The global market size for IT process automation is projected to grow beyond $200 billion by 2026. Indeed many experts in this space agree that the future of business is automation and those who embrace it will come out on top. It’s one of the quickest ways to boost productivity, reduce errors and free up resources for more strategic projects.
Previously, automation was mainly used by large Fortune 500 companies, but small and medium businesses are now taking advantage of the abundance of cost-effective tools available and incorporating it into their IT strategies.
What is IT process automation?
IT process automation (ITPA) simply refers to the use of technology to automate repetitive processes. An IT process, for example, refers to a set of activities that are performed in order to accomplish a specific goal or objective within the IT department. This can include tasks such as data entry, scheduling, software development, and IT service management. A typical IT process is defined by a set of rules, procedures, and guidelines that outline the steps required to complete the task or achieve the goal. So when we talk of process automation, these are the kind of processes we are referring to.
The ultimate goal of IT process automation is to improve efficiency, reduce errors and costs, and free up resources for more strategic projects..
The concept of IT process automation has been around for several decades, but it has only recently gained momentum as technology has advanced and become more accessible. The origins can be traced back to the 1960s, when early forms of automation, such as batch processing and job scheduling, were first introduced. However, it wasn't until the 1990s, with the advent of more sophisticated technologies such as workflow software and robotic process automation (RPA), that the idea truly began to take shape.
With the increasing reliance on technology in business operations, it became clear that manual, repetitive tasks were taking up valuable time and resources that could be better spent on more strategic projects. Automating these tasks not only improves efficiency but also helps to ensure important aspects such as data accuracy and compliance.
How IT process automation works
First, you decide what specific process you want to automate.
Next, you choose the best software to do the automation.
The software needs to have features that can recognize patterns and apply rules so that it can do the same task over and over again with minimal human intervention. So you acquire the software and set it up based on what you want to automate. There are three core components that you’ll be setting up: trigger, automation and result.
A trigger is the action that sets the automation in motion. If we use the example we used previously of using RPA to automate the creation of new user accounts, the trigger could be a completed and submitted form. So once a new user comes to our website, fills the registration form and submits it, the form is sent to the automation software. Once the form is received, the automation kicks in.
During processing, the automation software will automatically check the form to ascertain if all compulsory fields are filled. If all is good, the software approves the account, and sends an auto-generated confirmation email/message to the new user.
If some fields are not completed or the information is not legible or authentic, the software returns a FAIL result and this means the account will not be created. Again, an auto-generated email or text message is sent to the party to explain why the account creation was not successful.
In summary the real ITPA process starts with a trigger that sets the entire process in action. At the end, we get a result. Of course things are much more detailed than this in real practice, but this is the general process that ITPA follows.
Example: One example of a process that can be automated is user account management. Whether you are adding new employees to the HR system or registering buyers in an online retail website, user account management is one of the most common processes that you can automate easily. This process typically includes tasks such as creating new user accounts, updating existing user accounts, and disabling or deleting accounts that are no longer needed. By using automation tools, such as workflow software or robotic process automation (RPA), you can easily automate repetitive tasks within the user account management process. For example, you can use RPA to automate the process of creating new user accounts by following these steps:
- Organize the steps involved in the process of creating new user accounts, such as collecting information from the user, inputting the information into the system, and sending an email to the user with login details.
- Use RPA software to create a bot that can automate these steps. The bot can be programmed to collect information from the user through a web form or an excel sheet, input the information into the system and send an email to the user with login details.
- Test the bot to ensure that it is working correctly.
- Deploy the bot in production, and monitor its performance consistently to ensure it is working as expected.
Top benefits of IT process automation
The overall benefit of automation is certainly efficiency. But there are more benefits that come as a result of this.
Here is a comprehensive list of the benefits, including examples:
1. Increased efficiency
IT process automation allows for repetitive tasks to be completed quickly, reducing the amount of time and resources required to complete them.
Example: An organization has a large number of employees and they need to regularly update their contact information, such as their email address or phone number, in the company's HR system. Without automation, this process would involve manually updating the information for each employee, which can be time-consuming and prone to errors.
With IT process automation, the organization can set up a process where employees can update their own contact information through a self-service portal. This portal is connected to the HR system and automatically updates the employee's contact information in the system as soon as they submit the changes. This eliminates the need for manual data entry and reduces the potential for errors..
2. Improved accuracy
Human eros are so common across organization. In fact, many studies have shown that human eros are responsible for some of the most devastating cyber attacks that continue to rock enterprises. Automation reduces the potential of these errors, resulting in fewer mistakes and increased accuracy in tasks such as data entry and reporting.
For example, imagine an organization that needs to update software across a large number of machines. Without automation, this process would involve manually updating the software on each machine one after the other, which can be time-consuming and prone to errors.
With automation though, the organization can use a software update management tool that automates the entire process. The tool can be configured to automatically check for updates, download the updates, and install them on all the machines.
3. Improved compliance
Compliance is big these days. Countries all over the world are coming up with stringent compliance regulations for businesses that process personal data, and many businesses if not all are handling some form of data. IT process automation can help ensure that processes are performed in compliance with the numerous industry and government regulations.
For example, imagine an organization that needs to ensure compliance with security regulations, such as HIPAA, that requires regular security scans of networks to identify network vulnerabilities and ensure they are protected against potential threats..
With automation, the organization can use vulnerability scanning tools that can be configured to automatically run scans on a regular basis, such as daily or weekly, and can be set up to automatically run remediation scripts to fix identified vulnerabilities.
