Expert Series: How to successfully scale IT operations with automation

Expert series article from Ken Ng

The Expert Series explores common automation challenges faced by businesses and offers perspectives from our in-house automation experts on how to approach these issues. In the first installment, Ken Ng, our Director of Solutions Consulting (APJ), explains how companies can successfully scale IT operations with automation.

As the Director of Solutions Consulting at Workato, one of my key responsibilities is supporting business and IT teams with their day-to-day automation and integration challenges. This involves working alongside IT teams as they adapt to the new demands of a post-pandemic work environment, preparing their organizations for a hybrid workforce, and responding to unprecedented regulations and changes. 

Throughout performing this work, we’ve observed the following challenges:

  1. IT teams have the business-critical responsibility of keeping the lights on. This is no easy feat, as they need to stay agile and responsive in an ever-changing business environment. The resource crunch is compounded by the need to integrate the increasing number of SaaS applications and tools that businesses incorporate into their work today. 
  1. IT also has the added expectation of delivering on new projects that drive business transformation. With companies shifting to a digital-first experience and rapidly innovating new ways of connecting with customers, IT teams are expected to be at the forefront of business transformation and delivering value.

It’s safe to say that IT teams around the world have their plates full. Yet, scaling IT operations remains a critical goal for driving growth and business impact.

You can read on to learn how organizations are scaling their IT operations successfully, and how you can as well.

Related: How to automate at scale

How organizations are scaling their IT operations successfully 

Here are some key success factors:

  • They adopt an automation-first mindset, committing to automate manual, repetitive and time-consuming tasks that contribute to employee fatigue and unnecessary downtime.

This involves working rigorously in identifying existing manual and repetitive tasks to automate and it can even start before the task gets implemented. For example, when introducing a system or process, you can ask yourself: Which part of this implementation or operation can be automated? 

  • They invest in low/no-code platforms. This allows business users to own their own automations and democratises the process of improving workflows. This also decreases bottlenecks and over-reliance on IT.

Moreover, IT teams can now focus on building business-critical and strategic systems, leaving the rest of the organization to work independently in building their own automations.

  • They don’t reinvent the wheel. Doubling down on the cloud-native strategy, they use solutions that are available in the market so that time isn’t wasted on coding and building something from scratch. 
  • They leverage a unified automation platform

In the past, IT leaders had to deal with a multitude of tools that were specialised in different areas: APIs, iPaaS, BPM, RPA, ETL… the list goes on. These tools need to first be integrated before automation can happen, which creates friction and inefficiency in the IT organization.

In response, IT leaders have pursued a unified automation platform that allows them to: 

  1. Focus on automating business processes versus endless architecture decisions around which tool is a better fit for the project.
  2. Improve productivity and ROI since they only need to invest and train their teams to be proficient in a single unified platform.

How can your team start automating? 

From onboarding employees to managing incidents, there’s a variety of  processes that can be streamlined with intelligent workflows.

However, if you’re at the very beginning of your automation journey, you may still need some help in identifying which operations and processes you want to automate. Here are some quick tips that can help guide you along this journey.

1. Identify the bottlenecks

To pinpoint bottlenecks, here are three approaches you can take:

  1. Map and analyze your process flow: When you take a high-level view of the processes, analyzing the throughput of each stage of the process and its interactions and dependencies of other stages in the process, you can often identify where the bottlenecks are.
  1. Look for issues that bottlenecks tend to create: Certain KPIs like wait times and backlog volumes can help point you to the bottlenecks in the process. By measuring and monitoring these KPIs across key stages, you can quickly suss out the bottlenecks.
  1. Interview your staff: Bottlenecks can create an imbalance of workloads among employees. By surveying your employees and understanding their workload and the challenges they face day-to-day, you’ll be able to identify bottlenecks to deal with.

From a broader lense, bottlenecks are typically found in manual and repetitive tasks, and processes waiting to be triggered by another task. You will often find that automating the former quickly eliminates downtime and unnecessary work.

2. Build an automation roadmap

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to automate every bottleneck you encounter. Developing a sustainable automation strategy is like picking up a new habit. You want to think big, start small but practice repeatedly until it becomes second nature.

I typically advise IT Leaders to use the impact vs effort analysis to identify and prioritise which processes get automated first. Processes that fall into the high effort & high impact category, can then be broken down further into micro processes to shift them into the low effort quadrant.

A matrix that can help you determine which automations you prioritize

You would typically want to start off by automating the low effort but high impact processes. In my experience, quick wins can build up the momentum and get teams excited to jump on the automation bandwagon. As more processes get automated, the automation-first mindset will start to proliferate across the organization. 

3. Measure, monitor, improve (repeat)

As I shared earlier, successful IT organizations understand that automation is not a one-destination journey. They strive to continuously improve and seek new ways to further automate operations. 

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear wrote about the power of getting 1% better every day. But in order to do that, we’ll need to be able to set goals and then measure and monitor the progress of your automation journey. 

A graph that highlights the power of improving by a small margin every day

As with identifying bottlenecks, you’ll want to measure KPIs like wait times, workloads, task throughput, etc for the processes that you have automated. With the measurements in place, define the specific goals you want to achieve, e.g. lowering incident response times by 80%. Once you have the goals defined, monitor and review the outcome. If you get a successful outcome, that’s great! 

But successful IT leaders do not stop there. They continue to push to see if the process can be improved further. And if the automation doesn’t achieve its expected outcome, they don’t see it as a bad thing. Perhaps the initial hypothesis was incorrect and the bottleneck wasn’t where they thought it was. Negative feedback gives you exactly what you need to better identify and focus on the areas of improvement.

So, what’s next?

I hope this article has given you some insights and ideas on how you can start to cultivate an automation-first mindset in your organization. If you’d like our advice on how to kick start your automation journey, you can connect with a member of our team.

Ken Ng headshot
About the author
Ken Ng
Over the past 18 years, Ken has helped organizations engage in digital transforms through the adoption of automation, integration and API technology. He currently leads a highly respected team of solutions consultants across the APJ region at Workato and has worked with technology leaders such as Salesforce, MuleSoft, Google Cloud, Oracle and IBM.