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What is IT service automation? Exceeding user expectations

In this second tip in a series on IT service automation, the global CIO calls an urgent meeting of his executive team then gives the summer intern the floor.

Editor's note: The first article by Jan-Willem Middelburg on IT service automation, "Dear CIO, are you ready for...

the self-service generation?" recounts how a chance encounter with the IT organization's summer intern gives the global CIOs a new perspective on IT service management. "9 a.m., CIO Office: Service Automation Meeting," describes what happens next.

As you enter the meeting room at 8:55 a.m., you notice that most of the seats are already taken. At one side of the table, the director of operations is making small talk with your CISO. At the other end, some of the regional CIOs are staring into their smartphones. At that moment, the intern walks in. Most people in the room look up from their screens, asking themselves if he accidentally wandered into the wrong room. You decide it is probably best to start the meeting.

As you walk toward the head chair of the conference table, you request attention by pressing both your hands firmly on its mahogany surface. Over the years, this has become your signature move, and everybody in the room becomes quiet immediately. Never mind what they call you when they gather at the coffee machine, the move is quite effective.

"Good morning, gentlemen," you begin -- despite HR's effort, alas, still no women in the room. "The reason that I have invited all of you to join this meeting is to discuss whether IT service automation could be something for our organization, and whether we should put this on our strategic calendar."

The room is completely silent and you see question marks in the seven pair of eyes in front of you. "I have, therefore, asked our summer intern to prepare a short briefing on the topic so that we are all on the same page." All the heads in the room suddenly turn toward the intern. He opens his laptop, pushes two buttons and the slides appear on screen, without ever plugging in a VGA or HDMI cable.

"Thank you, George," the intern begins smoothly. "Thanks for providing me the opportunity to present on this topic. I thought it would be a good idea to start today with some basic definitions so that we all know the concept of service delivery automation before we dive into a detailed discussion." As the second slide appears on the screen, a single definition states:

Service delivery automation is the practice of an industry that enables their autonomous users to procure, manage and adjust services through self-service technology and concepts in order to systematically exceed user expectations.

As the room slowly soaks in the definition, the intern continues, "Service automation is the delivery of a service in a completely automated manner. This means that any user of that service will consume it without any human interventions. Effectively, this requires that the whole delivery of a service is scripted into workflows that are executed automatically."

The director of operations, who suddenly feels that the topic on the agenda might impact his department, decides to interrupt with a question: "That sounds very ambitious, but can you give us some examples of companies that use IT service automation?"

The intern flips to the next slide and, as some of the logos of the world's leading companies appear on screen, he continues his explanation. "Many of the highly praised 'digital disruptors' all have one thing in common: They provide automated services. Think about the new service providers that you are using in your daily life. Have you ever been on the phone with someone from Foodora, Netflix, Uber or Booking.com? Do you realize that every single step of their services is automated? From the browsing, reviewing and booking, until the invoicing and credit card payments?"

The director of operations smiles, relieved that these are different kinds of services than the ones he is responsible for, and concludes, "Oh, so you are just talking about consumer services? In a complex IT organization such as ours, this will never work."

You decide that this is probably a good moment to intervene…

IT service automation: The business case

As you roll your chair away from the table, you stand up and walk toward the big white board that is hanging in the middle of the conference room. As always, it has been meticulously cleaned by the facilities team the night before. You pick up one of the markers, open the cap and write "Our Services Catalogue" on the whiteboard.

'What do you think the impact on our costs and organization would be if we could automate 10% ... of our noncritical services in the next three years?' Again, everybody in the room is quiet, but they all realize that this would be significant.

"How many services do we provide globally?" you ask to the rest of the room. "Around 4,200," someone at the table replies. You write down the number of the services on the board. "Good. How many of those services are considered business-critical?" The CISO is quick to answer, "Around 200, sir," and you write this number on the board as well. "So, how much money do we spend on maintaining the other 4,000 services?" The room is quiet -- nobody knows the exact answer to this question.

In order to move the discussion forward, you suggest, "Would it be fair to say that we probably spend 90% of our budget on maintaining and supporting noncritical services?" Everybody in the room nods in agreement. "So, what do you think the impact on our costs and organization would be if we could automate 10% (which accounts for 400 services) of our noncritical services in the next three years?" Again, everybody in the room is quiet, but they all realize that this would be significant.

Five important reasons to do IT service automation

"The reason I asked all of you here today," you continue, "is to discuss what the impact of IT service automation could be on our organization. Suppose that we only start with automating a small number of services out of our service catalogue, but we ensure that these services are delivered instantly, automatically and through a self-service portal. The benefits and business case could be tremendous."

You nod to the intern and the next slide appears on the screen:

Five ways IT service automation helps the business

IT Service Automation Business Drivers

  1. Service automation facilitates a scalable business model by which companies can enter new markets more easily and attract new customers.
  2. Service automation assists companies in making data-driven decisions based on earlier interactions with users and customers. More accurate information provides companies with a competitive advantage.
  3. Service automation is user-centric. Services are always designed with the objective of providing an optimal user experience.
  4. The aim of service automation is to automate unnecessary manual labor, providing a more cost-efficient service delivery organization.
  5. And, last but not least, by breaking down services into easy-to-understand steps, service delivery automation provides a framework for consistently exceeding user expectations. By adopting the concept of Serendipity Management, organizations can transform customers into fans.

As everybody reads the slide in detail, you continue. "If we only automate a part of our service offering, we could start delivering services that are always available, at lower costs, and we know exactly who is using our services at any given time. I think we should look at this in further detail."

You conclude: "Let's all do a bit more homework and reconvene in two weeks for an IT service automation deep dive."

This is the second in a series of articles by Middelburg on IT service automation. Click on the link for the next in the series: "The Service Automation Deep Dive."

Next Steps

What is an IT service catalog?

The digital CIO takes center stage

DevOps spurs 'value transformation'

This was last published in October 2017

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