Why Automate?

When discussing the adoption of automation, IT Service Management (ITSM) organizations struggle with answering key investment questions. “Why should we automate our processes?”  “Will we get a significant return on our investment?” “What is the long-term organization investment in resources and support?“

Successful adoption depends on the ITSM product.  Many products in the ITSM space include some form of automation out of the box.  At a minimum, your ITSM product should provide integration to an external workflow automation tool.  If your ITSM product does include some form of automation, with any luck it is possible to create that automation without a need to write a lot of code that will need to be maintained in the future.

Benefits Realized by using Automation

Organizations that automate processes experience significant gains in productivity and improved customer experience. The most common and significant benefits include:

  • Reduce Risk – by implementing repeatable processes, the entire organization will reduce risks associated with process errors. Customer expectations will be met (and probably even exceeded). For example, in operations, the flow of a service request from group to group can be automated so that when one group completes its portion of the request, the request can be routed to the next group automatically. This automation will decrease human error from routing to the wrong group and reduce non-compliance with SLAs.
  • Improve Quality – process adherence improves with automation, processes are consistently followed and produce consistent results.  An example here is if you automate the New Employee onboarding process, access to standard systems and applications can be automatically configured, email addresses generated, an AD account created, hardware ordered, etc.  thus, providing the new employee’s access and systems on their first day.
  • Decrease Cost – process automation reduces the need for additional resources. For example, processes often require people to complete critical integration steps. With automation, integration between systems improves reducing the need for human intervention.
  • Increase Productivity – process automation can result in improved productivity both in the business and IT. For example, in operations automation can also free up your support staff’s time so that they can be productive on other items that have a direct impact on your customer satisfaction ratings.
  • Improve Customer Experience (CX) – process automation helps organizations to provide better service to your ITSM customers.  This can be accomplished by focusing on requests that do require human intervention and by increasing the predictability of the time it takes to fulfill requests.
  • Innovation – when organizations work more effectively, reduce costs, improve quality, and reduce risks, the organization can invest in new ways to innovate services and improve the overall health of service management.

Roadblocks to Automation

As with any technology integration, potential roadblocks must be anticipated and mitigated.   First off, the staff may be resistant due to fear of losing their jobs.  For example, service desk staff work hard at fulfilling routine requests, managing customer expectations and maintaining high first call resolution rates.  Now if those routine tasks are removed from the support process, staff are often concerned with how will they will be measured and how will they keep their stats and rankings high?

Your management team will need to address this issue and assuage the fears of the team, assuring them they are valued and by implementing automation of the repetitive and mundane tasks, they will have time to be more productive in other areas that are more enjoyable and fulfilling for them.  Perhaps the measurement statistics of the service desk staff will also need to be adjusted or at a minimum the expectations surrounding these stats will need to be addressed and communicated.

Another roadblock that may be seen is a fear of the automation itself.  Is the software that handles the automation good enough and resilient enough?  We have all heard war stories about bugs in software that end up creating more problems than the software is intended to resolve.  Problems may also arise from poorly implemented automation. This fear can be managed by thoroughly testing the process automation’s prior to moving into production.  Make certain that all process scenarios are well tested – for example, if your automation calls out to MS Exchange to create an account, what happens if the integration with Exchange is down at that time.  Will the request be re-tried? Also, once the automation’s have been rolled into production, be certain to actively monitor them to make certain the automation is functioning as intended.

What to Automate

Start your automation with a well-known and well-defined process.  This will allow you to get used to the idiosyncrasies of your automation tool.  Also, it won’t take you long to implement the process and you should begin seeing benefits quickly.  This will also instill management confidence in the automation and your automation implementation plan.  It can’t be stressed enough – make certain that you actively monitor the automated process after it goes live to make sure that it is functioning as desired.

Another option to jump start your automation is, if your ITSM tool provides pre-defined automation templates out of the box – start with one of those.  You should be able to copy and modify it as required for your process.  By testing and iterating changes in the modified workflow you will quickly learn how best to use your automation tool.

As you move forward with your automation plan, look at the service requests you are receiving today:

  • What are the most frequent requests being made?
  • What is the effort required to fulfill the request?

If the frequency is high and the effort is high – then start there!  That will result in the largest savings to your organization!

If the frequency is high and the effort is low, don’t just write this request off for automation – it may be that automating this type of service request will result in a lot of time savings for your service desk staff due to the frequency of the request.

You should be able to run a report from your ITSM tool to determine the frequency of requests.  By putting that output into a pie chart, it makes it obvious which type of request will provide the quickest return and you should begin your automation with that one.

