Process Automation a Key to Business Value
IT professionals say expanding process automation throughout an organization yields clear business benefits.
One of the most interesting trends in recent memory is the adoption of IT service management (ITSM) in non-IT areas of companies like human resources and facilities management. Like IT organizations, these lines of business recognize the value of standardizing, streamlining and automating processes.
In fact, several ITSM vendors I interviewed told me they increasingly talk to potential customers about "service management" rather than IT service management.
The potential of automating business processes, a key part of IT service management, is evident in results of a new survey of some 300 IT professionals by PMG.
Yes, PMG sells business automation software, so you may view the results with a few grains of salt. However, it's hard to argue automation's ability to help companies cut costs and boost efficiencies. Introducing more self-service business processes, another key part of ITSM, clearly offers a way to remove roadblocks – real and perceived – to rolling out new capabilities throughout an organization.
According to the survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents said self-service automation will serve the entire organization. Further, 68 percent said automation would reduce the cost of IT operations.
Automation also will play a key role in the adoption of hot technologies like cloud and Big Data. Eighty-two percent said automation will change the way virtual and cloud environments are managed, and 65 percent said automation will be important in integrating and managing Big Data.
Automation already offers clear business benefits, according to a whopping 98 percent of respondents. Among the specific business functions experiencing benefits:
- Enhancing the customer experience, mentioned by 61 percent of respondents
- Increasing productivity gains (59 percent)
- Sharing knowledge (52 percent)
- Delivering new products (46 percent)
Heather Brizzi, IT manager of Ohio-based manufacturer Vitamix, one of the folks I interviewed for my story on ITSM, told me how Vitamix uses its ITSM software to streamline and automate processes throughout the company, including the HR department, an IT helpdesk serving internal customers and a contact center serving external customers. Vitamix's experience seems to encompass all of the benefits mentioned above.
"Moving the automation of business process from IT departments and the often lofty vision created by consultants to everyday acceptance and use within companies is starting to become a reality," said Joe LeCompte, principal at PMG, in a statement.
Automation and Business Alignment
Process automation also seems to help IT and other areas of an organization align around common business goals, another benefit touted by the sources for my ITSM story. Eighty-seven percent of respondents to the PMG survey said IT is at least moderately well aligned with broader organizational business goals, with 52 percent indicating IT was "very well" or "well" aligned with such goals.
This alignment is at least partly driven by ITSM's ability to help folks across an organization communicate better, David Ratcliffe, president of ITSM consulting company Pink Elephant, told me.
"You gain efficiencies around better communication and eliminating miscommunication," he said. "IT has suffered from an elitist ivory tower reputation, one that was somewhat self-inflicted. We've been trying to break that down for years and get IT to think of themselves as business people like everyone else. They can relate better to coworkers in other departments if they all speak the same language."
While the potential is certainly there for increasing use of process automation, respondents identified some key challenges. Nearly 60 percent said their organization does not take a holistic approach to automation, which results in silos of automation, many of which cannot be integrated. Nearly 50 percent said their organization lacks processes that are mature enough to automate. Clearly that is a problem. Automating an inefficient process will simply result in problems that manifest themselves more quickly.
One issue that can contribute to silos of automation is business departments deploying automation without IT's knowledge, an area cited by 44 percent of respondents. In addition, 48 percent said business owners create their own automated solutions with non-standard or incorrect tools.
While survey respondents said 54 percent of business leaders include IT in the planning stages and deployment process, LeCompte said he'd like to see that percentage grow. "This is an issue IT needs to take the lead on curbing," he said.
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.