Guest author Jonathan Crane is Chief Commercial Officer of IPsoft.
As IT has expanded over the past decade, the average IT department has been required to spend more time and effort just keeping systems and services running. IT staffs now devote up to 30% of their time to making sure the lights stay on.
This is not a new phenomenon; many other industries have faced similar scenarios. The auto industry once employed thousands of people performing sequential, repetitive tasks along assembly lines. Today, those production lines are almost completely automated, leaving the humans to design tomorrow’s concept cars.
But while technology lies at the heart of automating processes, its use in IT support is still woefully limited. That’s not to suggest that nothing has been done; most current approaches, though, barely scratch the surface of what is possible. Typical implementations consist of basic scripting, run-book automations or static logic sequences at the task level.
The Power Of Automating IT Support
More advanced automation implementations completely replicate the activities of human IT employees, completely taking over menial tasks and leaving staff to tackle larger projects that require creativity, innovation and imagination. Truly expert systems can be used to automate first- or even second-line IT support roles as well as many of the complex, multi-stage activities that occupy IT engineers.
Replicating the tasks and decisions of human support engineers, these systems follow the same processes and create the same results, including running commands, evaluating responses, seeking out the relevant information and documentation, carrying out resolutions and, if required, providing an approving party with the right information to make an informed and rapid decision.
Leading systems can also vary the use of automated activities based on environmental and contextual cues. For instance, autonomic systems can choose to perform bandwidth-heavy work in the middle of the night when there is less network competition. They can analyze complex series of actions to decide which tasks to take on first. Autonomic technologies make it possible to automate virtually any IT function defined in a structured process.
The Value Of Starting "Ugly"
For those companies that are just starting to automate IT processes, though, deciding what to automate can be overwhelming. It's traditional to begin by automating the simplest tasks - the neat, well-defined, “pretty” processes — and gradually extend things over time. But for maximum impact, why not go after the “ugly” stuff right away?
Start with the complex, multi-step, time-consuming and highly manual activities. Start with the tasks that require input from multiple people at various stages. Start with the noisiest processes and the most common faults.
5 "Ugly" Tasks
These five "ugly" tasks, for example, can be automated to deliver significant time and efficiency benefits as well as improvements in service quality:
1. Running Diagnostics. Up to 70% of the time it takes to fix an issue lies in diagnosing the cause. Automating diagnostics can free up significant amounts of employee time.
2. Predictive Incident Management. Automation software can be taught to spot impending issues and take corrective actions before they have any impact. This encompasses a significant portion of performance monitoring and eliminates much of the work required to fix things after they fail.
3. Requesting Permission. Many tasks stall because IT staff have to seek approval before proceeding. Automation software can seamlessly manage approval and escalation processes, effectively removing this step.
4. Service Readiness Checks. Many applications require complex, multi-stage, “ready-for-service” checks before opening. Automation can save both time and effort by completing these checks and continuously monitoring performance.
5. Password Management. While password self-service portals are fairly common, automation can take this a step further by texting users with a new password immediately after they hit the retry limit. That reduces help desk phone calls and improves the customer experience.
By implementing automation where it will make the most impact, businesses can free up man-hours faster and show a better return on investment. Reallocating the time saved can then support the business' real goals, not just keeping the wheels turning.
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