How automation helped my IT team make time for innovation

We were spending 74 percent of our time just running the business. Then we ditched our old ways and embraced automation
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We are in an exciting new era where IT is leading the charge to create innovations that will radically transform how companies are selling products and reaching customers. However, we are still stuck in the old way of doing things. 

Gartner reports that IT organizations spend 66 percent of their resources on day-to-day operations, the “keeping the lights on” activities. From our recent State of Work survey, we found that skilled workers spend 40 percent of their time on administrative tasks – just running the business rather than growing and changing it.

As we continue on the path as a key strategic business driver, we need to break this cycle and change our ways to free up time to innovate and operate faster, starting with IT operations.

Go all in with automation

A while ago, I looked at my IT organization and wanted to determine if we were positioned to lead innovation efforts. We were not. We were spending 74 percent on running the business and just a quarter of our resources on innovation. We were also bogged down with unstructured processes, fragmented data, and manual reporting. We looked at these challenges and saw them as an opportunity for real change. 

Knowing that throwing more bodies at the problem wasn’t an ideal long-term solution, we looked to intelligent automation. We scrutinized everything we do and decided to go all in with automation. We firmly believed that the new model of IT operations is “the best service is no service.” What we discovered is that 84 percent of what we do has potential to be at a higher-level automation. I believe the real number is probably much higher, but like most, we are constrained by our own imagination.

[ Want to read more on automation? See our related article: 5 factors fueling automation in IT now .]

Going all in with automation begs the question, “What is IT operations supposed to do once we’ve automated everything?” The truth is that the path to the “no service” model is littered with questions for which we do not have all the answers yet. We’ll either lead through change or wake up one day and be “yesterday’s” IT department.

Going “no service” will take some work

To be a “no service” organization will take some time, effort, and a plan. Service automation can’t just be about quick wins and incremental improvement. It’s about creating competitive advantage over the long run: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t jump from manual to machines completely managing every service in one step.

Start with end-to-end processes with a lot of structured tasks and where automation will alleviate the most workload for the IT team. Provisioning VMs, patching machines, and installing are good candidates. Automate these entire processes – the provisioning, the management, the reporting, the scaling up and down. Learn from them, then tackle more.

We used this strategy when shifting our IT model from run to grow at ServiceNow. This resulted in 43 percent of our IT Operations resources going to innovation last year. Our IT team now has the time to experiment with how the rest of the organization can benefit from intelligent automation applied to their business processes.

Walk away from yesterday’s metrics

When bots start doing the routine tasks instead of humans, and eventually manage entire processes on their own, what you measure must also change. You can’t be tomorrow’s IT organization when you’re still using yesterday’s metrics. CIOs still need to measure productivity, velocity, financials, and the user experience, but how we do it will be different.

Productivity will no longer be based on the time spent running the business vs. growing the business; now we measure the percent of work eliminated or fully automated. Velocity, which was measured in issue and request cycle times, now will be percent of work proactively executed or percent of processes with a cycle time of near zero (almost instantaneous). CIOs used to base financial measurement on IT OpEx as a percent of revenue; now it will be margin contribution. And the metric for user experience, every service and process will have its own Net Promoter Score, which is the standard in measuring user satisfaction.

As CIOs, we have to be bold in what we take on, but pragmatic about how long it will really take to achieve our goals. My team is not yet at the point where IT can spend 80 percent of our time on innovation and 20 percent on running the business. But we’re close to a 50/50 split and we’re climbing up the hill of relentless automation. I’ll let you know what’s on the other side when we get there.

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Chris Bedi joined ServiceNow in September 2015 and currently serves as ServiceNow’s CIO. Prior to joining ServiceNow, Bedi served as CIO of JDSU from August 2011 to March 2015 where he was responsible for IT, Facilities, and Indirect Procurement.