An automated checklist fits in seamlessly with a proactive approach to systems management.
Checklists are an indispensable aid to professionals as varied as airline pilots and surgeons through to IT administrators. (Even with all that festive magic at his disposal, Santa Claus himself couldn't do his job without one!) What is it that makes checklists so special, and how has such a simple concept retained its significance and value in a world that functions and depends increasingly on sophisticated systems, procedures, and technology? The answer lies in the checklist's ability to bring order to the chaos of this sophistication. In the case of an airline pilot's pre-flight routine, her checklist not only acts as an aid to memory, but also imposes a system of sequential procedures that collectively dictate what amounts to "best practice" in the cockpit (giving due consideration to factors including safety, performance, passenger comfort, service, resources, and industry regulations to name but a few).
Whether you're looking at the complexity of a cockpit dashboard, the delicate cardiovascular systems of a patient, or the plethora of data being produced by a demanding IBM i environment, having a systematic and thorough way to run essential tasks or procedures routinely (and methodically, ensuring each is completed in order and properly recorded) is the main reason that checklists still exist today. We're only human, after all!
In the case of IT managers, whose responsibilities cover a broad spectrum—including systems performance, operational cost efficiency, and long- and short-term resource management—checklists are often employed to give rigor and discipline to the management of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and provide the "proof" element required for record-keeping, accountability, and resolution of issues. Administrators often take responsibility for a subset of daily tasks—things that must be reviewed at designated times to ensure best practices. Their checklist might include any number of tasks, including ones that ask general questions: "Have we met the availability levels in our SLAs?" "Are all the communications channels active?" "Has the weekly payroll job started?" "Has end-of-day completed?"
In theory, an administrator's checklist is limited only by the data available; likewise, checklists can, in theory, be endlessly customized to the environment's particular demands. This level of detail brings its own issues, though, as not only would it monopolize an administrator's time to check each item (expensive!), but it would also generate a glut of information, not all of which is useful. Striking the right balance is critical so the benefits of the checklist aren't sabotaged by the efforts or resource it takes to enforce the checklist items. Similarly, checklists thrive in environments that have procedural breathing room for them to exist as a meaningful part of core systems management—by that I mean an accommodating structure and significance. If an administrator must abandon the checklist because he's in crisis mode over another issue, the checklist will quickly cease to be of any value.
Automation is nothing less than the most recent evolution of the humble checklist; shedding cumbersome features of its early development, it has surged forward as an altogether more powerful creature! By automating each task on a checklist, these tasks can be monitored or "checked" in real-time—after all, why wait until the end of the day, week, or month to know about a problem? For example, if you have breached an agreed service level of availability, knowing about it in real-time could prevent future instances from occurring. In other cases, scheduled events can be defined for checking at prescribed times and assigned with threshold alerts (upper or lower) or status conditions (active or inactive), giving administrators a best-of-both-worlds scenario.
An automated checklist fits in seamlessly with an overall proactive approach to systems management and accommodates virtually any range of customized information administrators might want to check (jobs, performance, comms status, security events, SLA metrics etc.) What's more, this can be achieved without any of the associated labor-intensive management of its ancestor (i.e., manual checking.) Further benefits of automated checklists include full audit compliance, an elimination of any opportunity for "human error incidence," and a significant reduction in the cost of utilizing checklists (after all, there is no need for anyone to check whether end-of-day processing finished on time; if expected end times are breached, an alert will come, in real time, for resolution.
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