Automation: Is It The Only Way For IT To Really “Do More With Less”?

The changing business and IT landscapes bring increased demand for IT (or IT services) AND increasing complexity. The slide below (a tweaked version of a genuine Glenn O’Donnell original) paints a picture of increasing complexity and an impending capability gulf; if it isn’t already here.

So can IT organizations cope by increasing their manual ability, usually by employing or buying in more people resource?

Even if they could get suitable resource (availability and recruitment can be issues), could the parent business afford the jump in labor costs as these continue to be a highly-visible element of overall IT service delivery costs? Adding more people doesn’t necessarily fit in with the now oft-quoted mantra of “do (or deliver) more with less.”

A recent webinar with ServiceNow looked at drivers for and opportunities from automation, and how to approach building the business case for service management AND automation. Where Forrester defines automation as:

“Tools that perform functions otherwise done by humans.”

If you want to cut to the chase (i.e. don’t want to read the blog) …

… Then the on demand webinar can be found here: (sign up required)

If you just want to flick through the slides, they are here:

But if you are sitting comfortably I will continue …

While many are worried about the “rise of the machines” that is automation, let us not forget that our existing investments in IT service management (ITSM) tools, as well as the more obvious data center scheduling tools, are already an “investment in automation.” Many IT organizations could not efficiently and effectively operate the most basic of ITSM processes such as incident management without the enablement of the corporate ITSM tool by way of automated routing and workflow, alerts and escalations, and automated methods for resolution or provisioning. But we need to look at automation as more than “a good thing to do” or the next piece of sexy technology to play with.

Additionally, cloud computing and DevOps are accelerating the evolution of automation-enabled service management, with ITSM itself evolving to adapt to automation. One could argue that there is a symbiotic relationship between these movements – that neither cloud computing nor DevOps is truly feasible without extreme automation, and automation needs the economic force of movements like cloud and DevOps to compel the market investment necessary to deliver capable technology solutions. It's becoming increasingly obvious that going forward ITSM in any form will be impossible without significant improvements in automation.

If you want more on the generic benefits of service management and automation, please take a look at:

So what did I recommend to those looking to justify service management and automation?

Sorry, but if you want to know more you will need to refer to one of the earlier options (either watch the webinar or skim through the slides) or look at the further reading references below. And don't get me wrong, I have always believed and continue to believe that IT is all about people and relationships. This is about making better use of scarce people resource not ripping great people out of the IT service delivery ecosystem.

As always your opinions and feedback are welcome. I’ll leave you with the words of Glenn O’Donnell:

“Be The Automator Not The Automated”

And that additional reading …

Forrester Reports Available via ServiceNow (sign up required)

Forrester Blogs

Forrester client-only content








Missing the point....

Are we back to tools solve everything? I pioneered automated operations and 'lights out' in the 1980s with IBM and a host of mainframe vendors. I was product manager for SOLVE:Automation/Operations and we placed a service hat firmly on the strategy. That said, it ended up inside out.

Much of the back office must be automated to free up people resources to perform front office actions that guarantee a superior customer experience - either by improved service design, less and more relevant interactions, and a more 'agile', speedy response from IT.

Automation requires careful targeting and use. We have all been victims of the "your call is very important to us" robot response. No, automation is an important tool in our kit, but its just one of the tools.

To succeed with automation you must appropriately mimic what you do in real life, manually. When it comes to customer facing activities that requires use of skills too often absent from traditional ITSM professionals....

You cannot easily automate complexity!

Oh - forgot - huge lesson we learned - the effort to automate complex environments is proportional to the complexity. Automation is best targeted at the repetitive, well known, mundane activities.

In today's interwoven environments you may need to consider aggregation, correlation, filtering, and a uber scheduler task designed to spawn and manage slave automation gofers that operate simultaneously but complete tasks singularly.

This is not easy work to design - believe me. It also requires a simulator style development environment and I think when you cite automation we really do need to be specific as to what style - I suspect reactive.... coin operated.

Thanks Ian

I always appreciate you taking the time to add your opinions and insight. I agree with you (see Rec #3 and also #1 - in fact I mention you in the webinar I think).

If you look at the full slide deck hopefully it will be a little more comfortable ... I added in the lines "And don't get me wrong, I have always believed and continue to believe that IT is all about people and relationships. This is about making better use of scarce people resource not ripping great people out of the IT service delivery ecosystem." as I knew what I had taken from the overall presentation might come across as automation heavy rather than finding the best way to do things.

Why IT professionals should change their view of ITSM

Stephen, good post! i am happy to see that you took some time to discuss automation rather that cloud or virtualization which usually more popular, to the point, IT Service Management (ITSM) has consistently been viewed as simply part of the IT infrastructure library (ITIL) processes. However, with the looming shift of IT operations from fragmented services to a more end-to-end, service-driven approach, the concept of ITSM is poised to play an increasingly critical role in business operations. In order to successfully navigate this shift toward service, IT professionals must essentially rethink what this practice is really about and how it will serve their organizations going forward.

Its a waste to 'shift towards' service...


Please - service management was a set of concepts pioneered by Richard Normann as far back as mid 1970s and published in research papers and a book. He was a business (product) marketing guru. Nothing to do with IT.

There is no 'shift to service' - well today - that was written about and identified as far back (by the business) in the mid to late 1990s - here I can point you to Pine and Gilmore's book the experiential economy.

Its not a 'practice' per se - its a way of thinking about how to deliver service type products in an economy where consumers have purchasing power and choice. As far as IT is concerned we provide information as a service. Very simple. How customers/consumers access/interact/use the information is the key here.

Current ITSM thinking is fabricated out of a tools centric, inside-out set of constructs. Its bears little or no resemblance to the true service management. Where I hope we can agree is that IT needs to do a better job of understanding the origins and reasons of service management and apply them. Not reinvent them.

Its preposterous to think IT is in any way ahead of the business in managing service. Check Disney, Nordstrom, Dillards, Amazon, oh the list goes on. We need to change, not embark upon a journey to educate the business in ITSM.

As for ITIL, its a valuable set of ideas and suggestions once the true service management thinking is put in place and takes precedent. This is why I urge folks not to implement anything - thats the clue you are approaching this the wrong way. A business does not implement service management to succeed....

When the economy tightens they focus on the customer, recheck and redefine what business they are truly in (as per Levitt), and manage performance based upon a combination of outcomes, satisfaction levels, and the experience delivered.... My book the USMBOK does a better job of explaining all this...