How to get started with Service Request Automation
Mon 22 Jun 2020 | Greg Charman
Service Request Automation (SRA) can save your IT department time and your organisation money.
Whether it’s request fulfilment, incident ticket resolution, virtual machine provisioning, user access requests or anything else raised in the service desk – it’s never been easier to improve efficiency by automating these repetitive IT tasks.
It’s not just efficiency either, IT staff can become infinitely more productive when such activities are resolved automatically. They can focus on the important, business-critical tasks like service improvement activities and end-user resolution.
Kelverion is an Automation as a Service organisation specialising in SRA. Based in the UK, Canada and US, the company helps organisations automate their service desks, whether they have a cloud, on-premise or hybrid set up.
We spoke with Greg Charman, VP of Solutions & Services at Kelverion to understand the sophistication of today’s SRA, how companies can get started, and if the holy grail of a fully automated service desk is within reach.
What is the low-hanging fruit in IT service and process automation?
All of the day to day, typically laborious basic actions, such as; adding users to groups, creating Active Directory accounts, managing email distribution lists, granting SharePoint file permissions, access to VPNs, password resets, adding users and roles. These are what we refer to as standard tasks.
These requests will initially be dealt with by first line, and then passed to a second or third line person who has the knowledge but also the necessary access to fulfil these requests. Unfortunately, this isn’t using this second or third line resource effectively. Although the common belief is that these processes require the skills to understand the APIs and interfaces, these can (and should) all be automated.
Even with the most skilled IT team, any activity fulfilled by a person allows for human error and takes time. With automation, the process is followed to the letter and cycle time is significantly reduced.
What is the holy grail?
Having a self-service portal, with a simple interface where the end-user is enabled to complete their request. The portal should contain a range of offerings which the end-user can complete and submit, the request is then automatically translated into a list of IT actions and the necessary approval process steps, which the automation will fulfil. These requests are fulfilled in minutes, instead of days or sometimes weeks.
Ultimately, the holy grail of automation is empowerment. If an individual can do something for themselves, this improves their wellbeing and sense of achievement. The user experience is elevated through a swift and error-free resolution. In addition, the organisation’s IT team isn’t tied up with repetitive day to day tasks.
Is this kind of automation the preserve of large companies or is it viable for SMEs?
Whilst it was previously the case that automation was generally only accessible for larger organisations, due to upfront costs and the high level of technical expertise required. Thankfully, this is no longer true today due to the new Automation as a Service (AaaS) offerings now available.
Kelverion achieves this for customers by utilising Microsoft’s Cloud-based automation service; Azure Automation. This has no upfront costs and a modest charge of 0.2 pence per minute, which is only payable when the automation process is executed. On average, an SME will pay £128 p.a. for this service – demonstrating great value for money.
What is the state of IT service process automation adoption in the UK?
Overall, adoption has been slow. The expectation of technical expertise and anticipated expense has meant that automation was out of reach for most organisations.
The business case has also been complex to justify due to the historically large upfront costs mentioned earlier. An automation project is a change and does have an impact on how a business operates. However, now Automation as a Service is available with a low price point, many businesses are slowly catching on to the value automation delivers and man-hours saved.
Covid-19 is already having a bearing on attitudes to automation practices, with so many employees working from home, fulfilling service requests can no longer be resolved with a trip to someone’s desk. Many companies are realising that they need to become more agile and efficient; this is where automation comes in. Automation fulfils the task, the same way, every time, there’s no requirement to have someone physically sitting in the office processing everyday jobs manually.
The past few months have seen lengthy digital transformation projects completed rapidly, and this is true of automation as well. For example, Kelverion has prebuilt automation solutions which can be remotely implemented in less than 5 days. Covid-19 has increased the demand for fast and remote turn around. Analysts are stating that automation is one of the key ways to resolve this situation, it’s become even more important to work smarter, not harder.
Covid-19 has changed views on cloud usage, companies have suddenly had to adopt cloud products to keep their businesses running and now, having discovered the benefits of the cloud, there has been an increase in desire to keep using it. Although the use of the cloud is more complex and the functionality is different, automation can take away the complexity of implementing Cloud services from those who need to fulfil the requests, whilst maintaining control over what is built.
Do you think automation is sometimes overlooked in digital transformation efforts? Why?
It is almost always overlooked. The traditional approach to digital transformation projects is to buy a new piece of enterprise management software to complete the project. When actually, what is really required is a tool that can enhance and orchestrate the software that the organisation already has.
Many IT functions have software from multiple vendors which are in essence ‘glued together’ with human beings. Now it is time to do this with automation, which is much more efficient and reliable.
What are some of the main things organisations overlook when delivering automation projects?
Graphical authoring — an image-based approach with no code makes the creation of automation runbooks easier and doesn’t require advanced coding knowledge.
The breadth of ready-built supported integrations — this keeps the cost down and makes them quick to implement. Also, the likelihood of discovering bugs or snags in the integration you purchase is reduced, as it will already be used in production elsewhere.
Custom-built integrations will naturally be more expensive, will take time to produce and be without a proven track record. Many systems promote a suite of ‘community built’ integrations which can be used, the danger with these is that the user doesn’t know who built them, how well they are developed or if they are being maintained. Using a solution like this would also run the risk that if it won’t work, often there isn’t anyone to call on for help and support.
Make sure consideration is given to the strategic bigger picture — a lot of focus is given to looking at a small number of use cases and automating that one process, when the tools are available to automate beyond just one use case.
How can these be overcome?
Invest in a tool that will automate a range of use cases, rather than just a couple.
Find out if the supplier has ready-made integrations and solutions, or if they will be developing this one from scratch.
Spend time considering the bigger picture, will this be for a specific project, or should you be looking at a range of use cases?
Enquire about the support available, what (if anything) comes as standard, and how long this would run for. Alternatively, reach out to Kelverion, we’re proud to have already addressed these challenges.