4. Increased agility
Automation allows for faster response to changing business needs and the ability to quickly adapt to new situations.
Let's use the example of an e-commerce company that needs to quickly scale up their infrastructure to meet a spike in demand during peak shopping season. Without automation, this process would involve manually provisioning new resources, such as servers and storage, which can take days or even weeks to complete.
With automation, the e-commerce company can use automation tools to quickly spin up new resources in response to increased demand. For example, they could use a cloud provisioning tool that automates the process of provisioning new servers and storage in a matter of minutes. This allows the company to quickly scale up their infrastructure to meet the increased demand, without having to spend a lot of time and resources on manual tasks.
Examples of processes that can be automated
- Repetitive tasks: Tasks that are performed regularly or on a set schedule, such as software updates, backups, and data entry.
- Rules-based tasks: Tasks that follow a set of predefined rules and do not require human decision-making, such as data validation and error handling.
- Time-consuming tasks: Tasks that take a significant amount of time to complete, such as data migration and report generation.
- High-volume tasks: Tasks that involve processing large amounts of data, such as data warehousing, data mining, and big data analytics.
- Monitoring tasks: Tasks that involve monitoring systems, networks, and applications for performance, security, and compliance, such as event log monitoring, server monitoring, intrusion detection, and compliance reporting.
Types of IT process automation tools
The different tools you will find in the IT automation space are fundamentally designed to achieve diverse goals. It's therefore possible to group these tools into different types. Here are the major ones:
1. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools
These tools automate repetitive and rules-based tasks by mimicking human actions, such as keyboard and mouse movements. Examples of such tools include UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere.
A good example of a company that is putting RPA to exciting uses is ING Group, the Dutch banking and financial services multinational. They have used RPA to automate many processes across their operations, from customer care to internal controls. Check out the case studies of ING’s use of robots.
2. Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)
IDEs automate repetitive programming tasks, such as code formatting, debugging, and testing. For example, Visual Studio's IntelliSense feature automatically suggests and completes code as the developer types, saving time and reducing errors.
3. Workflow Automation tools
These tools automate the flow of tasks and processes within an organization by providing a visual representation of the process, and allowing users to trigger certain actions based on certain conditions.
For example, a workflow management system can be used to automate the purchase order approval process, by routing the purchase order through the appropriate channels for approval, and sending notifications when approvals are completed. Examples include Nintex and Appian.
4. Configuration management tools
These tools automate the process of configuring and maintaining servers and other infrastructure. For example, Ansible can be used to automate the process of installing software and configuring settings on a large number of servers at once.
5. Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) tools
These tools automate the process of building, testing, and deploying code changes. For example, Jenkins can be used to automate the process of building and testing code changes, and deploying them to production only when they pass the tests.
6. IT Service Management (ITSM) tools
ITSM tools automate and manage IT services by providing a central location for managing incidents, problems, changes, and service requests.
For example, ServiceNow can be used to automate the process of incident management, by routing incidents to the appropriate team, and tracking the status until the incident is resolved.
Tips for effective IT process automation
Once you've decided to use IT process automation, there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure success in your automation efforts.
Begin with automating simple and repetitive tasks before moving on to more complex processes. This will help you gain experience and build momentum.
Choose the right tools
Select automation tools that are well-suited for your IT environment and the processes you want to automate. Consider factors such as scalability, ease of use, and integration with other systems.
Define clear objectives
Clearly define the goals and objectives of your automation efforts. This will help you measure success and make adjustments as needed
Test, test, test
Test your automation solution thoroughly before deploying it in production. This will help you identify and fix any issues before they cause problems.
Identify the processes that have the most impact on the business and prioritize them for automation.
Leverage AI and ML
Use AI and ML to automate complex, data-intensive tasks and to make decisions in real-time.
Incorporate self-service options
Allow end-users to initiate and manage certain automation processes, such as data and workflow approvals, through self-service portals.
Continuously monitor all the automated processes and make improvements as needed to ensure that they remain efficient and effective over time.
Disadvantages of IT process automation
We looked at the benefits earlier. But it's also important to demonstrate the cons, and these are the top ones:
- Overdependence on technology: Organizations that rely heavily on process automation may become overly dependent on technology and lose the ability to perform certain tasks manually, which can be problematic in the event of a technology failure or outage.
- Complexity: Automated systems can be complex to set up, configure and maintain. This can lead to additional costs and resources to manage the automated process, and it may require specialized expertise that is not available within the organization.
- Reduced creativity and innovation: Automation can lead to a lack of creativity and innovation among employees, as they may become too reliant on technology to even think and generate new ideas.
- Privacy and security concerns: Automation tools can be vulnerable to cyber attacks and data breaches, which can put sensitive information at risk. This is a concern for organizations that deal with sensitive data, such as financial institutions, healthcare providers, and government agencies.
- Job losses: Automation can lead to some level of job losses, as certain tasks that were previously done by humans are now automated. This can lead to negative consequences for employees, such as reduced job security and the need for retraining.
Clearly the future belongs to companies that are not afraid to embrace new technology, constantly finding new ways to innovate and improve their processes. Those that have already gone this route are a step ahead of the game, and it's time for other organizations to catch up.
Remember two key things when thinking about automating whatever process you need to within your enterprise: The first is the processes themselves. Second is tools. Which processes do you want to automate? Which type of tools are most appropriate for each process? If you can answer these questions wisely, then your automation efforts will yield impressive results.
If you lack the experience with automation, then the best route to take is to enlist the help of IT consulting services or partner up with a managed IT service provider to take care of your automation needs.