I don’t think many would disagree that automation is important; we’ve seen what it can do in manufacturing and other industries. Yet, automation is often a double-edged sword: As processes become cheaper, faster, and more predictable, we reduce the need for people. Looking at manufacturing processes, human involvement is limited to highly skilled, super specialized actions where automation cannot be used.
Automation as the new norm in manufacturing
Within manufacturing we accepted that this was necessary, and automation forced us to evolve how we think about its processes. Now we focus on more important things that impact our business beyond the art of manufacturing. If we’ve accepted this for manufacturing, why do we still have reservations about automation when it comes to IT services delivery? Do customers really want to talk to a person for everything? Or is this merely a repeat of manufacturing mind shift?
While IT service providers are very technical people deep down, their adoption of automation in service delivery is still limited today. What could be the reasons for the limited amount of automation in the IT service delivery business? Let’s go back to manufacturing, to the assembly line.
Each post on the assembly line performs its same action over and over again. If you see an old assembly manual of a classic car, you’d notice the sections of the assembly line arranged linearly in the manual; reading the factory assembly manual reads like you are on the assembly line. It’s easy to see the automation opportunities right in front of you.
Within IT services it’s not so simple. An IT service provider doesn’t have a single guy for a single task. Because the opportunities for improvement aren’t obvious, we tend not to spend the time looking for them.
What’s in the way of IT services fully embracing automation?
A lack of automation can be boiled down to two main roadblocks. The first—and easiest to overcome—is not having the skill set to build the automation. The second—and more difficult to overcome, but critical to reap the benefits of automation—is a lack of insight into what your people are doing and which tasks can be automated.
I’ve talked to a lot of business owners and about the standard operating procedures or their service definitions; in most cases they are be able to give me a high-level overview of what they think the service should be. Then I ask the delivery manager and engineer the same question, getting very different answers.
The key to success in any type of service delivery—especially in IT services—is consistency. Each customer who buys a specific service from you should receive the same experience and (hopefully) yield the same satisfaction—every single time. What can guarantee your approach is repeatable? Automation! After all, delivering a service with automation prevents deviation from your commands.
The road to automation
How do we get from unorganized service delivery to automated, standardized, and successful delivery? Start by identifying what services you offer and how you execute them. Does the execution match the service definition? Does every single engineer perform each single task within that service exactly the same way, and the best way?
Creating a service catalog for any IT service provider is key. If you don’t know what you sell and what the customer experience should be like, how can you be successful? When you inventory all your services, examine the what, why and how: What exactly the service offers, why it’s important to your business and to the customer, and how the service needs to be executed. When you have that catalog, detecting opportunities to automate certain actions and reduce human errors will begin to become more obvious.
This article is not meant to push every IT services provider to become an ITIL certified manager—although ITIL is an excellent framework to start with—but here are a few key points to think about to help you grow into the automated IT service provider space:
- Design your service catalog, describe your services, identify how those services add value to you and your customers.
- Operationalize your services, ensuring your delivery engineers know how each service should be executed consistently, and protect that standardization.
- Improve your service, thinking about customer satisfaction, costs and time. Here is where automation comes in: Now you know what your delivery engineers are doing and can see how long it takes them, you can assess where automation makes sense.