Perhaps one of the most impactful topics in the modern world right now is automation. Automating machines to do the job of an employee has been and will continue to be nothing short of revolutionary. Though automation is nothing new, the capacity for cost-efficient and accessible usage is shaking up whole industry sectors.
Whilst many in the past have associated the benefits and trials of automation to be limited to the manufacturing sector, the world has woken up to automation possibilities across nearly every sector. The service and IT service industry in particular offer unique and exciting possibilities to those who utilize ITIL® frameworks.
Let’s explore some of those opportunities in relation to ITIL®:
Perhaps the clearest advantage of automation is efficiency; a machine can input the same task consistently with near to no margin for error and with a higher output than a human. Automating repetitive processes is a clear-cut route to improving efficiency, freeing the business and employees to focus on other high-value areas.
Efficiency, however, is not a virtue in and of itself, what efficiency grants you is precious time, time which can now be spent providing value to clients. Take for example the time and workload saved by automating customer response services, no longer having to plan around shifts and global markets releases people from the task of fixing rotas, managing staff, adjusting for illness and other human error.
Providing value to a customer in this instance might involve serving their needs in a more time efficient manner. When serving high volumes of customers, managing traffic flow efficiency leads to shorter waiting times, reducing customer frustration and improving their time spent in contact with your business.
By removing the element of human error, a business can be far more precise when analysing data to identify improvement areas. Additionally such improvements can be rolled out unilaterally with greater accuracy when judging if a positive impact has been made. Reducing the capacity for error is especially helpful in revealing problem areas for staff, either due to complexity or daily tedium, in either case this is a small but relevant factor in workplace happiness and contributes to the overall customer experience when dealing with your business.
Variation and Training
Systems in place reduce variance in the service provided, an automated system provides consistent measurable quality that requires only initial capital investment followed by adjustments. Comparatively staff need to be trained and their leaves of absence can be costly and cause disruption in the workplace. This concept applies to other areas of service delivery by reducing variations in process management.
When considering how automation fits into your ITIL® plan, value should be near the top of your list. We have briefly mentioned how automation brings value through efficiency, but there are other improvement areas to consider. When considering the value of automation, think of the areas with the highest workload and highest effort required, if you can provide these services with more consistency and speed then your value provided will multiply. The benefits of this spread exponentially throughout business operations, whether this means giving staff the time they need to work on important projects, or giving managers the headspace they need knowing they can rely on smoother operations.
When using automated services that have been tested with your audience, you are guaranteeing quality content every time. Customer service can be improved due to your staff having more time to provide them with a richer experience, when automation deals with the trickle of daily IT tasks it frees them to engage and spend more time providing value for customers.
Risk reduction provides a powerful draw for businesses looking at IT automation technologies. When considering if automation can bring anything to your business, think about the impact that minimizing risks such as human error can have on the overall quality you provide your customers. When you minimize risks you are limiting those 0.X % defective products or less than ideal customer interactions. As a knock on effect, the reputation of business improves as customers are more likely to be satisfied with what you have provided, making them less inclined to leave negative reviews and more likely to become advocates of your business.
Reducing the less interesting minutiae of every day work is a sure-fire way to improve employee satisfaction and morale, giving them more time to work on the things they enjoy. Productivity gains are passed on as the work force revitalizes around meaningful work. Examples of these related to ITIL® best practice include introducing measures to reduce staff wait times as processes change over, and automating repetitive processes.
Being able to reduce operational costs via automation is the best of both worlds when done correctly, both providing more value to the end user whilst reducing costs for the business. For IT automation, the costs of upkeep for a server are very low and, in the future, will continue to be lower.
An example of this related to ITIL® best practice is reducing overproduction via unreliable processes.
When looking at what value can be brought to your customers, the increase in quality, efficiency and consistency is an excellent upside. Whilst the minimization of risk and human error improves your customer satisfaction indexing. These benefits all however come with a trade-off, at 2018 we are moving into a world of increasingly interconnected services, a world hurtling towards automation.
In such a world becoming increasingly disconnected, there has been a resurgence in the need and desire for human interaction. Though machines have proved to be effective, fast and working 24/7, many older people still prefer a point of human contact to engage with, whilst many millennials and younger have just as little patience towards automated technologies if they aren’t perceiving an improvement of the time in which you can grant the service they need.
This is especially true when dealing with call centre IT services. Setting up automated services allows people to call in with questions and get routed to the correct people whilst reducing the strain on current staff or need to have even more. However this increase in quality service is vastly reduced when automated services cannot adequately address the needs of the customer. Variables such as hearing or comprehension issues that some customers have might not be addressed in automated processes. Similarly staff must be aware of the workings of the automated system in order to maximise the efficacy of the automated service. These issues need to be addressed both before and during implementation.
Another dreaded issue for automated IT services are bugs, bugs can happen unexpectedly, either with conflicts after an update or unexpectedly for other reasons, they are likely to affect your service heavily until resolved. This can overload the reduced number of staff when they require reassignment for a period of time to deal with the service provided by automated systems.
Having IT staff on hand to deal with issues as they arise can minimise the risk of this causing loss of revenue throughout the day. The process of detecting and removing errors from automated processes can be much more complicated than those caused by manual processes, this combined with relatively frequent issues such as those experienced through installation can cause considerable disruption and dissatisfaction.
Additional issues can arise if a company does not correctly assess the costs and value brought about by automation. In many cases automation may appear to be the best solution, however hidden costs and concerns can arise, the most notable costs for businesses come from fixed costs associated with testing and implementation - these costs can be particularly painful to stomach when considering the limited lifetime of some software packages.
Automation will continue to be an effective means to provide value to customers, with improvements in technology more and more areas of IT services will find themselves exposed to the benefits of automation. When planned for adequately and with the appropriate systems in place, automation can be a massive boon to any company currently applying ITIL® or Lean practices. Will automation dramatically change your workplace? I think it absolutely can.