How automation keeps on rolling

Leave Chaos Behind

Over the fourteen years I worked in IT Ops, there was a constant theme. There was never enough time to do everything, and there was a continual effort to automate away routine tasks for IT staff and end users.

We worked hard to find a balance between firefighting and project work. But there was never enough time to work on support tickets and complete all the project work we’d have liked to. The time we got back from automation allowed us to add value to the business and head off repeat tickets.

Automation has been going on since the 1990s

The bank I worked for began automating away their IT helpdesks and local desktop support in the mid-2000s using a web-based ticketing system.

This browser-based tool meant end users could:

  • Log their own IT support and request tickets
  • Report software and hardware faults
  • Request access to a new IT system or network drive
  • Order new and replacement software and hardware

Apart from saving costs, it simplified the relationship between end users and IT staff. It gave end users a sense of ownership over the process and created a real cultural benefit. But there were challenges along the way.

Changing the culture

Losing the physical helpdesk, and often the local desktop and server engineers, was a massive cultural change for everyone.

There were operational gains, but there were losses too as IT headcount was reduced. For example:

  • The relationships that onsite IT staff had built with the business
  • The technical skills, like the peculiarities of local systems and tools

The new system matured, and the culture changed along with it. Teams adapted to new ways of working, at a time when there were still local comms rooms, long before the cloud became the thing it is today. This world is a very long way from where we are now in the journey towards automation.

Now everything’s heading to the cloud

Now, IT service desks can offer an automated service to their end users to match a different workplace and a new generation of people. These are people who have grown up with technology embedded in their lives in ways that people of my generation did not.

Companies once had server rooms onsite, now those servers are likely to be hosted in the cloud alongside other services and infrastructure. Once only a few people worked remotely, now it’s come to be an expectation, as has the demand to work from anywhere, not solely at your home. If you marry that up with the explosion of smartphones and tablets, it all feels a very long way from the late 1990s.

Employees are also consumers

There’s been a cultural change too. People expect the same level of experience from IT in the workplace that they get as consumers. They expect the same level of control, flexibility and integration into their work life as their personal lives. This means they can schedule software updates when it’s convenient for them. It means they may never know about problems with their computer as they’re fixed before their day is interrupted.

There are tools in the marketplace that would have been a real benefit ten or more years ago. I know that no matter how far you strive to automate and streamline, it’s a continual journey for both the business and IT staff. Although there’s no fixed end point, we can move past the old days when I worked on lists of computers failing security vulnerabilities. Times when we ended up trying to track down the last computers one at a time.

I’m positive about the future, the new software tools and new ways of working. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Where I’m from

I started working in IT Operations for a blue-chip bank in the late 1990s. Later, I joined an investment bank in London’s Canary Wharf. There I moved from server support to projects and then back to third-line support, for desktops.  These days I write for a living, about tools that would have been really cool to have in the old days.

Feel free to find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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