Evaluating the ROI of Network Automation


We would all like automated processes to save labor, eliminate errors, reduce the elapsed time from the request to its implementation while saving money, but how can we get a real picture of the savings and improvements? An accurate estimate of labor savings with network automation is key to determining which processes make sense to automate and which to leave as manual. What factors should you consider when evaluating the return on investment of a network automation solution? 

Manual Process Time & Frequency 

The logical place to start your ROI analysis is with the time consumed by the manual process (i.e., the cost of labor hours), how frequently the process needs to occur, and the labor costs associated with automating the process. However, other key factors should be included to produce an accurate cost-benefit tradeoff. 

To start, Randall Munroe, the author of the comic [1], gives us a humorous view of an analysis based on the time savings of automating a routine manual task. 

Randall’s graphic omits a number of additional factors that your ROI analysis should include: 

  • Process complexity, which is a controlling factor in the frequency of human error 
  • The cost of business application downtime when a manual process fails 
  • The opportunity cost of the staff doing repetitive tasks instead of strategic planning and implementation 
  • The value of automated processes that improve the business’s ability to compete 

Process Complexity and Quality Control 

Complex processes may take more time for less experienced staff members to perform, whereas a network expert may be able to skip familiar steps. However, assigning senior staff to changes simply to gain efficiency and/or to improve the quality of the outcome may be prohibitively expensive on its own. Furthermore, as process complexity increases, the potential for human error also increases, irrespective of expertise. Your analysis should include manual process time and estimates of time spent on diagnosing and correcting errors. 

Process complexity includes the need to validate that the network is functioning correctly before and after an automated change. If these checks are not performed, the network team cannot know if a network problem is due to a pre-existing condition (where the pre-deployment state was invalid) or due to a failed deployment (where the post-deployment state is not as intended). 


Some percentage of manual processes will result in a failed change, so you should estimate the cost of application downtime. Creating this estimate can be exceedingly difficult without a lot of historical data and analysis. Your change control and trouble ticketing systems are a good source of this data, and the operations team should provide the necessary information. 

Supporting Tasks 

Make sure that your ROI analysis includes all the supporting steps. The task timeline for automation we did for a customer shows that these parts of the process consumed 38% of the total time, some of which was reduced during automation. 

Figure 1: Automation Task Timeline 

Automating the task eliminated the initial review and implementation steps while shortening the request and follow-up phase, reducing this task from 124 minutes to 26 minutes – a 79% reduction in the overall manual process time. 

Opportunity Costs & Competitiveness 

Do not forget to estimate the cost of having the team perform manual processes instead of planning for or implementing network changes that support new business objectives. 

What is the cost of delayed implementation because the team is busy with manual processes? Automation of simple actions through a self-service portal could allow the team to work on things that increase business agility in a competitive marketplace. The example in Figure 1 was for renewals of website certificates, which impacted customer interaction with the organization. 

To get an accurate view of the ROI of an automation solution, you should consider a variety of factors. While the savings in labor costs are important, do not overlook the other factors that should be included in the calculation. 

When you are ready, BlueAlly Consultants are available to discuss automation and systems to improve productivity and reduce risk to your business. To learn more, contact us about the assessments and professional services we can provide. 



[1] and a related comic: 

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