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The Challenges of Disrupting ITSM Through Automation

Automation has often generated negative reactions throughout History, from the fears of machinery that inspired many cinematographic and literary dystopias to the social criticism it received during the Industrial Revolution.

While it is not surprising to see its emergence in IT set off negative feelings again, those should not be simply dismissed as Luddism. Instead, any player that promotes automation needs to engage in constructive discussions with anyone who will be involved in this transition.

It is only natural for IT experts and clients to have doubts when faced with fundamental change in their work practices. Rather than ignored, their questioning has to be answered to make sure that they will actively embrace automation, and not merely endure it. Quoting arago's whitepaper that inspired this post: “Dealing openly with mistrust builds trust.”

How to convince clients: the AutoPilot approach

The mistrust of IT automation comes in many forms, the mildest one being disbelief: “How could the job be properly done on auto-pilot mode?” The easiest answer to technical skepticism is to point out to the track record of companies such as arago, which has been partnering with major clients since 1996 without hiccups.

More often than not, prospective partners are also concerned about security and compliance. In the case of arago, this suspicion can be dispelled by explaining that the AutoPilot for IT Operations works in the same way as an administrator, and is therefore subject to similar processes and checks.

In addition, the company decided to let clients verify that the AutoPilot does what it says by developing its Issue Visualizer, which gives them a transparent window into the system’s decision-making process in real-time. This tool is a good example of how important it is to make the onboarding as painless as possible; to dissipate initial fears, it is crucial for engineers to know that they can easily understand decisions.

This also applies to the business model of automation providers, as they need to convince their clients that they can start small before expanding the integration once it proves successful. From a cost perspective, arago’s preferred approach is to only get paid when the AutoPilot actually starts to perform tasks, which limits risks from the client’s perspective while demonstrating confidence in the results its solution can achieve.

Same workers, new roles

Convincing companies that IT automation can improve their productivity without hassle is not an easy task, but their doubts are usually rational, which means that they can be answered with concrete arguments and tangible results.

On the other hand, their employees’ reluctance to embrace automation is often rooted in an unspoken fear: “What if it replaces me?” Arago noticed this reaction when it first started to help its clients implement AutoPilot, as some of their staff members were worried they might make themselves redundant by writing knowledge items. 

However, the administrators’ attitude quickly changed as they understood that they could have the machine do all the boring tasks they were too often burdened with, freeing up time for them to perform strategic tasks.

While the productivity gain for employers is obvious, it is still necessary to address the elephant in the room: will IT workers lose their jobs en masse because of automation? The answer is a clear no, for several reasons.

One of them is that the IT experts who are directly involved with automation will benefit from it. Not only will their work become more interesting as they increasingly focus on value-adding tasks, but their personal situation within the company they work for is likely to improve.

In other words, if you want to be in the best position to succeed in the IT world of tomorrow, you should overcome your fear of change and actively embrace automation; as Forrester analyst Glenn O’Donnell puts it: "Be the automator, not the automated."

Nevertheless, even workers whose tasks can be performed by machines may not lose their jobs. After all, it is difficult to hire and train talent in the IT world, which means that companies are reluctant to let good employees go.

In that context, chances are that many IT workers will simply see their job descriptions change. In his report “Become Customer-Centric, Service-Focused, And Automated,” O’Donnell predicts a dramatic decline in infrastructure administrator positions through 2015, while professionals such as automation architects and knowledge engineers will be in high demand.

In short, IT experts will increasingly be able to focus on engineering, while delegating routine operations to machine – as long as they embrace automation and its potential. It is also the role of automation players to facilitate this shift. Ultimately, automation is a matter of trust, and the only way to build that trust is to answer any questioning as transparently as possible while adopting measures that will dispel doubts.

Image credit: Matt From London / Creative Commons