, says the company operates a very lean IT team, which services a user base of 8000. One of its first tasks was to consolidate the two parent companies’ enterprise resource planning systems, based on PeopleSoft and Oracle, and the associated infrastructure.

“We are a small team, and we have a very high focus on efficiency,” Rashleigh says. “Anywhere we can leverage off improving efficiency through automation we’ll look at. We are not really hiring people, so you have to work with what you’ve got — and the business doesn’t stop.”

Rashleigh says the ERP merger was the perfect opportunity for Asciano to make its ERP capable of dealing with larger and more demanding workloads by switching to Oracle’s Real Application Clusters configuration. This delivered the added benefit of being capable of being maintained and updated during business hours.

“Previous to that we didn’t really have a truly highly-available system, so if there was any maintenance to do or any IT specific work to do it really had to be done out of hours,” Rashleigh says. “Having Oracle Rack allows us to do that work during the day, and not have to facilitate maintenance at odd hours of the morning.”

The improved working hours now mean that the team is in the office each day when the business needs them there, rather than working at night and taking days off.

“The project continues on today with some integration of business processes and streamlining of self-service to improve automation for the company,” Rashleigh says. “We were lucky to get that in, because while a lot of projects benefit IT, unless they benefit the business it is hard to get them approved.”

Rashleigh alo says Asciano is gaining further efficiencies from IT by using Oracle’s enterprise manager function within the 11g database. Despite some initial hiccups, he says in the last year it has become a solid contributor that is now depended on.

“It almost fulfils the roll of a junior DBA, sitting there and writing scripts and managing environments for us,” Rashleigh says. “It has really provided a lot of value and increased productivity. Now we can take our eyes off the Oracle environment and focus on something else, because we know this product is sitting there watching it, and will tell us if there is anything wrong or about to be wrong, and can utilise customised scripts to monitor other areas. And that came with our existing Oracle licence.”

Having been able to demonstrate the benefits to senior Asciano staff, Rashleigh has since paid to expand that licence to cover other non-Oracle environments. For instance, it is now monitoring IBM AIX systems.

“And again, that frees people up to focus on other things,” Rashleigh says. “We’re doing more for the business with the same number of people.”

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