IT Automation - The What, Why, Pros and Cons

Explore the benefits and drawbacks of IT automation and why It's becoming essential for modern organisations. Make IT Automation a breeze with

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What is IT Automation?

IT automation is using tools and technology to perform tasks that would traditionally be performed manually by technicians. Simple tasks like provisioning access and virtual machines, executing technical responses to repeatable alerts, deploying software, operating systems, and patches can all be automated as enterprises grow.

As systems and computing environments become more complex, the technical debt needed to maintain them grows. Automation is a strategic shift that enables technicians to spend less time doing mundane tasks and otherwise address this technical debt. When you remove the load this technical debt places on technicians, they are freed up to work on more innovative solutions. Thus, automation is a strategic shift Simple tasks like provisioning access and virtual machines, executing technical responses to repeatable alerts, and deploying software, operating systems, and patches can all be automated as enterprises grow. 

5 use cases for IT Automation

Automation can be used for numerous activities, falling into two main categories:

  • Monitoring and technical activities: The ability to monitor the network environment, diving deeply into endpoints' status and configuration, improves the organization's network observability. This is critical as observability increases the ability to know more about the computing environment and to automate responses to abnormal operating conditions. Automation monitoring can mean executing fixes to common issues: allocating more CPU or drive space using automation or executing runbooks that combine automated and manual intervention. Other everyday technical activities like running backups and batch jobs can also be performed with automated routines, alerting technicians when failures occu

  • User experience enhancement: The ability to provide immediate self-service and onboard employee transitions like onboarding, job changes, and offboarding greatly enhance the user experience. Thus, automation to auto-provision access, virtual machines, and software, as well as fully automating employee transitions through integration with HR systems, increases manager and employee satisfaction and improves retention.

It's worth looking at the top 5 areas that can be automated in greater depth. ⁠

1. Automated onboarding

Organizations can address two primary forms of onboarding with IT automation: employee onboarding and the process of onboarding vendors or clients. IT automation can assist with both.

Employees: IT automation commonly leverages integration between HR systems, Identity Access Management, and IT Service Management applications to automate many aspects of the employee onboarding process. When properly configured, IT automation can perform many of the initial fulfillment tasks:

  • Provision access as appropriate to the new role

  • Open a service desk ticket, then leverage workflows and automated runbooks to manage the provisioning of all equipment and devices appropriate to the position, including software installation

  • andy other providers to ensure access to offices and parking, provide desk or cube space

  • Deliver documents and policies to the new hire to ensure everything needed for them to start work is completed before their first day

Clients or vendors: Each time a new vendor is added, IT automation can kick off a runbook that automatically adds the vendor's information to all internal systems, from ERP systems to purchasing and invoicing methods. Once the vendor begins work, everything is ready to ensure they are prepared to work and bill the organization. Similarly, MSPs and third-party providers can use IT automation to add new clients to multiple systems and execute runbooks to ensure all teams that work with new clients are aware they have been added. IT automation can also generate and deliver contracts and other legal documents for electronic signature, automating and speeding up the legal onboarding of that client. ⁠

2. Operations Management:

⁠With monitoring systems, patch management, and automated runbooks, IT automation can perform several daily tasks growing the digital footprint technicians can manage while increasing availability and performance across the computing environment. IT automation opportunities include:

  • Monitoring and response: IT automation allows monitoring of all network segments and the endpoints that connect to the network to ensure they are operating optimally. In the event of a potential service interruption, incident management can be automated by automatically executing common fixes for the condition. IT automation ensures that a technician is alerted when automated attempts fail to restore service.

  • Device health and configuration: Monitoring systems can leverage machine learning algorithms to predict each device's health. IT automation can proactively correct device configuration or alert technicians if a hardware component is involved.

  • Patch Management: Based on the device class, routine maintenance patches can be deployed automatically, while higher-risk patches, operating system updates, and new software versions can be managed with workflows and automated policies. These ensure proper testing and approval before automated deployment kicks in.

