Changing strategies for database administrators
Written By Jaroslav Cerny
One of the many areas where services are beginning to move towards the cloud is in the database, as cloud providers, either public or private, can remove many of the time consuming tasks around installing, configuring and provisioning the database. These roles are typically assigned to the database administrator (DBA), and one of the questions this raises is around the future of the DBA and their role in a cloud environment.
While cloud providers may take on a large proportion of the mundane tasks associated with the database, this by no means negates the position of the DBA. Instead, it allows the DBA to move from a tactical position to more of a strategic role, focusing on tasks that will add value to the business rather than being exclusively assigned to the day-to-day maintenance and running of infrastructure.
For many reasons, the role of the DBA will continue to be an important one in the cloud environment, but DBAs need to be prepared for a shift from a highly technical role, to one that adds greater business value down the line.
The typical role of the DBA generally revolves around planning, designing, configuring and implementing databases and database platforms, as well as high availability and disaster recovery for each database. It also includes maintenance and monitoring of databases and platforms, performance tuning, workload balancing and security. In the cloud environment, all of these duties are transferred to the cloud service provider. However, this does not mean that the role of the DBA will become obsolete in a cloud environment.
Scaling the job
Of the many responsibilities of a DBA, the list above is by no means all encompassing, and people in this position often perform many other advisory and functional roles. One of these is providing advice on the sizing of databases and servers. While cloud databases allow for instant scalability, the organisation needs to understand how big or small they will need to scale in order to meet current needs. The DBA, whether in-house or outsourced, will have the technical knowledge and understanding of the business to provide assistance in this regard.
Configuration of the database, while this can be left to the cloud provider, is another task that benefits from the expertise and experience of a DBA. This task involves a wide variety of processes, including determining the optimal balance and size of blocks for reading and writing of data, as well as setting the required parameters for parallel processing.
Tuning the configuration with additional memory and processors is also a job that requires knowledge of business needs. A DBA will have the necessary understanding of the business and its requirements to perform these tasks, and will therefore ensure that the cloud provider delivers the optimal configuration.
Once applications are in place, the cloud provider can then perform the necessary monitoring of performance, a task that was traditionally also within the stable of the DBA’s role. The DBA can then use the monitoring and reporting delivered by the cloud provider to query performance issues and ensure they are resolved.
Another critical role of the DBA is to ensure database security remains at optimal levels. Enterprise databases typically store large volumes of confidential, sensitive or private data about employees, customers, intellectual property and more.
Security is top priority
Keeping this information secure is critical, and the DBA is essential in ensuring both implementing and maintaining database security policies and practices. In light of the impending Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act, this role is even more important.
Finally, the aspect of responsibility and accountability also needs to be considered. If all databases reside within the cloud, who is responsible when these services are down? If the responsibility is shared, often the outcome is that nobody ends up taking responsibility, and a ‘blame game’ ensues that could cause detrimental downtime.
There needs to be an accountable person or persons to ensure that downtime can be kept to a minimum, particularly where mission-critical business data is concerned. The DBA is the ideal person to fulfil this role in the cloud environment.
So, in a cloud database environment, is a DBA still necessary? The answer to that question is a definite yes. The DBA’s tasks within the cloud environment may change, but there remains a very prominent role for this resource to play. The role of DBAs will move up the value chain, from tactical infrastructure-oriented tasks towards a more strategic role of advisor, analyst and support provider.
Established in 1995, RDB Consulting is an outsource and consulting company that specialises in five areas: Relational databases, Operating Systems, Database Security, Monitoring and Enterprise Resource Planning. The organisation also offers project management, solutions architecture, on-going maintenance and support.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”