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Budget saver: Ramping up process automation with free automation tools

Recently, I’ve been talking to CIOs at midsized organizations about whether the recession is over and the recovery has begun. In some industries at least, the cost-cutting isn’t over and the need to do more with less continues as a mandate. Some organizations are now cutting maintenance contracts, as Linda Tucci wrote this week. Others are turning to business process automation through scripting or the use of automation tools to automate parts of IT like help desk requests — sometimes for free.

The most common automation tools used in IT center around standard service desk tasks. For instance, a midmarket IT shop could automate the process for auto ticketing or resetting passwords. One company set up a self-service task on their extranet that allowed contractors to reset their own passwords. Prior to this, contractors had to contact the help desk and go through a rigorous process to get this done. With process automation, IT frees up help desk resources and streamlines a process.

In other cases, automated tools can add new IT functionality without new resources. Consider resource and asset discovery. One financial services company used a product from Tideway for automated resource discovery; it provides profiles of current and new systems on the network, showing all machines, what versions of software they’re running, who owns it, who supports it, etc. Using this type of automation tool allows the company to effectively assess inventory and provide their operations center with an accurate view of what they have and when upgrades or new systems are needed — without any manual steps.

Automation tools don’t necessarily cost anything. “In some cases, the cost for automation tools is nothing,” said David Pultorak, founder of Pultorak and Associates, an IT consulting firm. “Automation tools are often included in the licensing agreements that come with the platform you’re using.” Systems management packages such as Microsoft System Center and HP OpenView include automation tools, but companies may not have configured them.

There are also free automation tools available if you know where to look. For midmarket shops using mostly Microsoft products, Pultorak recommends visiting the Microsoft site and searching for solution accelerators. There, you’ll find all sorts of free automation tools for desktop deployment.

Another tip for getting on board with automation is to work with your vendors. All the big vendors, including SAP, Microsoft and HP, have specific service offerings for small and midmarket organizations. Pultorak advises going to your vendor and asking what they offer. You might be paying too much for extra products when there are free downloads or scaled-down versions that cost less and do the trick.

Process automation isn’t new. But the reason for using automation tools is. In today’s economy, midmarket companies can’t afford to not automate processes. By automating mundane, everyday processes, IT can keep going with a tight budget and deliver more value to the business.

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