How ITIL and ITSM Automation Needs to Shrink the Process Gap

04/05/2017 by: Stephen Mann

 

If you've ever visited the UK - well, London to be accurate - and have travelled on the underground (tube) system, then you'll have seen signs, and heard the public announcements, that say "Mind the gap." The US equivalent would probably be "Beware the gap." It's a warning that there's a physical gap between the platform and the tube train, and that dropping or losing things (including oneself) into the gap is not advisable. The same is true for IT service management (ITSM) and ITIL adoption -from both ITSM-process and process-automation perspectives.

Beware the ITSM-Process Gap

We often talk of people, or teams, working in "IT siloes." That they are often too focused on what they need to do - by way of given activities, or a process and the technology that enables it - that they are blind to "the bigger picture" of:

  • Other processes, or activities and people, that are dependent on the process at hand (although they are - sometimes painfully - aware of the other processes that feed into their process)
  • The positive business outcome that their process is ultimately feeding - the "end" to their process' "means."

They are unaware of the role they play in "the bigger picture" and how what they do (and achieve) influences the ultimate, desired outcome.

If you recognize this situation, then hopefully your logic dictates that if we don't know enough about "what happens next," then we also don't know if there's a process "gap." That something is missing, or suboptimal, between two discrete processes which slows things down, causes errors (and possibly the need for rework), has the potential for things to get lost (as with the tube scenario), or maybe even affects the desired business outcome and what it costs to achieve it.

Beware the Process-Automation Gap

This logic also extends beyond the processes to the automation employed to support them. And not just addressing the intra-process automation gaps - that's the need to join up the different automation used within a given process - but also the need to remove the inter- or extra-process automation gaps. Sounds complicated?

What I'm trying to say is that the automation might not flow between different processes or outside of the process to spark a different activity and to engage additional automation. That confining automation to individual processes is ultimately suboptimal to the overall aim and business outcome, with the people "trapped" in their process siloes blind to it.

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Maximizing the Benefits of Intra-, Inter-, and Extra-Process Automation

You've probably seen lists such as the one below many times before. That automation will deliver a raft of benefits including:

  • Increased speed of execution - whether it's undertaking manual or "thinking" tasks (using artificial intelligence and machine learning), machines can do things much faster than humans can.
  • Improved customer experience - we now live in an "instant gratification" society where the speed of issue resolution or service provision, and overall customer experience, are important drivers as to how we feel about and use service providers.
  • Cost reductions - human labor still makes up a significant part of the total IT budget, and thus automation can be used to not only speed up execution but also to reduce the associated people costs.
  • Reduced human intervention - automation frees up highly-skilled, knowledgeable IT personnel from manual tasks to allow them to spend their time on greater value-add activities.
  • Reduced "human error" - or, more specifically, a reduction in unwanted consequences of human error. This might be business-affecting service downtime or the effort required to rework things - the former of which potentially has not only unwanted financial costs but also adverse customer satisfaction/retention and brand reputations "costs."
  • Increased task adaptability - changing automation to reflect a new status quo is so much easier than trying to elicit people change. The former is a one-time thing that can be "forgotten about," whereas the latter requires continued investment and checking to ensure that new policies, procedures, and practices are being consistently applied.

But to truly optimize the discrete automation capabilities, the processes and automation needs to work seamlessly across the gaps - without the need for additional human intervention and the costs, delays, and/or errors these might bring.

An automation optimization example

Automation can and should be used to shrink, and wherever possible remove, process gaps. A good example is service requisition and provisioning where, even with a self-service capability in place, there might be process and automation gaps. If we look at how things worked prior to self-service, it would have been something like:

  1. End user calls, or emails, the service desk with a need for something new, e.g. additional software
  2. Ticket created and assigned using workflow
  3. Service desk agent reviews the ticket and assesses need
  4. Service desk agent contacts someone for approval using workflow
  5. Service desk agent fulfils the need potentially using automation in the form of remote control or a software distribution tool (or passes to field support to visit the end user)
  6. Service desk agent assesses the end-user's happiness and closes the ticket.

But even with self-service, in terms of the process and automation gap, how much of this is truly automated in an end-to-end way? It might possibly be that the automation is still limited and disconnected at the gaps:

  1. End user uses a self-service portal (or automation by way of a chat bot or virtual assistant) to request something new, e.g. additional software
  2. Ticket is still created and assigned to a service desk agent because there's no automated assessment of need, approval, or provisioning
  3. Service desk agent reviews the ticket and assesses need
  4. Service desk agent contacts someone for approval using workflow
  5. Service desk agent fulfils the need potentially using automation in the form of remote control or a software distribution tool
  6. Service desk agent assesses the end-user's happiness and closes the ticket.

So, there's automation in play, but not enough to remove the human labor costs and the intra-process and extra-process gaps, and to really achieve the desired return on investment (ROI) for the self-service capability. As the real financial benefits of self-service come from the backend automation of provisioning and support not the use of an Amazon.com-like shopping basket capability.

How the Optimized Process and Automation Should Work

It's not rocket science, it's people science - where can we remove the people from this process? Not because we are anti-people, we just know that automation can do things more quickly and cheaply:

  1. End user uses a self-service portal (or automation by way of a chat bot or virtual assistant) to request something new, e.g. additional software
  2. Automation, probably machine learning, is used to log and assess the need, and to check for pre-approval (or even to make a decision based on previous human decisions)
  3. Automation in the form of orchestration invokes a software distribution tool
  4. Automation is used to assess the end-user's happiness and to close the ticket.

Meanwhile, service desk agents are concentrating on more complex and greater value-add activities.

It's a fairly simple example but hopefully it highlights the need to better join up both ITSM processes and the automation used to enable them. With automation invoking even more automation, and in some cases automation managing other automation, i.e. making informed decisions in lieu of humans.

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| ITIL / IT Service Management / Process Automation

Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann is Principal and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

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