Making IT Automation Work… For You
Why automating IT operations can be a win-win for everyone in your organization
This story is part of Security Essentials, the IT Vault’s practical advice for getting the most out of your security team.
Everyone is talking about automation these days, especially when it comes to business – more specifically, IT operations. But is automation the right fit for your organization? What will you really get out of it? And where would you even begin? Thankfully, even though it’s fairly new, IT automation is already mature enough to answer your questions. So, at least you’re not starting at “what is IT automation?” But despite what the name implies, it won’t just happen automatically.
Done right, IT automation can make you a superhero among your peers, a blessing to your team, and the G.O.A.T. to your users. Done wrong, you can make bad things…worse.
Bill Gates once said “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” And, he wasn’t wrong. So, before you jump onto the train of automating your IT operations, you’ve got to take a close look at what’s already working for you.
Your IT operations are likely a large, complex collection of data, tools and dependencies. That makes it increasingly risky for your IT team to rely on custom scripts and manual processes, as each of those becomes a potential point of failure. It all works…right now, but are you ready to track down that script or entry error when it doesn’t?
And let’s be clear, we’re not talking about replacing people or loading a silver bullet. Understand that IT automation isn’t about fixing all that’s broken in your IT operations, it’s about making what DOES work more efficient. Figuring out what’s working and what isn’t still comes down to you and your people.
So yes, the first step in IT automation is some roll-up-your-sleeves manual examination of your current IT operations. Once you’ve identified the best areas for an efficiency boost, there are clear, proven benefits to IT automation, even from a 30,000-foot view:
• Cut down on confusion and conflict: With automated IT processes, you can reduce the amount of manual data capture, and gain the ability to have all your data in one place for quick review or reporting.
• Increase reliability: Automating routine, repetitive tasks (such as server configuration or permission updating) can cut down on human error – it can also reduce the severity and occurrence of outages.
• Reduce complexity with streamlined processes: From entitlement-level configuration, multi-level and pre-approvals to time-based access, you can put the processes that already work for you on auto-pilot. That leads to…
• Free up resources: The more automation you apply to routine IT tasks and processes (provisioning, IT tickets and access requests), the more your people are freed up to focus on long-term strategic goals and tackle actual IT issues.
• Improve visibility to make report generation easier: No more running around for audits or compliance checks. Automated systems and processes can also be monitored automatically, giving you real-time data for better reporting, improved SLAs, and auto-remediation.
• Shorten time to resolution: Automation – especially for the most common IT requests – can cut resolution time down from hours to minutes.
There’s a lot of automation that can happen that isn’t a replacement of humans, but of mind-numbing behavior.
- Stewart Butterfield, Co-Founder of Flickr and Slack
Next, where should you be looking? Where will IT automation make the most impact? To get the most bang for your buck, start with the routine, repetitive, mundane tasks – the ones that suck up lots of hours that can be better spent doing something else (we’re looking at you, IT tickets!), or the ones that don’t necessarily require human interaction. In addition to IT tickets, issue escalation, and password resets, areas you can consider automating right away include:
• Software access requests and approvals: An automated software request system with configurable policies helps you ensure that only necessary, approved software is used (and that unnecessary software isn’t deployed). It saves you time, money, and from being haunted (literally and figuratively) by “ghost apps.”
• On- and offboarding: This can include securely creating and deleting accounts, making sure new hires’ equipment and system access is ready on day one, and easily de-provisioning / terminating accounts and access once they leave the organization.
• Hardware requests and provisioning: From simple repair and parts requests to setup and configuration, automation can streamline the process and directly impact productivity by making sure everyone has the equipment they need.
• Access updates for role-change or promotion: No more mix-ups with harvesting and deploying licenses and assets based on new roles or updated access. You can automate access and license management without missing a beat.
• Frequently asked support questions: if you find yourself answering the same questions again and again, an automated AI IT help desk chatbot can answer them quickly, and scale as needed.
These “greatest hits” can be a helpful starting point on your IT automation journey. Once you’ve identified where automation can help your IT operations, you have to develop and execute an implementation strategy. To do that you need to answer the what, why, and how. (“When” is, as expected, ASAP!)
WHAT: These are the aspects of our IT operations that would benefit from automation.
WHY: These are the benefits to our team, our users, and the organization.
HOW: This is our plan and timeline for choosing and deploying a solution.
Play out the whole scenario, from start to finish. First, think a little deeper about specific apps or processes that would be impacted, and which specific tasks would need to be automated. Also consider timing – how much of your automation would need to be real-time as opposed to on a set schedule or tied to a trigger event? Are there any specific business rules or logic that would have to be applied, such as data verification, transfer, or formatting? And of course there’s always exception handling – what exceptions could there be? What’s the current procedure, and can/should that be automated, as well?
To get the most bang for your buck, start with the routine, repetitive, mundane tasks – the ones that suck up lots of hours that can be better spent doing something else (we’re looking at you, IT tickets!), or the ones that don’t necessarily require human interaction.
Also, bring your team in – these aren’t the kind of decisions to be made in a vacuum, especially if any changes to IT strategy or process will directly impact them. Your team is your front line – not only will they help you locate areas of weakness, they’ll be able to point to your organization’s specific best practices, best candidates for automation, and help identify the best tools to get the job done. On the flipside, you’ll be able to hear any resistance (or fear) first-hand, and address it head-on. Remind your team that you’re doing this (in part) to make their lives easier, not replace them.
When looking at potential automation partners and tools, look for flexibility and scalability – every organization’s needs are unique, and you want your solution to reflect your specific needs. Solutions that are too “cookie cutter” can provide a lot of features or functions you don’t want or need, or won’t be able to address your specific issues. Plus the more flexible the solution, the more likely it is to address the majority of your typical use cases.
Simplicity and usability are just as important. If your solution is too difficult to learn or use, you’ll be sacrificing much of the productivity and efficiency you’re trying to capture. This is another reason to make sure your team is available for any demos or trial runs.
The last step of developing your strategy (well, in many ways it could be your first step) is laying out your roadmap, so you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Plan to deploy automation in phases, starting with quick, easy wins like eliminating IT tickets and automating password resets before applying your solution to any larger, more critical workflows. Incrementally build on your wins, learn, and adapt – this goes back to having a flexible solution. You can tweak along the way.
Now that you’ve got the “what,” the “why,” and the “how,” you still have to sell it through to the decision-makers, stakeholders, and anyone who might have a say in your budget. But with so many benefits tied specifically to your organization, if you’ve done your homework, you’ll be hard to deny.
Start with your current situation – and where your biggest inefficiencies lie. How much are manual tasks and custom coding costing the organization? Showcase each of the shortcomings with hard numbers, so you have a baseline to measure against with automation. Next, since automation is still fairly new (especially to those outside the IT department), be ready to explain how automation won’t just help the IT team, but benefit the entire organization and individual users. Finally, focus on the potential cost savings in both the short and long term. By this point, you should have heads nodding all the way around the table.
So, will IT automation work… for you? If you apply what we already know about automation best practices to your specific situation, you’ll see positive changes in efficiency and productivity almost immediately – and have resources available for your tougher IT challenges. And that makes IT automation a win-win for everyone.