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Another idea is to look at the processes that will have dire consequences if they fail. For example, incidents opened via a monitoring tool.  If the incident is opened on a Configuration Item (CI) CI that is critical to your organization’s financial success, you should consider automating the resolution process or at a minimum automating the incident assignment, notification, and routing processes as well as setting the SLA.  This will automatically set the appropriate level of management involvement when the incident is opened.

Other Areas for Automation in the ITSM World

While automation in service operations provides low hanging fruit for many organizations, process automation throughout the service lifecycle and within the business will produce additional cost effectiveness, reduce errors, and eliminate possible risks. Some of the service lifecycle uses include:

Change Management

  • Automate the change approval process based on the Service or CIs being changed
  • Automate the Change Advisory Board (CAB) notification process – notify CAB members which changes will be discussed so they are prepared to talk about the impact of the change
  • Standard changes – automate monthly maintenance change creation

Incident Management

  • Assignment of incidents attributes based on CI, Service, or perhaps the incident is opened on behalf of a VIP
  • Service Level Agreement (SLA) assignment – assign SLAs based on Service or CI attributes
  • Operational Level Agreement (OLA) Assignment – assign OLAs based on the vendor agreement

Problem management

  • Problem identification – can you call out to an external process to implement problem detection via incident event correlation or another automated problem detection method

Service Requests

  • Provision new environments in the cloud for demo/sales/testing opportunities
  • Request access to new software or application

Workflow management

  • Manage the next status of a ticket – only allow the service desk analyst to select from certain statuses
  • Automatically close tickets after a certain time period after they have been resolved
  • Don’t forget the additional benefits of automating business processes within your organization such as:
    • Accounting – month-end, quarter-end or year-end processes can be automated for routing of task assignments and approvals
    • HR – onboarding new employees.  The service request(s) that are opened from this process are typically very standard (i.e., access to systems, AD account, hardware, standard software, etc.)  Specific service requests can be added for additional services as required (sales systems, accounting systems, CRM access, etc.)

Implementing Automation

Once your automation has been designed to effectively support your processes and thoroughly testing in an ITSM test environment, you should use the change management process and capabilities of your ITSM tool to deploy the automation into production.  Using change management has multiple benefits:

      • Transparency – it shows that you are using industry standard best practices across the IT organization.  You should include back out plans as well in the event that there are problems with the automation
      • Notifications – through the CAB review process, all interested groups are notified of the automation and the go live plans
      • Post-Implementation Monitoring – this will allow you to monitor the automation process, making certain that it functioning as designed and the resultant notifications to management regarding the effectiveness of the implemented automation.

Automation in ServiceAide Cloud Service Management (CSM)?

ServiceAide CSM has two main areas of automation available out of the box.

  • Ticket workflow – many processes in service management require documentation, workflow management, and ownership throughout the lifecycle. In CSM, your organization can create a workflow for consistent handling and management of tickets until closure. This removes much of the inherent human error when an analyst must choose from a broad spectrum of attributes like status, resolutions, notifications, etc. The ServiceAide CSM workflow allows you to automatically set fields based on the workflow step(s) they have taken.  This is implemented within CSM using a feature called Process Designer. The Process Designer doesn’t require any programming knowledge, just an understanding of basic logic flow.  It uses a drag and drop paradigm, which makes this feature intuitive and easy to use.  A screenshot of the workflow for the Service Catalog item “MS Exchange: Increase Mailbox” is shown below:

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  • Process automation – using CSM Automation Center Design Studio you are able to create new workflows or use existing workflows as templates for new workflows.  These workflows can run connectors to external systems (like AWS, Active Directory, MS Exchange, VMware, CA Clarity PPM or CA Release Automation). You can also run scripts on premise using SSH/Powershell.  In addition, you can create a new connector to an external system of your own.  Once the workflow has been created and published, it will appear in the CSM Service Catalog and be available for selection by an end user.

Just like the Process Designer, The Design Studio doesn’t require any programming knowledge, just an understanding of basic logic flow.  It also uses a drag and drop paradigm, which makes this feature intuitive and easy to use.  A screenshot of the template “Create a new AD user” is shown below.

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Follow-up on the Automation plan

While upper levels of management may be intrigued by the cost-saving promises of automation, they will need to be regularly informed of the status of the automation, including the net results on cost savings as well as the impact on your Service Desk KPIs.

The entire staff should also be informed as to how the automation is progressing since everyone has a stake in the process.

We would suggest creating a dashboard that depicts:

  • Progress of the automation plan
  • Which automations are complete and which are next to be implemented
  • Cost savings to date
  • Current customer satisfaction ratings, and changes since the automation project was started.

This simple dashboard will go a long way in creating the acceptance of your automation plan across all levels of the organization that will be critical to the overall success of your company.