Most people fear automation. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the "A-word" has conjured up rebellion by those who are vulnerable to replacement by machines. When you automate a job, there is a high likelihood that the machinery will reduce dependence on human interaction and may even eliminate the need for humans altogether. In the future, some IT roles will diminish in numbers and possibly disappear altogether -- but service management and automation will always need innovators and leaders.
The majority of organisations have adopted IT service management practices (ITSM) to manage business and technological change. But gone are the days ruled by the technology Illuminati. The future will require customer-obsession, relentless focus on the portfolio of services, automation, and expansion far beyond the walls of the organisation. To stay relevant and competitive, business leaders must drop the "IT" from ITSM and embrace industrialised automation as a way to deliver customer outcomes faster, cheaper and at higher quality.
True service management evolution will be impossible without drastic, fundamental changes in automation. In Forrester's Service Management and Automation Playbook, my colleagues and I maintain that it is critical for firms to embrace automation from an organizational perspective. If executed successfully, firms will gain significant economies of scale and increase the ability to focus on services, as enhanced visibility into broader technology domains provides invaluable clarity. Naturally, automation will be heavily influenced and, in many cases, driven by individuals with strong process backgrounds.
As part of this critical transformation, a company must: 1) optimise IT staffing resources for maximum business value, 2) transform employees into technology and process innovators, and 3) develop fundamental service brokering and integration skills.
Step 1: Optimise IT staffing resources for maximum business value
When a firm has employees performing multiple tasks, it is essential to make optimum use of the right talents and identify areas where individual skills are not appropriately leveraged. Some examples include:
" A network engineer who holds multiple certifications with years of technical experience, but is responsible for routine troubleshooting and configuration changes.
" A database administrator who would rather be interacting with customers, but spends valuable time digging through complex databases.
" A service desk agent with an innate ability to solve complex problems, but is unable to transfer to a command center position where they can be more effective at solving bigger issues.
Too many infrastructure and operations professionals fulfill both an engineering and operational function - two distinct roles that mandate different mental faculties and emotional competencies. Engineering is an inherently creative process that takes time to master and requires deep technical expertise, while operations professionals stress methodical process adherence and an ability to switch tasks frequently and adapt to continuously changing demands. Most individuals can perform one or the other well - but not both.
Step 2: Transform employees into technology and process innovators
Collectively, infrastructure and operations teams, along with application developers and others, perform service engineering tasks that follow the fundamental principles of systems engineering. For some reason, however, infrastructure and operations professionals have a tendency to think of themselves as the "working class" of IT.
Firms can eliminate this stereotype and foster the intellectual prowess of employees by fundamentally changing the way that the roles are perceived. By instead referring to infrastructure professionals as technology engineers, and operations professionals as process engineers, firms can empower employees to establish themselves as innovators and produce creative solutions to common business challenges.
Step 3: Develop fundamental service brokering and integration skills
With recent growth in strategic rightsourcing, firms increasingly find themselves building business services using components provided by third parties. These services can be in the form of software components in SOA, cloud services, traditional outsourcing, and other services not performed by internal staff. The ability to integrate these components, along with internal service components, will quickly become a high-demand skill set.
In the vision of successful strategic rightsourcing, service components will use Web-based services to link a dynamic system together. In order to construct truly adaptive business services, firms must leverage service component switching to alter the behavior or cost structure of a service by manipulating the service components themselves.
The initial switching of components will be manual, but advanced analytic technologies are now emerging to enable automated triggering of such switches. Firms will soon be able to define business policies that describe the conditions on which a trigger should occur. The analytic program will then process the policy information, continually watch for a specific condition, and trigger automatically when that condition is met.
Automation tools will accelerate process execution, enforce that execution, and allow for rapid adaptation as business and technological needs change. To prepare for success in an uncertain future, firms must actively engage, train and inspire their employees to be the automator - not the automated.
Glenn O'Donnell is a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research Serving Infrastructure and Operations professionals. He is the coauthor of The CMDB Imperative.