Your IT department is the backbone of your organization.
Your team supports lines of businesses’ systems, provides new hires with the equipment and applications they need to be successful, answers various questions and requests from colleagues on a daily basis—and much more.
To manage each and every one of these responsibilities effectively, your IT team needs to work quickly and smartly. How can it do that? By turning to automation.
We’ll walk you through 6 ways that your IT department can automate its processes, best practices to consider when doing so, and the tools you can choose from. But let’s begin by reviewing what IT automation is.
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IT automation definition
IT automation is the use of triggers and actions to streamline IT processes end-to-end. Using incident management as an example, a trigger can be when an employee files a ticket, while an action can include assigning that ticket to the appropriate employee.
Examples of IT automation
Let’s further explore why this type of automation is critical by breaking down a few use cases.
1. Help anyone request access to applications independently
Here’s how this automation can work:
1. An employee goes into a communications platform (in this case, Slack) and requests access to a specific application.
3. IT then receives the request in a Slack channel. They can choose to accept or reject the request within Slack.
4. The requester is then notified within Slack on their status.
How effective is this automation?
One of our clients, a financial services company with more than 9,000 employees, uses this exact automation. It’s allowed them to provision over 60,000 requests per year with no manual effort. This has reduced the time it takes them to provision employees by 20%, and it’s allowed them to save over 30,000 hours of manual work per year!
2. Offboard employees securely
Now that many of us work from home, your team is tasked with securely offboarding any colleague who leaves. This process invites several potential threats.
To help address them, you can leverage the following automation.
Let’s break it down:
1. You monitor Workday for termination events.
2. Once a termination event is detected, ServiceNow automatically creates deprovisioning tickets. The employee is removed from various groups in Active Directory
3. SentinelOne deactivates the employee’s access to their laptop.
This process allows your team to control the employee’s devices at the end of their last day, effectively minimizing any of the negative consequences highlighted.
3. Answer employees’ questions quickly and in a way that’s scalable
Your team can’t afford to spend time on simple, repetitive tasks, like resetting colleagues’ passwords or answering the same set of questions.
That’s where an IT helpdesk can help.
Leveraging existing information from places like Guru and Confluence, your IT helpdesk (powered by an enterprise chatbot) can instantly answer anyone’s question in a platform like Slack. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown on how it can work:
1. An employee asks a question to Knowledge Bot (a customized version of WorkBot) in Slack.
2. Knowledge Bot uses natural language processing to understand the question, and then searches through information from your existing knowledge base to identify the answer (this is all done in real time).
3. If Knowledge Bot finds the answer, it automatically serves it to the requestor. If it doesn’t, or if the employee says the answer doesn’t help, the bot files a ticket in ServiceNow, prompting your team to respond to the requestor.
What type of impact can this automation have at your organization?
The same financial services company referenced earlier also uses this automation to answer the 120,000 help desk requests that come in every year via Slack. This saves their IT team an immeasurable amount of time, and it allows them to focus on more high-value work.
4. Escalate issues with the click of a button
In many cases, incidents can’t be resolved by the team they’re initially assigned to.
To account for this, and to allow the appropriate stakeholders to become aware of and begin working on the issue, you can build an escalation workflow that leverages an IT service desk chatbot.
Here’s how it can work:
1. An employee types a command in a chatbot within their business communications platform (e.g. Slack), like “Create ticket”—prompting the chatbot to go ahead and create it in your ITSM tool.
2. The employee can select the ticket’s level of urgency, add the description of the issue and the customer, all of which gets added to the ticket.
3. The chatbot then asks the employee if they’d like to escalate the ticket. If the employee selects “Yes”, the ticket would go on to get created in the tool your escalation team uses.
4. To help employees become aware of the issue sooner, the chatbot also posts the ticket in a specific channel within your business comms platform (the post includes information on the client so that the team has additional context).
5. With the click of a button, you can create a channel and invite specific employees who can work together to tackle the ticket—all the way through its resolution.