  • Security management: Cyber-attacks and the maintenance needed to prevent them would need an army of people to manage them, but IT automation can reduce this to a small team. IT automation can be set to discover new vulnerabilities, scan the environment for exposure, and open tickets to deploy fixes. Where testing and approval are needed, system policies and automated workflows can be leveraged to ensure vulnerabilities are managed as quickly as practical. ⁠

3. Customer/Employee Service Management:

IT automation can help with many aspects of end-user support, and when properly configured, it can improve the customer experience. Several areas to consider for IT automation include:

  • Proactive device management: Automated patch management can keep end-user devices updated with the latest software and operating system versions and detect errors in the device's operation. Alerting technicians to these conditions enables them to provide and configure a replacement, then reach out to the end user to arrange a device swap. Doing this before the end-user even knows there's an issue is a vast experience improvement as downtime has been virtually eliminated.

  • Automated fulfillment: software and access changes can be automatically fulfilled with IT automation, providing true self-service satisfaction of IT service requests. 

  • Automated routing: IT automation can leverage automated workflows and runbooks to improve response and fulfillment for service requests logged via email or a service portal. For end-user device incidents, automated runbooks can use asset management to identify the device, update or repair any missing configurations, software, or patches and arrange a remote reboot. If initial automated attempts don't restore service, the ticket can be routed to an appropriate technician based on automated troubleshooting. This type of IT automation will restore service almost immediately and cut down the time needed to get the ticket to the right technician.

  • Self-help: With a robust ticket and solution base, end users can effectively engage with chatbots and knowledge for immediate answers.

4. Security Management:

⁠ ⁠There are several areas of security management that IT automation can improve, improving intrusion prevention, unauthorized access, and cyber-attacks.

  • Vulnerability management: The IT automation for daily operations includes improved management of security vulnerabilities and speeds up response time, lowering the risk of cyber-attacks.

  • Intrusion detection: Automated monitoring and response can detect unexpected network traffic patterns and alert technicians of a potential denial of service attack or intrusion attempt. IT automation can block access to a device or IP address experiencing such an attack, buying time until the technician can respond.

  • Identity Access Management (IAM): IT automation that includes an identity access management solution integrated with HR systems ensures that only authorized users can access resources and only access applications deemed appropriate for their role. IT automation of this nature can also adjust their access anytime their role changes and disable access automatically on termination. Not relying on manager notification of IT for these changes has them made timelier and helps appropriately secure the enterprise.

  • Asset management: Discovery and documentation of all endpoints make it possible to lock the network from access by unregistered devices leveraging automated responses. ⁠

  • Financial Management and Invoicing: Whether support is internal or external, IT automation makes it possible to understand the costs associated with service delivery and either show back these costs to executives or for MSPs to create automated invoices for clients. There are two primary areas of financial management that IT automation can support: ⁠

⁠⁠5. Financial Management and Invoicing:

⁠Whether support is internal or external, IT automation makes it possible to understand the costs associated with service delivery and either show back these costs to executives or for MSPs to create automated invoices for clients. There are two primary areas of financial management that IT automation can support:

  • Support costs: With professional services automation tools, all costs associated with end-user support and device costs can automatically be invoiced or reported on leveraging IT automation.

  • Operational costs for services: IT automation includes discovering all resources used and their configuration. This supports the determination of the operational cost of a business or commercial service and the per-user cost over time. Once negotiated or agreed on, the per-user fees can automatically be added to monthly invoices or reported by the department or business unit for internal financial management.

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The Pros and Cons of IT Automation

Not every solution is entirely positive, and IT automation is no exception. Understanding the benefits helps create the business case needed to gain the necessary funding to achieve greater levels of automation. Understanding the disadvantages helps manage the associated risks.

In a positive light, IT automation makes it possible to improve IT observability and scale proactive operations at the technical and customer experience levels. Operations become more proactive, cost-effectively executed, and scalable. End users enjoy a better customer experience due to increased availability, improved support, and more immediate request fulfillment. The business itself is more secure as cyber-attack prevention is more effective. IT automation is a mandate with the growth of dependence on digital services and the need to operate an extensive digital footprint with limited resources. IT automation also makes innovation possible by lowering the time technicians spend on mundane operational tasks and enabling them to have time to investigate ways to leverage IT automation to make the business more competitive.

