Labeling skills as soft undervalues them. To prioritize skills such as communication, IT leaders must call them what they are in the digital era: Core.
3 automation lessons learned for 2019
Do you plan to experiment more with IT automation in 2019? CIOs share real-world experiences to help guide your efforts
We’ve covered a lot of ground on IT automation this year. We shared strategies on how to make the case for IT automation. We offered six tips for getting started with automation. We cautioned you to avoid 8 IT automation mistakes. And we even warned you about three ways your organization could suffer if you fail to embrace automation: Employee burnout, human error, and opportunity costs.
But there’ s nothing like real-world examples of how CIOs are actually implementing automation in their organizations. We’ve heard from several CIOs who stepped up their automation game in 2018 – to free up time and money so their teams could focus on solving other problems.
Here are some lessons and inspiration you can draw from three of them.
1. Automation puts focus on on the future
At Adobe, CIO Cynthia Stoddard has been leading her team on a journey to inject more cloud-like characteristics into everything they do in IT. Their desire to emphasize traits like reliability and resiliency in their day-to-day work led them to experiment with automation. Some of the team’s early wins improved the way both internal and external customers interfaced with the company. Here’s a great example of how Adobe employees benefited from the IT org’s uses of automation:
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“When we first started experimenting with machine learning and artificial intelligence, we looked for problem patterns on the operational side for which automation could provide a solution.
“One place we found this opportunity was in help desk tickets, which we discovered through ticket analysis. By using artificial intelligence and machine learning to comb our base of information, we discovered that every year, in July and December, our help desk received an influx of messages, calls, and tickets to assist with password resets. This coincided with our company shutdown weeks, which also happened to be when certain employee passwords expired,” Stoddard explained.
“Once we discovered these correlations, we sent automated messages to staff a few weeks before the shutdown to remind them that their passwords were about to expire and to change them before we closed. Now we no longer have that spike in tickets, and users are happier because they’re not waiting in the queue to reset their passwords.”
This experiment not only left employees happier, but it also meant that some team members who would normally work on resolving those tickets had their responsibilities shifted to working on solutions, according to Stoddard. “This has opened up time and resources to really consider how we can make the experience better, versus focusing on solving issues. IT automation frees up the ability to think about the future – not just what you’re doing in your day-to-day,” she said.
Stoddard’s team has since used automation to speed up the ability for customers to purchase Adobe products online by identifying and to self-heal delays in the workflows used to purchase Adobe software.
“In both of these examples, IT automation has freed up time and resources so our team can focus on bigger and better things,” Stoddard said.
2. Automation helps you shift resources to innovation
Automation has helped ServiceNow make more time for innovation, according to the company’s CIO, Chris Bedi. Earlier this year, Bedi wrote about a challenge many CIOs can relate to: His IT organization was spending 74 percent of resources running the business, with just a quarter of resources going toward innovation. And it wasn’t just the spending mix that was holding his team back from focusing more on innovation.
[ What’s next in IT automation? Read 6 automation trends to watch. ]
“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,” Bedi wrote. “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 higher-level automation. I believe the real number is probably much higher, but like most, we are constrained by our own imagination.”
Using that eye-opening data, Bedi began leading his IT organization down a path of becoming a “no service” organization. It’s a move he acknowledges will take some time, effort, and planning. He’s realistic about the journey, saying, “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.”
If you plan to experiment more with automation, Bedi suggests that you “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.”
That’s the strategy Bedi employed to increase his IT team’s focus on innovation. The results were compelling: “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.”