IT Self-Service Needs Automation to Deliver Real Benefits

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By Stephen Mann, guest blogger from

Principal and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Just offering up IT self-service technology, or capabilities, isn’t enough to achieve self-service success – you can read more about this in “Consumerization is Changing Corporate IT Support Forever, But What Are You Doing About It?”. But it’s not just the ability to initially get end users using the self-service capability that defines success, it’s also ensuring that they keep using it. With repeat use dependent on whether self-service is perceived to be superior to the other existing methods of access to, and communication with, the corporate IT organization.

Self-service needs automation to be truly successful

The ability to reap the real benefits of self-service relies on the introduction of automation to speed up transactions, reduce costs, and to deliver a better customer experience (which in turn will hopefully improve business perceptions of the corporate IT organization as a whole).

Without automation, the removal of calls through a self-service front-end might take some pressure off the service desk but there’s still the manual effort required to resolve the issues or to deliver against service requests. Hence a high proportion of the service desk’s manual handling costs are still incurred and, even more importantly, without automation the end user will often receive a slower service via self-service than if they just called up the service desk.

Think about it – if a service desk is aiming for 70% first contact resolution, seven out of ten end users accessing the service desk via telephone receive an immediate solution. Where self-service is used instead, and without automation, the immediacy of the telephone channel is lost and the end user gets something more akin to the email channel – the issue is logged, prioritized, and dealt with within agree service level targets.

It might sound fine, as service level targets are being met, but the end user is now getting a slower resolution to their issue. How this is perceived by end users will depend on the individual, but I’d hazard a guess that most would see it as an inferior service to the telephone channel that they previously used and they would be inclined to ditch self-service for a quicker method.

Automation also brings other benefits to self-service

Automation not only speeds up incident resolution and service request fulfillment, hopefully with a reduction in costs and a better customer experience, there are also a number of other potential benefits to be realized:

  • A reduction in human error. People make mistakes – after all “to err is human.” The benefit here is not so much avoiding the error itself but the unwanted consequences, i.e. the business impact of the error.
  • Greater ability to change. People get used to working in a particular way, with them often so used to working that way that it can take time to change to a new way of working. And sometimes the new way of working is a strange hybrid of both new and old. Whereas automation allows processes and procedures to rapidly, and consistently, adapt as both business and IT needs change.
  • Better people utilization. Firstly, as fewer people are needed due to the introduction of automation, organizations can better cope with the predicted shortage of suitable IT professionals. Secondly, automation will free up highly-skilled and knowledgeable staff from repeatable, often mundane, tasks to focus on more “intelligent” work.

Service desks are now demanding more automation in their ITSM tools

Thankfully, service desks are now seeing automation capabilities as a priority. Not just for self-service but for service desk operations as a whole. Take the results of a recent Service Desk Institute (SDI) survey and the associated report – “Life on the Service Desk in 2016” – where automation was deemed to be the most important selection criteria for a new service desk or ITSM tool.

What would influence your selection of a new ITSM tool?


Source: SDI “Life on the Service Desk in 2016”

It’s also worth pointing out that self-service capabilities are also fourth in the list at 56%.

How your IT support organization will benefit from automation

While this blog series has so far talked to the impact of consumerization, and how self-service will help if done right, it’s probably wrong to just look at automation from a self-service perspective. Instead, many of the available automation capabilities can also be used by service desk staff, and some automation capabilities will be used by just service desk staff alone, especially for knowledge management and orchestration. And let’s not forget that much of what an ITSM tool already does in terms of enabling ITIL processes relies on knowledge management and workflow and automation, i.e. business process automation.

From a self-service perspective, the obvious possible automation capabilities include: self-service password reset, end user downloads or software provisioning, immediate access to additional IT services based on Active Directory information, the purchase of accessories from third-party suppliers, or the automation of standard set up tasks such as a new email account.

From a service desk perspective, the obvious automation capabilities could include: virtual machine or cloud provisioning, restarting servers and services (either on request or based on a schedule), automated patching, or the automation of the release management process. All of which will help to provide a better service to end users and IT service owners.

But automation isn’t all about IT and end user provisioning. Instead, it’s about reducing the reliance on manual labor – especially for repetitive tasks, tasks that people don’t necessarily like to do, and tasks where the automation can not only do things more quickly but with a better result. Knowledge management is a great example.

Machine learning can be employed to turn a knowledge article “elephants’ graveyard” – where knowledge goes to die – into a key IT support enabler. From using machine learning to extract the key elements of incident ticket responses into new knowledge articles, automatically provide the right answers to end-user questions (either via email or a self-service portal), to identifying issues that require new knowledge articles.

My examples only skim the surface of how automation can be used to reduce costs, to speed up delivery, and to improve customer experience. I’m sure you could easily think of other examples. But it’s an important part of the consumerization jigsaw, especially in making self-service more palatable to end users in line with the personal-life experiences and expectations.

Please look out for the next blog in this series, which digs deeper into the corporate need for new consumer-world support and self-service capabilities such as machine learning.

We held a live webinar on January 25th to discuss the impact of consumerization on corporate IT service desks. If you missed it, you’re in luck! You can view the webinar by clicking here.

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