With all the positive aspects of IT automation, two areas offer more of a challenge:

  • Lengthy implementation timeframes and time to value: This risk can be easily mitigated by adopting an agile approach. IT automation offers vast capabilities, but not all must be implemented simultaneously. Organizations should look at their current capabilities and pain points, and then put together a prioritized IT automation plan. By working in smaller components that drive immediate value, progress in both areas is made every step of the way. Where there are barriers to implementation, like excessive customization, the overarching roadmap can include returning applications to a near out of box environment before attempting IT automation.

  • Staffing concerns are easy to deal with if considered from the start of any IT automation effort. Staff should be involved early, and changes to their roles and new opportunities should be discussed throughout the program. Training should include technical training for new automation tools and personal training for career growth.

The table below shows summarizes the pros and cons of IT automation:

IT Automation 01.jpg

The business value of IT Automation

In today's digital economy, IT automation has tremendous value, and its importance increasing with each passing day. With any technology investment, however, it's essential to keep an eye on the business value and ensure that implementation is done in a way that drives that business value. IT automation provides value in several concrete ways:

  • By streamlining operations, IT automation enables cost-effective operations of an extensive digital footprint with fewer people. Whether internal support for a large enterprise or an MSPs operation of a client environment, technical operations need to ensure availability, security, and ability to grow.

  • The business benefits from IT automation with high service availability and performance, as well as through innovation. Technology can become a competitive advantage when staff has more time to focus on the business. 

  • Employee Effectiveness increases with IT automation. Business unit employees can work more effectively as their technology is not a barrier to performance, and technicians can focus on work that provides business value without constant operational interruptions.

  • Improved onboarding and employee experiences increase employee satisfaction and retention.

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Getting started with IT Automation

Most organizations already have some level of IT automation present. Monitoring and Windows software distribution have been a focus of IT automation efforts for years, but what has changed is the degree of automation that is now possible and the increased scope of taking automation to the end-user device level. Taking on an IT automation program should be approached like a continual improvement program to get started by engaging people to determine the organization's gaps and building a roadmap for an incremental IT automation program. Most importantly, IT automation should be viewed as an ongoing program rather than a project. To get started, organizations should:

  • Engage the right stakeholders

  • Get buy-in

-> Ensure business and IT executive support for the program (including funding and resource availability)

-> Identify a dedicated automation engineer & team to manage the program

-> Create an ongoing governance effort that ensures expected results are achieved

  • Don't underestimate the effort: think long-term, but act incrementally

  • Use the right tools: there are several types of IT automation tools to help get started, and some IT operations management platforms will offer all of them:

    • RMM or Remote Monitoring and Management: offer monitoring, patch management, software distribution, and the proactive tools needed to manage all device types and varied operating systems

    • PSA or Professional Services Automation: provide end-user support ticketing for phone contacts, chat, email ticket creation, and self-service, as well as the ability to leverage workflows and runbooks to automate provisioning and technician response

    • IAM or Identity Access Management tools enable automated access provisioning and de-provisioning on termination

    • Vulnerability Management tools may be built into RMM platforms but are also available separately to detect new vulnerabilities and scan the enterprise for them, as well as to manage the mitigation activities

  • Capture the results of each project phase: the automation achieved, financial benefits, and operational achievements

  • Keep it simple, and don't force it! Start where you can and try to keep improving. If there are barriers, they can be addressed while progress is made elsewhere.

Any agile implementation program needs a few things to stay on track:

  • Start with stakeholder vision, including both the business and IT perspectives. This vision should be documented for future reference.

  • Agree on the objectives of the program in concrete, measurable terms.

  • Create a roadmap for managing pain points and automation needs in order of their priority to the business.

  • Communicate the program's status and achievements to stakeholders regularly.

  • Look at areas where the result is not successful and put corrections in place to stay on track.

  • Remember to include a change management program for the initiative. As operations are automated, changes to infrastructure or applications should be considered, or the automation may fail. Build this into the IT change management process.

With a solid roadmap and program governance, IT automation efforts will lead to significant savings and operational effectiveness.


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