by Sarah K. White

6 ways ITSM automation is changing business

Nov 30, 2018
BPM SystemsDigital TransformationIT Governance Frameworks

Automation helps organizations eliminate defects and redundancies, freeing up staff for higher-value work. Here are six ways businesses are taking advantage of automation for IT service management.

Credit: Thinkstock

IT service management (ITSM) is becoming a key enabler of transformation and modernization efforts, with companies pushing to automate user-centric processes to improve customer, client and employee satisfaction, while saving money and improving productivity.

ITSM automation is one way organizations can streamline processes to reduce “the cost of technical and business service,” while improving organizational productivity by eliminating redundancy and mundane tasks, says Bhanu Singh, vice president of engineering at OpsRamp. By automating ITSM functions, organizations can improve the “quality of service and customer experience through proper prioritization and governance,” Singh adds.

Here are six ways businesses are using ITSM automation to improve services, products and satisfaction across the organization.

Automated ticketing systems for IT help desks

One of the most commonly automated ITSM functions is incident ticketing. Automation tools help apply proper incident escalation and ticket categorization, and can even auto-resolve tickets through runbook automation scripts.

“The combination of automation and ITSM significantly reduces the work in incident identification, triage and assignment while helping IT teams focus on problem resolution, root cause remediation and planned change implementation,” says Singh.

For example, Singh says, a monitoring tool identifies a slow-running application that has “violated all of its KPI thresholds” at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, triggering an ITSM automation tool to open a ticket, assess the application’s status, and either auto-resolve or suppress, instead of escalating the alert.

In this case, the automation tool can help resolve issues without bothering employees early in the morning on a weekend — as automation becomes smarter, it won’t even have to create a ticket in the ITSM platform, says Singh.

Automating ITSM workflows

Much of what ITSM tools automate are among the easiest, most redundant tasks. Such efforts don’t often provide evident cost savings, but it’s important to understand what your company can gain from staff who are freed to work on more complex projects.

Moreover, as companies get more comfortable with low-level automation, they can start embracing newer automation technology. Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord, president of ITSM tool provider TOPdesk, breaks automation down into three categories: automation of incoming things in the ITSM tool, automation within the tool itself and automation of outbound actions.

Automation of “incoming things” includes ticketing and incident reporting for detecting minor issues — like low disk space. Automation “within the tool itself” includes automatically assigning SLAs to proper categories or technicians, even going as far as to assign specific workflow tasks to the proper group or person.

Automation of “outbound actions” includes tools used to “push the most relevant knowledge to the person that logs in, taking context that goes further than search keywords into account.” It also includes all the prompts that take place when an ITSM tool starts “a workflow in another system to remediate disk space, install certain software or create or archive an AD account,” she says.

Faster change management processes

Because new systems and strategies can be disruptive to business, effective change management is a must. And ITSM automation is helping some organizations make efficient transitions.

Jason Odden, director at Cask, a consultancy that helps implement ITSM automation, mentions as an example a large entertainment and gaming company that wanted to implement ITSM with a “highly automated change management process.” The company worked with Cask, approaching this implementation using the popular ITIL framework.

“ITIL plays an important role in providing a consistent set of terminology and good practices that can be used to define the processes and systems to be automated. Deploying a good process is important before automating it,” Odden says.

Using this framework, Odden’s team was able to establish change management best practices while helping the entertainment and gaming company implement an automation tool to auto-approve all requests for change. By doing this, they were able to reduce the amount of time it took to act on change requests, saving the organization time and improving efficiency.

Pushing out faster, more consistent updates

In another example, Odden references a large automotive website that wanted to “increase automation to deploy more frequent updates to their website.” The company released updates every few days, but they wanted to shift to releasing website updates every few hours.

Using the ITIL framework, they were able to identify issues and defects in the company’s agile environment that were preventing faster updates. They were also able to identify various processes and tasks that would benefit from automation. According to Odden, by using the ITIL framework, “the deployment and operations activities were able to be highly automated because of these ITSM processes and quality framework.”

Automating cloud processes

At Ahead, practice director Ryan Hale says the company deals with a lot of customers who are working with private- or public-cloud based resources from ServiceNow, an ITSM tool that Ahead helps other organizations implement. Most often, Hale says companies automate provisioning by creating an end-user portal where customers, engineers, developers or any approved person can go to automatically provision resources within a private or public cloud.

“While we’re executing that, we’re also ticking all of the boxes that we need in terms of standard ITSM processes: requests, change managements, and all of the tasks within that. We can ensure we’re deploying this in a way so — if and when audits happen — we can say we’ve followed all of the steps from a governance standpoint. We can roll all of those metrics up from a success standpoint and prove accuracy in order to mitigate risk for the customer,” says Hale.

Hale gives another example of a financial customer that used ServiceNow to automatically provision their cloud resources within Azure.

“With ServiceNow’s GRC [governance, risk, compliance] overlay on top of it, we could ensure compliance any time something was provisioned — either to account for a burst in capacity or to provision a brand-new service. We were able to reduce provisioning time for this customer and others from a few weeks down to a handful of hours, which is a huge win for any IT department,” he says.

Streamlining employee onboarding

Milind Wagle, CIO of Equinix, says her company has taken advantage of ITSM automation to onboard new hires. When a new employee joins, they need to access to several internal systems specific to the organization or the employee’s department. Instead of the employee or hiring manager reaching out to IT to request this access, they’ve automate the process so it’s requested automatically.

“When a new employee joins our organization, they’re never given the option of requesting help through a service management model; instead, the system automatically sends a notification to their hiring manager with instructions for how the manager can request access, and ITSM triggers the rest,” she says.

Equinix now evaluates the organization’s automation monthly, after which ITSM staff will seek out opportunities where ITSM automation can be improved, implemented or adjusted. The company runs a dedicated program that helps ITSM staff stay on top of automation to ensure it scales with the organization, Wagle says.  

“As a result, we’re continuously seeing a huge decrease in the number of requests that require hands-on assistance from staff, which means a huge number of man-hours saved both in terms of IT staff time, and the wait time of our requestors,” she says.

Improving your customer experience and satisfaction

Although ITSM automation starts with IT, its biggest impact is on the business and customers, says Kevin Smith, senior vice president of Ivanti, an ITSM tools provider. Improving client and customer service is the end-game of ITSM automation and every department outside of IT will rely on automation on some level.  

“IT automation allows us to deliver a more personalized experience and to deliver faster. This is a very powerful combination — delivering exactly what the customer wants and in a much faster manner,” says Smith, who adds that this is possible because such systems connect the front and back office.

Here, Smith provides the example of automating order fulfillment processes when customers place online orders. By automating this process, customers get their products faster after placing an order, increasing customer satisfaction.