We already live in an automated world. Most of us take automation for granted in dozens of routine activities. We get cash from automated teller machines, book travel arrangements through automated reservation systems, and buy products online through automated e-commerce platforms.
These consumer-facing examples are only a small piece of the pie, of course, as businesses the world over rely on computer automation to perform countless tasks behind the scenes, from managing the performance of telecom networks to streamlining shipping and receiving operations. All of these impressive systems are put in place and supported by talented IT professionals. But when it comes to the IT organization itself, you might say it’s been a case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes. Many IT teams spend so much time keeping up with the service demands of their customers (both internal and external), that over time their own operations become outdated, disjointed and inefficient. Ultimately, the business as a whole suffers the consequences. It’s no wonder CIOs can’t sleep at night. But advancements in automation technologies are helping to change all that, enabling a transformation of the IT function from reactive “firefighter” to a strategic center of innovation.
The most obvious and immediate benefit of automation is cost reduction – using computers to perform mundane, repetitive tasks that used to require human employees. Clearly, there’s a strong case for that, as tighter budgets require organizations to do more work with fewer resources. Many leading companies already use automated systems to resolve routine help desk issues like password resets or basic troubleshooting.
But the opportunities extend much further. As automation grows more sophisticated, it becomes less about cutting headcount and more about redeploying IT resources to make better use of their talents. Beyond the tactical programming of individual tasks, we’re talking about the bigger picture of end-to-end process automation. By integrating automated processes and workflows with critical applications and infrastructure, the organization can achieve more efficient systems monitoring and asset management, identify and prevent problems proactively, and respond quickly to fluctuating business demands. All the while, IT employees are freed from these time-consuming responsibilities and are able to concentrate on value-adding activities that will drive the business forward.
More specifically, automation of service delivery enables a number of measurable improvements to:
• Speed of delivery – In a world where instant gratification has become the norm, automation is the key to keeping customers happy.
• Quality and consistency of service – Automation allows for more predictable and accurate results by eliminating the potential for human error.
• Institutional knowledge – People may change positions or leave the company, taking with them everything they know, and new employees have to be trained. By comparison, an automated system never leaves and only gets smarter.
• Availability – For multinational companies serving the global economy, the automated system is on the clock 24/7 and never goes on vacation.
• Scalability — Well-designed automated systems can deal with spikes in demand (high call volumes, for example) without having to increase human headcount or disappoint customers. These benefits are amplified as automation technologies become ever-more independent, using cognitive computing to self-monitor, self-heal and self-manage unpredictable events. Simply put, automation can keep the IT department – and thus the whole company – humming like a well-oiled machine, which amounts to a tremendous competitive advantage. The business becomes leaner, more productive, more agile, and ultimately more profitable.
Proceed with caution
As is the lifecycle with most technologies, these types of automated systems become less of a luxury and more of a necessity with each passing day. The more efficiencies they create, the more they become prerequisite for businesses to keep pace with their competitors.
But while embracing automation may be the first step to a sustainable future, it’s a transition that must be handled with care. After all, it can’t happen in a vacuum. Often, automation requires new technologies to be integrated with legacy systems, ensuring they can operate in harmony. Security is another key concern, as systems must be at once impenetrable (to attackers) and accommodating (to authorized users). And, in customer-facing applications especially, companies must be careful not to sacrifice personal customer service in the name of computerized cost savings.
So as the demand for automated systems increases, so will the demand for technical experts who know how to design, implement and manage these systems effectively.
The sky is the limit
With proper planning and execution, service delivery automation can be a stepping stone to a profound organizational transformation – a transformation led by IT. And as the technology continues to mature, the potential business applications are limited only by the imagination.
We’re already glimpsing the future in computers’ increasing ability to do much more than respond to commands. True artificial intelligence is becoming a reality. As computers access and process huge amounts of data at lightning speed, they can make predictions, adapt to situations, and learn from every outcome. They will even become teachers themselves, working in partnership with humans to help us cut through complexity and make smarter business decisions. With such powerful tools in the hands of skilled practitioners, only time will tell what extraordinary things might be accomplished.
Anand Sankaran is president and Global Head, Infrastructure & Cloud Computing, Dell Services. Visit www.dell.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Workflow.