The A-Z of Automation
IT service management (ITSM) is changing. First thanks to new service management thinking and best practice such as ITIL 4. Second because of the introduction of many new tools and technologies that have come along with the digital age. One of those game-changing tool and technology types, although not entirely new, is automation.
Automation enables business professionals to dump the manual, repetitive processes that consume so much of their time. Enabling them to put their focus on the tasks that add real value. In doing so, the automation tackles greater volumes of work with more accuracy and it works around the clock.
To learn more about automation, here’s my latest A-Z blog that’s all about the technology, its capabilities, and the results it can produce.To learn more about automation, here’s an A-Z blog that’s all about the technology, its capabilities, and the results it can produce. Click To Tweet
Automation offers higher accuracy in process and task execution by removing the need for human intervention and thus reducing human error. The better accuracy means fewer mistakes, resulting in cost reduction (there’s no more going back to fix errors) and a better end-user experience (because things are done right first time).
Big wins (even with small steps)
To start seeing big benefits from automation you don’t need to worry about automating absolutely everything. It’s good to start small and to grow your automation capabilities over time. Some of your biggest wins might come from automating your small (but repetitive) manual processes – so find out what work consumes your teams’ time the most and see which of these can be easily automated.
Automation can help organizations to remain compliant – which can often be difficult to do when processes are handled manually. Even if everybody involved in the process has the best will in the world – to keep everything accurate and up to date – there’ll likely always be errors due to distractions, or absence, or a lack of training, or…you get the idea. Humans make mistakes, automation doesn’t (unless a human has made a mistake when instructing the automation).
For example, automating the assignment of roles and/or privileges based on user responsibilities is a quick way to help your organization to become more compliant because this quickly restricts unauthorized activity taking place (i.e. activity that can often go unnoticed until it’s too late, such as during a dreaded audit).
I think we can safely say that the future is definitely digital, and it’s because of this digital transformation that automation in the workplace has become so crucial. The digital world has changed end-user expectations, and technology has changed the way we live with on-demand services, unlimited choice, and speed. Automation is just one way that organizations are able to keep up with meeting these higher expectations but it’s certainly an important one.
Empowerment for your business
Organizations, and small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) in particular, are empowered by automation. Because the technology allows them to get more work done, more accurately, and they’re able to scale more quickly while maintaining a great customer experience. It also frees up valuable people resources to focus on the really important stuff (please see F below).
Automation will take on many of the tasks that distract your highly skilled people from doing what you actually employ them for. In turn, your people are then able to focus on what’s really important, on how they deliver value to the organization and its customers. For example, when you hire an IT service desk analyst you want them to deliver exceptional customer service and to resolve technical issues – for employees, services, or customers – as quickly as possible. You don’t want them spending half their time manually logging tickets, assigning roles, or writing emails while end users are left waiting for assistance.
I’ve mentioned how automation can empower an organization, allowing it to grow quickly, but automation also offers the ability for your people to grow too. Their time can be spent engaged in tasks that really help to push the organization to the next level. Which means more of their time is spent learning and understanding the fundamental aspects of their role. A company that allows staff to explore and grow is one that will retain talent. And high staff turnover isn’t good for anyone.
Automation doesn’t mean the absence of humans. People will still be important to operations and outcomes. Sometimes their intervention will still be critical to the success of automated activities and processes. Please see the letter I below for more on why this is important.Automation doesn’t mean the absence of humans. People will still be important to operations and outcomes. #automation Click To Tweet
I wouldn’t normally include an ITSM best practice framework in a blog about a particular technology but the recent update of ITIL v3 to ITIL 4 doubles down on the importance and necessity of automation. ITIL 4’s seventh (and new) guiding principle is to, “optimize and automate.” Organizations should definitely seek to automate more (in particular to optimize operations and outcomes). However, it’s also important to heed ITIL 4’s warning that “technology should not always be relied upon without the capability of human intervention, as automation for automation’s sake can increase costs and reduce organizational robustness and resilience.” It’s therefore essential to fully understand why the automation is required and what benefits it will offer; especially since what works for a competitor might not necessarily work for you. Automation requirements and their outcomes are by no means a one size fits all.
While human intervention will be required it’s to be expected that automation and other digital-age technologies will change job roles. For example, that of a first-line IT service desk analyst where, traditionally, this role has been to log tickets, manage ticket updates, assign tickets to departments, resolve basic technical incidents, and deal with customers. Automation can pick up many of these tasks and so it stands to reason that – with automation changing what’s required of them – the first-line analyst role will become more technical, taking on more second-line responsibilities and assisting in the continual improvement of service desk processes and the customer experience.
King of process and outcome improvement
OK, so this might seem a little strong as a statement but automation, although not new to ITSM professionals, is definitely something that’s heavily relied upon for the improvement of organizational processes. It’s because it can offer so much – growth potential, cost reductions, improved user experience, faster processes, 24×7 working hours, etc. It’s an impressive list of benefits that made me want to call out automation (when done right) as the king of process and outcome improvement.
