Jul282017

IT automation has helped transform the way that technology is delivered and supported. But are organisations doing enough with this new capability to gain true value? This article, co-written by SITS Insight and Ivanti, explains how to rethink IT automation to deliver new levels of business value.


From the obvious password resets, through to logging incidents and requests, through to rapidly improving FAQ self-service, IT automation has transformed the delivery of business technology. 

Organisations using IT automation like this are sure to have gained value. The figures vary widely, but it’s a conservative estimate to say that labour cost savings of between 20-30% are commonplace.

As with any IT process or project, it is possible to tweak and improve on these gains, squeezing even more value from the investment. And there are myriad guides available which help you improve this form of IT automation.

But this article is different. Its purpose is to make you rethink IT automation and see the massive latent potential it holds. Not only can IT automation have a transformative impact on business performance, it can be the starting point for moving IT closer to the centre of the business. Doing this will mean that rather than simply offering technology services to the business, IT will take a central role in defining the future success of the business.

Starting point
It’s important to consider exactly what automation is trying to achieve. In terms of IT, the aim of automation is removing costly human intervention from routine repeatable processes. But to do this, we must think beyond these processes. This may seem counterintuitive, but to get better at automation, we need to first understand the wider context.

Matthew Hooper, Product Evangelist for Ivanti explains further: “A lot of automation is designed to make life easier for IT, rather than looking at the bigger picture of the business as a whole. IT has no problem automating backups but doesn’t automate crucial processes such as onboarding. Good people are really important and therefore organisations put huge effort into winning them over…  And then we make them wait three weeks for a laptop.”

According to Matt, massive oversights such as ignoring onboarding happen because IT has a dangerously narrow view of what we mean by ‘process’. This is because a reductive view of process has been built into the culture of IT service management. The best practice framework ITIL has played a major role in defining this culture.

The concepts and processes ITIL describes are all very valid and valuable. It’s an indisputable fact that ITIL processes have helped IT become more organised and structured.  ITIL has saved countless hours ‘reinventing the wheel’ because it offers such a powerful, logical starting point for developing IT processes. But the problem is it talks almost exclusively about… IT processes. And when we’re thinking in terms of IT process automation, there’s a much bigger picture to consider.

“We have to cut the ITIL anchor otherwise we’re too reliant on processes which don’t connect to the business. Yes, ITSM can be a driver to digital transformation.  But it is blocked by conflicting priorities. We want to help the business, but we’re stuck supporting IT process.  There’s no business strategy thinking behind it. If IT services are developed for IT sake, they’re going to fail.”

IT has been so preoccupied by ITIL and its own internal processes that it struggles to see any further into the business. IT process automation doesn’t just mean automating IT processes. It should mean using IT to automate business processes.

Matt Hooper, Ivanti

Matt Hooper, Ivanti

“Kim Stevenson, CEO of Lenovo and previously COO of Intel, understood this. When she came on board in her new role, the first thing that she did was to cancel all of IT projects, she then told her people to come back and sell these projects to her as a business project.  This in turn spurred innovation. For example, they installed vending machines in the buildings which were stocked with cables, mice and other IT consumables so that employees could just swipe their badge to get whatever they needed to self-fix small scale IT issues. Using an access control badge produced an internal record of who had taken what. This is a great example showing that if you sell IT as a business project, then you can begin removing bottlenecks and move on to empower people to make their own IT decisions.”

This vending machine example shows how a very labour intensive process can be automated. Not only did this initiative remove the need for regular input from IT, it massively improved customer satisfaction because it simplified the process for customers, and made sourcing of IT equipment so much more accessible. So while projects like this certainly benefit IT, they also benefit the business.

Barriers to IT automation
So, if there are such incredible opportunities to harness the power of IT automation available, why isn’t this digital transformation happening more readily? Is the hold up because technology of sufficient maturity does not yet exist?

“This isn’t a tech issue. Just look at Amazon – yes it’s impressive, but we’re not talking Star Trek-levels of kit here. The difference is in the planning and thought-processes behind the technology. Amazon thinks about everything from the perspective of the customer experience and then engineers work back from that starting point to make it happen.”

Attitude adjustment
If technology isn’t the issue, what is? As Matt suggests, a mindset shift is needed to unlock the potential of IT automation.  But this isn’t easy when corporate IT has grown up working in a very specific way. The problem is that IT has traditionally worked as a siloed business unit. In the past, IT didn’t need a two-way conversation with the business because it just prescribed what to do. And, because the business didn’t really understand IT either, a one-way communication channel suited everyone just fine.

Now the ‘business’ is no longer bamboozled by technology. The consumerisation of IT means that not only does the business ‘get’ technology, it also has much higher expectations of what technology can do. It is no longer impressive enough that the IT department can simply provide users with technology. The business now expects the IT department to deliver technology that makes it work faster, more efficiently and, ideally, gives it a competitive edge. Crucially, the business also expects to be heard by IT, rather than simply being dictated to.

Therefore, IT needs to change its attitude. The starting point of any IT automation project is studying the processes that offer the best ratio of effort versus value. This can only be established when IT collaborates with the business. The people who will lead this are the ones willing to step outside of their IT comfort zone, walk into the business and start asking questions. Where are the biggest problems? Which business processes are most expensive/labour intensive? Which ones are ripe for automation?

IT is still the lead voice in terms of technology. It can tell the business about the potential of emerging technologies to solve business challenges. It can also be the voice of reason that explains why something isn’t achievable or will compromise other elements such as IT security. However, IT must accept that the world has changed and that it must be humble and open-minded enough to listen to the business.

IT automation can transform the business by offering up huge cost-savings. But the bigger opportunity is creating a collaborative culture where IT is helping steer the business from the centre, rather than from the fringes. 

Read this article also written with Ivanti: Can DevOps deliver business value?

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