Millions Saved In Operations Automation
by Jerry Bullard

Automation of operations is a subject so many companies seem to either overlook or fear. While there are a few select companies that recognize the tremendous benefits of investing in "auto-ops" and utilizing today's technology to enhance a departmental area that has experienced minimal change in the past, it should be noted that only a small number of TPF shops have even scratched the auto-ops surface.

But why automate TPF operations? First of all, the technology is constantly changing, and growing more complex with the continued growth of operating systems, data bases, and loosely-coupled operating complexes. As growth and complexity continue to occur, the ability to efficiently manage TPF systems becomes a vital issue. Second, automated operations would improve system uptime and availability by providing- critical decision making capability and execution of those decisions without the specter of operator error. The financial impact in the area of system uptime and availability alone is in the millions of dollars.

Finally, automated operations would play a major role in headcount avoidance. This does not mean a reduction in operations headcount, only a means to restructure and redefine the role of the TPF operator. The twenty TPF operators running a complex today may have to double over the next 5-10 years due to growth, unless those same twenty operators are moved into an automated environment which would match the growth requirements of the company. An example of a group like this might be "Automation Coverage". There is always going to be the need for experienced operations personnel, due to years of design and construction that are required to completely automate TPF operations. Before this effort even starts, it becomes quite obvious which functions will be automated first -- the easy ones! The TPF operators will still be responsible for the more complex tasks during the automation transition.

There are obviously risks involved with automating operations. Documentation of the automated process and the automation programs themselves must be kept current. If any errors do occur, you have to be able to first determine what the program is, or was trying to do on the system.

Another risk to consider is not following a logical approach, or adhering to well established standards when designing and building an automated operations facility Although still in the early stages, automated TPF operations have already grown beyond the drawing board in several shops, and some basic guidelines and recommendations can be passed along to the rest of the community.

  1. The operator console device must be able to reliably transmit and receive data from the host processor.
  2. The operator console device must have the ability to interface with a Local Area Network (LAN).
  3. The console device must also provide "pure connectivity". That is to say that the product must allow for the connection of and communications with any other hardware products that may be introduced into the environment.
  4. The device must have to ability to host the necessary software which will actually provide the automation function.
  5. Host channel interface software as well as LAN interface software will be required.
  6. Software for the management and security of attached terminals (the Automation Platform), is required for the LAN.
  7. Stabilize the Automation Platform before actually beginning to code the automation intelligence.

The concept of automation is simple. Most of us use automated functions without a second thought when making a reservation or generating a report. The challenges we face in automating TPF operations are monumental, but not impossible. Will TPF auto-ops become a reality? Certainly. The benefits and savings are too great to be ignored, and the technology is an integral part of tomorrow's system.

Jerry Bullard has over 20 years of DP experience with several major airline companies. He has spent the past 4 years working exclusively in the area of Automated Operations.