Leverage existing knowledge
When implementing automation, it’s important to use the wealth of ITSM and business knowledge already available to you. Plus, to fully test your automated processes before you go live. An example of this is the automatic assignment of certain tickets that come into your IT service desk. Here it’s helpful to run a test that shows where your automated process would send a ticket versus where your human service desk analyst has sent it. If the ticket destinations match up, then you know that your automation project is good to go. But if you’re seeing variations, then you’ll need to find out why before it goes live.When implementing #automation, it’s important to use the wealth of #ITSM and business knowledge already available to you. Click To Tweet
Automating processes and removing the need for your staff to toil away at the same old tasks every day is a great way to increase employee motivation. There’s now more time to collaborate and work on challenging jobs. And allowing teams to achieve their goals with fewer distractions will make their roles more interesting and enhance your employees’ workplace experience and potentially wellbeing.
Notifications (for security issues, say)
Automation is not just about replacing labor-intensive activities. It also helps with informing people (or other systems) of the things that they need to know about. For example, automated notifications should be a necessity in this digital age where cyber-attacks are increasingly more frequent. There are few organizations that don’t need to be on high alert to any potential cyber threats and a single automated security notification could make the difference between a very-public company crisis and business as usual.
As already touched on with the letter I, automation enables your organization to optimize its operations including resources. Particularly staff – freeing them up from manual tasks that add little value and allowing them to focus on the real challenges faced by your organization. Automation also provides the opportunity to optimize processes (remember ITIL 4’s guiding principle to “optimize and automate”). However, it’s important to remember that any process should be optimized before it’s automated. Otherwise, your new automated process will struggle to ever be optimal – this is letter P below.
As I introduced in letter O, it’s important to get processes right before automation is introduced. So, remember that automation cannot fix a broken process and processes need to make sense and work as expected before automation is applied. Yes, automation can speed things up and deliver results more accurately but it’s not a magic wand for process issues. In my experience, some organizations have fallen at the first hurdle by applying automation to processes that aren’t properly thought out and managed. They then have to undo their hard work and start again.
It’s a bit of a cheat, I know. However, automation does give organizations the ability to offer consistency across their processes and outcomes, and therefore their customer experience. We definitely don’t talk about this automation benefit enough. From an IT service desk or customer service perspective, it can be fairly common to receive a certain level of service on one call only to call again and have an entirely different experience. Automation helps to reduce such inconsistencies wherever it’s employed by working quietly in the background to offer the same results time and time again.
Response times improve
Automation can dramatically improve your organization’s response times. With automation, you no longer need to wait for an analyst to become available to respond to your customer, so the response time can be immediate. For example, when a customer uses live chat, a bot greets them and captures their issue or need and provides them with access to a knowledge base if appropriate. Without automation, customers have to wait for a human to be available which could be some time when you’re working in a busy IT department.
While this blog is about automation it would be remiss of me not to call out “service orchestration.” It’s the term used for the automated delivery of low-level services which consequently frees up your IT staff up to work on more beneficial activities. You can read more about it in this service orchestration blog.
Technologies like automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are often not good enough by themselves, but nor are humans. Put the two together, however, and amazing things can be achieved. It’s important that humans and automation technology work as a team to generate the desired results.
For me, there’s an interesting divide in western culture about whether new technologies such as AI will be uplifting or humanity’s downfall. Recent research shows that while western countries are studying how to make these technologies work for us, eastern countries are more focused on how to live with the technology. I for one think that we could learn a lot from this way of thinking.
User experience improvements
Whether you’re talking about end users (your IT service and support customers) or users of the tools and processes (your IT staff) your user experience will be improved with automation. The customer experience will be enhanced through faster response times, more consistency, and better accuracy – resulting in happier end users. Your employees will be less bogged down and distracted by meaningless tasks, allowing them to excel in their area of expertise. Which, in turn, will result in them feeling more as though they’re contributing towards organizational goals and achieving something great.
Various enterprise opportunities
Automation isn’t just for the IT department and nor should it be limited to this. The digital age has seen various service management standards and frameworks all cheering for the same goal – enterprise service management and a holistic way of working. This means that the organization as a whole is responsible for the services it delivers to its customers and every department should work together towards a common end goal. Automating processes across IT, human resources (HR), facilities, procurement, etc. and working “as one” is how businesses will be able to keep up in our digital future, retain the right people, and achieve high customer satisfaction.Automation has the power to reduce your operational costs and help the business’ employees to be more productive. #automation Click To Tweet
Advanced automation tools provide organizations with the ability to create and automate their workflows. It’s not only quicker than traditional coding methods but also with reduced errors. Drag and drop options, in particular, facilitate faster working and accuracy because they’re easier to build than writing code and it becomes much easier to spot an error than searching through lines of coding.
XXIV/VII working hours
That’s 24/7 working hours – yes, I needed to cheat again. Because automation doesn’t sleep it can work around the clock, so not only can it get more done in the time your employees are working, it will continue long after they’ve left the office too.
Your organization needs automation
If all of the above hasn’t convinced you, I’ll spell it out here – automation isn’t one of those “nice to haves,” it’s now a necessity for organizations in the digital age hoping to keep up with market demands and competitive pressures.
Automation isn’t really going to save you zillions of dollars because zillion isn’t a real number! But automation does have the power to reduce your operational costs and help the business’ employees to be more productive (either directly or indirectly via speedier issue remediation). The numbers add up – it works longer hours, it gets more work done in those hours, and it’s cheaper in itself than the cost of a human to do the tasks instead. It will save your organization money.
There you have it, my A-Z of automation. How do you feel about automation? What other points would you add to this A-Z? Please let me know in the comments.
Posted by Joe the IT Guy