Imagine that every morning, before you wake up, your phone unmutes itself and changes the background to the NASA picture of the day. When you leave your house, your phone’s wireless is deactivated. As events occur on social media, you receive a notification and automatically share them with your friends. Then at work, if you submit a request, a ticket automatically notifies you when the request has been completed. When you return home, your phone’s wireless is re-activated and before you go to bed your phone automatically re-mutes itself. This is my kind of productivity. When things get done automatically, not only don’t you have to think about them, you also don’t have perform the needed task. The first saves you mental energy and the second saves you time. This is the value of “automation as a service.”
As IT professionals, we are in a unique position. When we enhance our own productivity, we increase our ability to help our business partners. When we enhance the productivity of business partners using tools such as automation as a service, we prove our worth to our internal clients.
Automation as a service is a technology megatrend that’s quietly working its way into peoples’ hearts, daily lives and system processes. A company called IFTTT Inc. (If This Then That) has led the charge to make automation simple for the end user by automating processes with apps such as Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, OneDrive for Business and many others. IFTTT has two primary types of processes, called “recipes” — Do Recipes and If Recipes. Do Recipes are executed by the press of a button, and If Recipes run in the background, automatically executing various tasks when specific conditions are met.
Microsoft’s Flow technology can perform complicated (multistep) automations. For example, you can use Flow to send yourself an email when a tweet is sent from a specific hashtag. Then, if you approve the tweet, it automatically retweets it from your account.
A third and more advanced product in this category is Launch by Catapult Systems. It provides a fully managed automation-as-a-service solution for the business marketplace. Similar to IFTTT and Flow, Launch connects to a variety of endpoints, such as Active Directory, Exchange, Office 365 and Skype for Business. It also extends its reach to user-defined applications such as ERP systems and the automation of human resources processes.
From an IT perspective, imagine how tools like these could quickly, effectively and inexpensively automate time-consuming, highly repetitive and/or accident-prone internal IT and business processes. The possibilities are endless. For example, prebuilt automations constructed in Launch, Flow and other advanced tools could systematize diverse employee onboarding activities, such as these:
- Reserving cubicle space in the company’s space management system.
- Opening a ticket in the help desk system that orders the appropriate PC, based the new employee’s job function.
- Connecting to the organization’s learning management system and automatically registering the new person in required classes.
- If the new employee is a salesperson, automatically connecting to the CRM system and creating an account with the appropriate quotas, product lines and contacts.
- Automatically emailing the security officer assigned to the new employee's cost center to approve the creation of a user ID and providing access to the appropriate systems for the employee's specific responsibilities based on data contained in the company’s HRIS system.
- Automatically connecting to the cloud-based accounting system to create an accounts payable employee record so the new person will be able to successfully submit expense reports for reimbursement.
- Creating user accounts in Active Directory, Exchange, Office 365 or Skype to enable communication across the company.
- Adding the individual to the hew hire section of the company intranet and sending an email profile to the employee's new team to facilitate relationships.
This is an example of how automation as a service can be used to connect diverse systems in a cost-effective way. The big question for you is what processes within IT or your user community can be enhanced or replaced via the use of automation as a service.
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