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Making Automation Accessible with Omar Sultan of Cisco

Are you struggling to champion the automation transformation at your enterprise? You’re not alone. Companies are realizing more and more the importance of including automation in the way they deploy and manage technology. However, recognizing the need for automation isn’t helping it be deployed any faster. Automation has stalled.

Details Matter, Except When They Don’t

In a recent interview I did with Omar Sultan of Cisco, we discussed the challenges that he has been seeing in the adoption of automation. Omar has been working with software defined networking for over a decade now and he’s seen how companies have embraced these new concepts. He also sits in a unique place where he can see what is causing hesitation with companies as well.

We discussed how automation at the lowest levels is still very much dominated by decisions that are very technically driven. The choice of platforms and programming languages creates a kind of paralysis that companies can be stuck on for months or years. Traditional knowledge workers in IT have a set way of doing things and when there are conflicts they often fall back on the familiar. Omar said that no matter how much automation can help facilitate and accelerate your workflows you still need to know these technical details. The goal of an automation project isn’t to make the details disappear from your view. It’s to make them unimportant to the people above you.

For the architects in the room there isn’t as much of a focus on these details. They want to understand the concepts of what automation can do and how it can be deployed effectively. Creating discussions around programming language syntax and platform adoption robs you of the capabilities of the architect to see the bigger picture. They work in a world of system compatibility, not arguing between Python and Rust.

Likewise, the stakeholders at the executive level care even less about the technical aspects. They are solely focused on the business. If automation can provide better service or cheaper results then that is what’s best for the business. They don’t care how it’s done, only that it can deliver on the promises discussed in the meeting. Automation platforms today focus on providing visibility and feedback for these different groups of people to help them understand the savings provided by the work put in designing an automation strategy.

Making Automation Work for Your Workplace

With all this in mind, how does Omar suggest you sell your workplace on automation? The key is to have empathy for the people in different teams as you try to help them connect the dots about what the bigger automation picture can provide. Remember that everyone has a different way of doing things and your way may not be their way. You have to understand their challenges and address them with specific examples instead of just waving your hand and claiming automation will fix it all.

Likewise, you need to be up front about the benefits that automation can provide. This isn’t a simple fix that will immediately reduce costs or provide multipliers on return. Sell the teams on the investment that automation can provide in the long term. Set proper expectations of the payoff from the outset so everyone is clear about the goals and can agree on when they’ve been accomplished. Nothing will ruin an automation project faster than not setting clear goals to let everyone know when success have been achieved.

Cisco has a great number of resources available to help in your automation journey. Cisco DevNet is a great starting place to figure out what you need to know and other tools like Cisco Crosswork Workflow Manager can get your project moving forward. Make sure to check out those links for more information as well as the Tech Field Day Extra session on Cisco Crossword Workflow Manager from Cisco Live US 2023.

About the author

Tom Hollingsworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a networking professional, blogger, and speaker on advanced technology topics. He is also an organizer for networking and wireless for Tech Field Day.  His blog can be found at

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