Automation supports IT managers under pressure — virtually multiplying hands on deck when work abounds.
The technology can give stressed IT workers respite, one-third of whom have contemplated quitting over the constant need to respond to unplanned work, according to data from PagerDuty. In incident responses, for example, four in 10 workers said the entire process lacks automation.
After 2020, executives saw automation step in to help with changes in customer service, staff onboarding and remote IT support. The sense that automation can help stuck around, and now two-thirds of senior executives plan to increase investment in automation and AI as their organizations recover from the impact of COVID-19, according to a global McKinsey study.
To Stuart Downes, senior director analyst at Gartner, automation is an imperative: Not only can it help, it's a directive for IT managers.
"Automate like mad," said Downes, speaking last month at the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit. "Make sure that the automation that you do is driven by an understanding of what needs to be automated."
To succeed in IT automation, companies need to start by ensuring they perform the most frequent IT tasks automatically — simple processes such as password resets. Next, a value stream mapping exercise can help determine when it is the right tool for the job.
But beware: In some cases automation won't be worth the effort.
Usually, IT executives assess potential automation targets from a lens of either time or money, according to Michael Perrault, national director, network and cloud security at Insight Enterprises. "You start out with [use cases] that have the largest impact, and you automate that first."
The low-hanging fruit
Companies can one-up their market rivals with technology — competing over who can attract more customers and who is able to better service their internal stakeholders. IT automation sits among the top applications for AI in companies' 2021 tech roadmaps, a Spiceworks Ziff Davis report found.
If markets have made automation a staple in the IT stack, then the "absolute necessity" for organizations is automating simple IT processes, Downes said.
"The technology has advanced sufficiently, to the point where it has made automation possible, and easy, on most of the stuff that is existing out there," said Sandeep Sachdeva, VP of AI and Automation for Sogeti USA.
Automating simple processes, akin to flexing a muscle, will begin to strengthen IT efficiency by taking care of the tasks that would require a lot of manpower but are simple enough to automate.
"There's a lot of basics that can be done that can reduce the number of incidents, solving requests that are being dealt with by humans by 20%, 30% or 40%," said Downes.
Knowing where automation (might not) work
As an example of missed upside with automation, Perrault recalls a project in which an executive had automated the process of deploying firewalls in a cloud environment.
"The problem is he spent about two and a half weeks doing the automation for this," said Perrault. "In the next year and a half, their plan is to maybe … stand up four more firewalls. He spent two and a half weeks automating something that can be done manually in about two and a half hours."
"There's no return on investment there, and won't be for a significant period of time," Perrault said.
To determine where the biggest wins of automation lie, Perrault recommends executives borrow a page from the manufacturing playbook and perform a value stream mapping analysis by:
Spotting the main bottlenecks in their processes
Determining where the greatest advantage to automation would lie
Aiming automation into that part of the process
For automating IT support, volume of requests is a helpful metric for spotting ideal automation use cases.
"Automation is all about pattern recognition," said David Karandish, founder and CEO of Capacity. "You're going to have your best shot at automating something when there's some kind of discernible pattern as to what needs to be done."
But as with any technology, full adoption of automation of applications will require buy-in across the organization, alongside an adjustment of the processes that were in place prior to automation.
"We do see a lot of organizations who think 'we've deployed this toolset, …. we're on the journey to automation,'" said Downes. "In reality, it's still the skill of people in the organization that need to make all the changes in the IT system in order for the automation to take effect."