5. Provide new hires with the equipment they need by day 1
To help new hires be productive from the onset, and to give them a positive first impression of your organization, you can implement the following orchestration:
1. Once a new hire notice gets sent by your HRIS, the workflow gets triggered.
2. The hiring manager receives a message from a chatbot in their business comms platform that asks them to select the devices the incoming employee needs.
3. Once the selections get made, an asset manager who works in the new hire’s region gets notified by the chatbot. From there, the asset manager can fulfill the device requests, all but ensuring that the new hire has what they need from the get-go.
6. Optimize SaaS spend
Certain applications might be less valuable to your colleagues, while other apps might be neglected altogether.
IT automation enables your team to identify the apps that are rarely used by certain employees, and it instantly notifies the appropriate stakeholders when this happens. These stakeholders can then decide whether to downgrade or revoke the employee’s access to those apps.
Here at Workato, we do this ourselves. With Zoom for example, we track usage over the course of 30 days. If users with a paid account don’t host a meeting that lasts longer than 40 minutes and includes 3 or more attendees, their manager gets notified and has the choice of downgrading their account. If the manager chooses to downgrade it, the employee gets notified and can choose whether to accept it or try and retain their license.
Here’s a closer look at how it works:
IT automation benefits
It delivers a variety of benefits to IT and to the broader organization, but here are 5 benefits that stand out:
1. New hires can receive access to the apps they need on their first day
Your new hires are eager to make a strong first impression.
IT automation allows them to hit the ground running by providing them with access to the apps they need, along with the right permission levels, on day 1.
This workflow automation not only helps employees be productive right from the start, but it also shapes their early perception of your organization—as it shows that you’re well organized and committed to their success.
2. Incidents can be resolved faster
When colleagues file tickets, you need to have a streamlined way of:
- Assigning them to the right employee
- Prioritizing each based on business needs
- Tracking their status—from creation to fulfillment
IT automation allows you to do each of the above, helping agents identify what they need to work on, manage their workload, and resolve their tickets—all without leaving their business communications platform (e.g. Slack). All the while, it provides the rest of the organization with an easy way to submit tickets and it offers transparency, as a colleague can easily check the status of any ticket they submit.
Over the long run, this IT automation allows your organization to reduce its mean time to repair and improve its customer experience.
Popular Slack integrations
3. Employees can be off-boarded effectively
When employees leave your organization, the last thing you want them to do is take valuable information with them. IT automation can prevent this from happening by automatically deprovisioning their access to your applications the moment they leave the company.
In addition, when employees tell their manager that they’re leaving, you can automatically create a ticket that requests that they return their equipment by a certain date. IT and the employee’s manager can track the status of the ticket and make sure it’s resolved by the end of the employee’s last day.
4. Human errors can be more easily avoided
Manual processes can breed a variety of human errors—whether that’s forgetting to complete a step or inputting data incorrectly. And by the time these mistakes get found, it may be too late to mitigate the issues they create.
IT automation allows your team to avoid incidents like those above, as it prevents employees within the department from having to complete a significant number of manual tasks.
5. IT can focus on more business-critical work
With automations largely eliminating time-consuming, mundane, and routine tasks, your employees in IT can focus on crucial work that they’re uniquely suited to take on. This can be anything from assessing and addressing security vulnerabilities to evaluating and acquiring enterprise-grade technologies.
IT automation challenges
IT automation can, unfortunately, present issues in certain scenarios.
1. Difficult to scale
Many IT automation tools require a certain level of technical expertise to use. This, in and of itself, prevents many employees in the department from playing a role in building and maintaining the automations, which can lead your organization to struggle with automating at the pace and scale that’s required.
2. Hard to optimize over time
Your IT processes need to be reassessed on a certain cadence—whether that’s to discover issues, areas of improvement, or better processes to replace it with. Being able to perform these assessments and implement process improvements with automation can prove difficult; this is even more true if your organization has a significant number of IT processes in place and uses automation tools that require technical skills, such as coding.
3. Tough to prove the ROI
While certain KPIs, like cost savings from optimizing SaaS spend, are easy to quantify, other benefits of IT automation, like improving the employee experience, are less tangible. As a result, making the case for IT automations can prove difficult, especially when time and budgets are limited.
