The road to (IT) Service Delivery Success through Automation.

I don’t think that a lot of people out there, will disagree with the statement “Automation is important”. We have seen what automation can do in manufacturing and so many other industries. Automation has been a double edged sword, processes would become cheaper, faster, more predictable, and at the same time the need for human involved is reduced. When we look at the manufacturing process, human involvement is limited to highly skilled, super specialized actions where automation cannot be used (yet).

Within manufacturing we accepted that this was necessary. Automation forced us to evolve in the way we think about its processes. Thanks to automation we can focus on things that are way more important and impact our business than just the art of manufacturing. If we accept this for manufacturing, why do we still have reservations about automation when it comes to service delivery? Do customers really want to talk to a person for everything? Or is this merely a repeat of the evolution we had to go through when automation took over manufacturing. I want to limit the article to IT service delivery. The main reason for this is that while IT service delivery, Managed Service Providers, IT service providers, are deep down very technical, their adoption of automation in their service delivery very limited.

Does this mean that nothing in their service delivery is automated? No, but for people who live 24/7 in a technical world, you could and would expect a lot more. What could be the reasons for the limited amount of automation in the IT service delivery business? Let’s go back to the manufacturing line. When you look at the manufacturing or assembly line, you will immediately see that every post on that line does the same action over and over again. If you have seen an old assembly manual of a classic car, you will see the different sections of the line in the manual. Reading the factory assembly manual reads like you are on the assembly line. So it is pretty easy to see the automation opportunities right in front of you. Within IT service delivery it is not. An IT service provider doesn’t have a single guy for a single task. When things are not obvious, people tend not to look at it to see if they can improve it.

So how do you get to the automation part when you deliver IT services? The lack of automation can be reduced to two reasons. The first one (and easiest to overcome) is having the skill set to do the automation, the second (and more difficult to overcome) is insight in what your people are doing and what part of those tasks can be automated, the second one is the technical knowledge to automate it. When you talk to a lot of business owners and ask them about the standard operating procedures or their service definitions, in most cases they will be able to give you a 10,000 mile overview of what they think the service should be. If you would ask the delivery manager and engineer the same question, you will get a very different answer. The key to success in any type of service delivery and especially in the IT service delivery is consistency. Knowing that each customer who buys a specific service from you gets the same experience with the same (hopefully) happy customer satisfaction every single time. What guarantees that same approach over and over again? Automation! Automation will exactly what you tell it to do in your commands and will not deviate from it.

So how do we get from unorganized service delivery to automated, successful and consistent delivery? You need to start identifying what services you have and how you execute them, does the execution match the service definition, does every single engineer does every single task within that service exactly the same? Creating a service catalog for any IT service provider is key. If you don’t know what you sell and what the customer experience should be like, how can you be successful? So the first thing to start with is creating an inventory of all your services. Create the what, why and how. What service, why is this service important to me and to the customer and how does the service needs to be executed. When you have that catalog, detecting opportunities to automate certain action and reduce human error all together will become more obvious.

This article is not meant to push every IT service provider to become ITIL certified manager (although I do think ITIL is an excellent framework to start with). But these are a few key point to think about when you want to grow into the automated IT service provider space.

  1. Design your service catalog, describe your services, identify if those services make sense to you and your customers.
  2. Operationalize your service, make sure that your delivery engineers know how each service should be executed consistently and protect that process.
  3. Improve your service, how can you improve your service in customer satisfaction, cost and time. Here is where automation comes in. Now you know what your delivery engineers are doing, now you can see how long it takes them, now you can assess if automation makes sense.

If you are not familiar with service catalogs, descriptions and operationalization of services, there are tools out there that will help you with this exercise. I am always welcome to help if you need to be pointed in the right direction ….