Process automation has long been the holy grail for IT Service Management (ITSM). The promise of being able to not only define, but to automate the execution of operational processes as part of an ITSM implementation has been touted by many tool vendors for years. ITSM tools have claimed to be able to automate many operational tasks, such as the implementation of changes, deployments of system patches or managing software licenses. But somehow, there always seemed to be something that stood in the way of ITSM processes being automated. Perhaps it was the lack of empirical data to trigger automation. Or there was inadequate detection or integration of alerts from a monitoring tool with the ITSM platform to automate incident response. Perhaps it was just that the ITSM processes were not well-defined to begin with.
Regardless of the underlying cause, there’s been varying success in the automation of ITSM. But now, there’s strong reasons to believe that the long-sought promise and benefit of ITSM process automation can become reality. What’s changed?
The World is Automating
Over the past few years, technologies have emerged that have started to address many of the gaps that have challenged automation of ITSM.
The Internet of Things has enabled the automated collection of data and automation of requests and incident reports, as smart devices continually monitor statuses and report exceptions.
Big Data, part of which is being fueled by the Internet of Things, has enabled predictive analytics. This has resulted in better tracking of demand and better forecasting. Now machines can predict when they are about to fail, and automatically request maintenance, which is much more efficient than an arbitrarily-planned preventative maintenance window.
The provisioning of compute resources, storage capacity, even application resources have evolved to a high degree of automation with the advent of “as-a-service” services, software defined networking, and cloud-based computing.
Even ITSM tools have evolved to work with orchestration engines to automate responses to events such as capacity limit alerts. Because of the increasing sophistication found within ITSM tools, it is now possible to largely automate the execution of procedures in support of these processes. Additionally, many ITSM tools have “pre-built” basic operational processes that require only a minimum of configuration to become functional.
Then there’s robotic process automation, or RPA. RPA is the use of software with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required a human to perform. Once RPA software has been trained to capture and interpret the actions of specific processes in existing software applications, it can then manipulate data, trigger responses, initiate new actions, and communicate with other systems autonomously.1
Is ITSM Being Automated Out of Existence?
With the ever increasing pace of automation, will ITSM go away?
As it’s been typically implemented, yes.
Historically, ITSM implementers seemed to have talked out of both sides of their proverbial mouths. On one side, ITSM has been touted as the way to articulate the value of what IT provides to the business. Good ITSM results in the services delivered by IT that helps the business to meet its goals and objectives. ITSM helps align what IT does with what the business needs. All valuable outcomes that good ITSM can deliver.
If only those ITSM implementers had done that, rather than over-engineered operational processes with too much focus on “control”.
It’s not the ITSM framework’s fault; it’s the way that framework has been implemented within the organization. To be fair, many ITSM implementations were sold as a way to control the IT environment. The issue is that many implementations were too focused on “control” and not enough on “outcomes” and “value” which has resulted in operational management processes, such as change management and incident management that are too rigid, clumsy, and slow.
Make no mistake. In order to enable digital transformation, the basic ITSM blocking-and-tackling must be in place. Niel Nickolaisen, the CTO of O.C. Tanner Company writes in his recent SearchCIO article, “…the better I am at service management, the better I will be at operational excellence, customer satisfaction, and, most important, IT agility”. Nickolaisen continues by writing, “digital transformation depends on quality and agility … the CIO’s ITSM strategy is key to both quality and agility”.2
But because many ITSM implementations are too focused on control, ITSM achieves neither quality nor agility. ITSM implemented this way is viewed an inhibitor, rather than an enabler, to digital transformation.
ITSM implemented this way is a perfect candidate for automation. It is no longer acceptable that the business must wait for a weekly CAB meeting to occur before implementing any change or deploying a release. The competition will not wait while an incident is queued then escalated from support tier to support tier before the right resource resolves an issue. Automation provides a way to accomplish most (if not all) of these operational tasks at the speed of business.
So what then becomes of ITSM?
ITSM must change…or die
This means that the typical ITSM approach must change.
The ITSM organization must “grow up” and truly assert itself into service strategy and design activities, conversations many current ITSM organizations are either unable or unwilling to have with their businesses. The questions ITSM is currently not asking or addressing will be forced to the forefront as organizations begin digital transformation. Strategy questions regarding demand for services, the customer experience, and the investments needed in IT to meet the demands of the digital economy must be addressed. Service design questions regarding security, partnerships with suppliers, and having the ability to effectively manage the capacity and availability of services will be paramount in the digital era.
Change the Way You ITSM
Digital transformation means that you must change the way you ITSM. Here are a few places to start:
- Define Services – Not just what can be requested, but what are the value chains that deliver the outcomes needed by the business. Understanding and defining services is critical information needed for having those strategy and design conversations.
- Lead with “outcomes” and “value” – Proactively seek out and promote ways with senior managers how technology and data can be used to deliver business outcomes and value. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but stick with it.
- Automate operational tasks – Many ITSM operational tasks can and should be automated. Leverage technologies such as RPA and orchestration to free resources from operational tasks and focus those resources on to strategy and design aspects of ITSM.
Today’s typical ITSM implementation will not survive in the digital era. In fact, that approach to ITSM will be automated out of existence, which may leave many IT organizations sitting on the digital transformation sidelines. The irony is that ITSM done well could be the very enabler of digital transformation. Change the way you look at ITSM and get in the game, and enable your business for the digital era.
1 Rouse, Margaret. “What Is Robotic Process Automation? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” IoT Agenda. TechTarget, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://internetofthingsagenda.techtarget.com/definition/robotic-process-automation.
2 Nickolaisen, Niel. “Without an ITSM Strategy, There Is No Digital Transformation.” SearchCIO. TechTarget, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. http://searchcio.techtarget.com/tip/Without-an-ITSM-strategy-there-is-no-digital-transformation.
About The Author:
Doug Tedder is the principal of Tedder Consulting LLC. Doug is an accomplished and recognized leader who is equally adept in interactions from senior leadership to day-to-day practitioners. His attention to detail, industry knowledge, emotional intelligence, and the ability to “see the big picture” and make it actionable has resulted in a track record of success in helping IT organizations transform into business partners in value delivery.
Doug holds numerous industry certifications in disciplines ranging from ITIL, COBIT, Lean IT, and Organizational Change Management. An active volunteer within the IT Service Management community, Doug is a frequent speaker and contributor at local industry user group meetings, webinars, and national conventions. Doug is a member, former president, and current board member for itSMF USA as well a member of HDI.