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People, Process, Technology, Automation – The Next Evolution of Service Management

By | June 5, 2018 in ITSM

Automation - The Next Evolution of Service Management

If you’ve been around IT service management (ITSM) for any time, you can easily recite the three aspects of ITSM:  people, process, and technology.

Frankly, the best way to implement ITSM is to first address the “people,” then develop “processes,” and then put into operation the “technology.” Some organizations follow this approach and have great success. But many organizations jump from a cursory look at “people” directly to the “technology” in their ITSM implementations. Still, other organizations just start with “technology,” hoping for a quick, out-of-the-box fix to their service management challenges.

In my opinion, “technology” is always the easiest part of the equation. Typically, ITSM technology takes the form of a software solution that captures tickets, routes work, and perhaps features a self-service portal. These solutions have been tested against typical use cases and, generally speaking, they work.

However, “people” continues to be the most critical aspect of any ITSM implementation. The "people" part of ITSM requires some time and effort. Anchoring ITSM into the organization means a change of the collective mindsets of individuals. This shift demands more than just a couple of training classes and a smattering of emails, ITSM success relies on the engagement, buy-in, and support of all people involved.

Which brings me to “process.”

A process is a defined sequence of activities that transform inputs into outputs. Why do so many organizations 'dance around' process design?

Because. Process. Is. Hard.

Because process design and implementation mean that as an organization, you’re putting a stake in the ground. You are committing to a way (not umpteen ways) of doing something.

But the design of process is only part of the challenge.

Challenges with the Current Way of Doing Things

While technology does enable and underpin processes, process definition alone is not enough.

One of the most significant challenges with the way we do things today is that even when we take the time to design and implement "process," there is little guarantee that people will follow said process.

Even if people follow the defined process, there are huge challenges. For example:

  • Most service management data is captured in a “ticket.” But are those tickets providing any useful information? The data captured in a ticket is subject to the subjectivity, opinions, skills, and knowledge of the person creating the ticket.
  • To discern information from any data captured in tickets usually requires significant manual effort.
  • While process workflows are enabled by technology, workflows today are usually theatrical performances in “start, stop, wait, restart, stop, wait…” Each “stop” in the workflow represents manual effort. Somebody has to acknowledge and pick up the ticket, update the ticket, maybe update the ticket with pertinent information, maybe not….
  • Inconsistent interactions with the consumer. Sometimes it’s the service desk interacting with the consumer. Sometimes it’s the L2 resolver. Sometimes it’s no interaction at all.

But be warned. Despite the challenges of process use, short-cut process design at your own peril. Not just because "process" is such a critical component of ITSM now. It’s because of the emerging fourth aspect of ITSM: automation.

What Is Automation?

It’s one thing to design and document a process – and hope that people use and follow it. It is quite another thing to have a computer do something with a process.

Automation ensures that processes are followed. And if processes are the way to scale an organization, automation operationalizes that.

TechTarget.com defines IT automation as “the use of instructions to create a repeated process that replaces an IT professional's manual work…The scope of IT automation ranges from single actions to discrete sequences and, ultimately, to an autonomous IT deployment that takes actions based on user behavior and other event triggers.”

People can do more value-added work if they are given the time. Defining processes have long been considered the way to scale. But automation takes it up a notch – automation makes scaling operational.

Perhaps in some ways, automation is nothing new. What’s new, however, is how automation is changing ITSM.

The Way We Do ITSM Is Going to Change

The rapidly and ever-evolving technology landscape is going to change how we do ITSM.

  • Technology-initiated ITSM – An ever-increasing amount of ITSM activities will be initiated by technology itself. With the Internet of Things, machines are exchanging data and information with other machines. Some of this data will be incident or problem-related. Other data will indicate a situation that requires some (automated) response. In either situation, ticket creation and process execution can be triggered by the technology itself.
  • IT Process Automation (ITPA) – ITPA is essentially a defined workflow, containing procedures, triggers, and flow-control (AND, NOT, OR) conditions for executing ordered, defined tasks using intelligent software. ITPA is done in response to a trigger, or event, which can be integrated with monitoring solutions to automate ITSM response.
  • Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Cognitive Computing – Advances in data science and algorithm development is resulting in technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive computing that can continuously seek out data patterns and defined conditions and take appropriate action – such as initiating ITSM processes.

But it all starts with defining processes. Defined process enables automation. Automation opens the door to a more advanced use of technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Know this – you won’t get there if your process designs are weak, not fit-for-use, not fit-for-purpose, or require constant manual intervention.

5 Things to Do to Get Ready for Automation

Ready to automate? Before you invest in technology, here are my 5 things to do to get ready for ITSM automation:

  • Training and communications – for real.
    Yes, automation will take away some jobs from humans, but it will also create new opportunities to leverage that experience in new ways. Invest in training so you can build expertise in process design and automation technologies. Develop and implemented a formal communications plan so you can address challenges head-on and help people understand the benefits of automation.
  • Conduct process assessments.
    You can’t automate what you don’t understand. Poorly designed processes, when automated, will continue to be poorly designed processes – they will just execute faster. Assess your processes objectively so you can understand the strengths and weaknesses of your processes. Remember, manual intervention within a process should be treated as a “bug.”
  • Map your value streams.
    Do your process designs encompass the complete value stream? Manual intervention within a process is often the result of a process that does not encapsulate the complete value stream. By mapping your value streams, you can not only identify and remove waste from the value flow but also ensure that what you’re about to automate is a complete solution.
  • Establish an automation team.
    Define and develop an in-house automation team so you can develop needed skills and competencies to deliver outcomes your organization requires from automation.
  • Start by “automating the obvious.”
    In today’s business environment, there is simply no reason to have humans resetting passwords for other humans. The steps for on-boarding or removing employees are consistent and repeatable. Why not automate such things? These obvious opportunities provide simple use cases for automation so you can learn and further promote the benefits of automation.

Automation done well and done appropriately frees up valuable time for people to do the “people things” that are so critical to good ITSM – problem-solving, relationship building, communication, and innovation. And as companies enter the digital age where customer and user experience are so critical, automation will ensure a consistent experience.

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Doug Tedder

About Doug Tedder

Doug is an ITSM and process improvement consultant, trainer, and accidental social media savant, enabling IT organizations to transform, sustain, and grow real business value. An active volunteer in the ITSM community, Doug is a frequent speaker and contributor to industry user group meetings, webinars, blogs, and national conventions.

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