ITSM Automation: Let Humans Be Humans

Roy Atkinson November 12, 2021
- 3 min read

As ITSM thought leader and consultant Doug Tedder has said, “Automate the obvious.” So what’s obvious? We shouldn’t have to think very long…

Here are some steps to help you select items to automate:

  1. Make a list of the 10 highest volume contacts (requests or incidents) your service desk receives; this gives you the things that happen repeatedly in your organization.
  2. Then, ask whether each particular item adds value for the organization or has a direct bearing on the relationship you have with your customers or end users. High value-add tasks are usually not good candidates for automation.
  3. Next, look at the answers or solutions. Are they simple? If the answer is yes, these items are prime candidates for automation.

You can easily see how password reset fits: It’s a high-volume contact driver, it has a simple fix, and it’s not a big winner in the relationship column, since people just want the password reset so they can get on with their work.

What else can be automated?

Any procedure or process that can be documented as a set of repeatable steps can be automated. When service desk and service management personnel are repeating the same answers, responses, and fixes again and again, they are not doing more creative, productive, human work; for instance, updating and adding to the knowledge base, working on projects, solving problems, and communicating with colleagues and customers. 

The importance of optimization

At the same time, organizations must be careful to automate the right things—those activities that provide the most value when automated, and only after the procedures have been optimized.

Automation has two characteristics that make it very desirable: First, it does not vary, but does the automated task the same way every time. Second, it can be very much faster than when performed manually by humans. Therefore, if a procedure is not optimized first, we can end up with an automated task that is extremely inefficient, like a Rube Goldberg construction. It isn’t enough to have an automated task that accomplishes your goal; it should be as streamlined and as precise as possible. (Call it Lean if you’d like.)

We need to be selective about which tasks we are going to spend our time automating. We want to extract the biggest “bang for the buck” from our automation efforts; so how do we select those tasks that will yield the best results for us when they are optimized? 

Again, let’s look for the obvious: Things that are done repeatedly, and which have answers or remedies that are relatively simple.

  • Automated employee onboarding – IT’s role in onboarding is substantial. Computers, mobile phones, and other equipment have to be provisioned and configured, accounts have to be created, and so on. These tasks are repeatable and follow a given set of steps, making onboarding a prime candidate for automation.


  • Moves, adds, and changes - While the computer equipment might not move itself, everything about the move, add, or change can be automated, from the request to the record keeping, including the request for the Facilities crew to load up the equipment and move it across campus or down three floors to its new home.

  • Role-based access – When someone comes into a new position, they often need access to files and applications that are the tools of that role. This should be an automated change kicked off by the official notice of the new position or role (probably from HR).

  • IT Asset Management – Both hardware asset management (HAM) and software asset management (SAM) can be automated by the use of relatively simple tracking tools that are available or are built into the ITSM tool you already have. A surprising number of organizations are still tracking assets on spreadsheets—or not at all.

Continue down your list of frequent requests or incidents, checking to see if their solutions have repeatable steps, then making sure that the steps are the simplest and shortest way to solve or answer that type of request. Now you have the time to take care of the human parts of the support role, including following up on each of the tasks you’ve automated to make sure the users’ needs have been met and that they are happy with your work.

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