How IT automation will affect companies
In addition to the value it offers today, this type of automation will undoubtedly impact how the broader workforce operates tomorrow.
Here are just some of the long-term effects it’s likely to have:
1. Employees will become increasingly self-reliant
With employees able to use the applications they need, get their questions or requests addressed quickly with the help of a bot, and check the status of their tickets on their own, they’ll rely less and less on IT.
This should come as welcome news for IT, as it means that the function can focus more of its time on business-critical, strategic tasks.
2. Employees will have higher expectations for their employer
Your new hires will soon expect that they get access to their apps right from the get-go; your employees will expect that they can get their day-to-day questions and concerns addressed without human involvement; and your employees will expect that their tickets get resolved quickly.
In other words, IT automation plays an essential role in meeting your employees’ needs and wants.
3. Customer experiences will improve
With engineers working faster and smarter in resolving any issues, customers are set to receive improved product experiences consistently.
Best practices for automating IT workflows
Before you can execute on your automation strategy, you’ll need to work through the answers to each of these questions:
- What business apps are involved? This involves identifying your event source (i.e. the app where the trigger event takes place), and the tasks you need to automate across your apps.
- Is the process time sensitive? This obviously varies, depending on the context. Some processes, for example, may require an automation that works in real-time, while others can be scheduled minutes, hours, days, or even weeks out.
- What are the business rules/logic? A simple data sync may not require any business rules or complex logic, but for many of your workflow automations, you’ll need to apply it. This can be anything from validating the data before it can be synced to another system to transforming the data into another schema to aggregating multiple records into a single record.
- What exceptions may occur? Unfortunately, issues can happen to any workflow automation. There can be system outages, API outages, missing data, etc. The question then is: how should your team respond to each possible issue? The answers can range from retrying the workflow to alerting specific stakeholders via email (or a combination of actions).
Automation tools to pick from
Finally, you’ll need to decide on the automation software you use for automating your IT processes.
Here are just a few of your options:
1. Robotic process automation (RPA): The use of scripts, or bots, to perform UI-level tasks, such as copy and pasting data across applications
2. Business process management (BPM): A tool that allows you to identify ways to design or improve upon specific business processes.
3. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS): A cloud-based platform that enables your team to build integrations between apps, which can live either on-prem or in the cloud, and then execute data flows between them.
Though each of these tools are valuable, they share the following drawback: they don’t allow you to integrate your apps AND automate your workflows end-to-end.
What can? An enterprise automation platform.
Using this type of platform, you can also:
- Implement integrations and automations without writing a line of code (via the platform’s low-code/no-code UX)
- Build integrations and automations quickly using pre-built connectors and automation templates (“recipes”)
- Empower employees to work in their apps and automate their workflows without leaving their business communications platform
- Use the latest in artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve your workflow automations
- Enjoy enterprise-grade security and governance—all but ensuring that your data and that of your customers is kept secure
IT automation FAQ
In case you have any additional questions on IT automation, we’ve addressed several more below.
What are some of the challenges of IT automation?
Here are some common challenges:
- The team at large may not have the technical expertise required to use your automation platform. This can prevent them from getting involved, which ultimately makes it difficult to implement and maintain your automations at scale.
- Your team might not know which IT automations to prioritize building. There are likely countless automation opportunities, and while that’s exciting, it can make the task of pinpointing those you’d like to focus on first difficult.
- Your team might struggle with measuring the impact of certain IT automations. And even if your team knows how to measure an automation, the process of assessing and reporting on its impact consistently might prove difficult.
How can I make the case for IT automation?
At a high level, you can approach this by showcasing the issues that a manual process causes and/or the benefits that a potential automation can provide with hard numbers.
For example, let’s say that onboarding every new hire requires the following scope of work (this is an oversimplification): 2 hours spent provisioning assets, 2 hours spent coordinating and setting up their office space, and another 1 hour in HR-related data entry.
If you take these hours and multiply them by the salaries of the employees who perform each respective task, you end up with the potential cost savings from using automation.
What is a common problem with IT automation?
While there are a number of potential problems, the biggest may be automating a faulty process—as automation can amplify its issues.