Automation is a method of controlling a process by highly automatic means in such a way that it becomes self-acting or self-regulating, reducing human intervention to a minimum. Automation allows you to invest your resources in what’s important for your company and what’s important for every company: people.
One of our clients pays a managed service provider every time someone requests international dialing capability, the ability to record meetings, and a variety of other items. So I’m creating an automation and self-service platform for them that will handle those requests. Once we put this system into production, not only will our client shed those costs, but the requests will be fulfilled as soon as they’re approved instead of waiting for someone to do the work. The managed service provider, who it seems could be the loser in this situation, is in fact benefitting because it frees them up to be more of a strategic partner working with the client to solve challenges rather than simply executing repetition.
Automating a process forces you to clearly define and improve that process and the processes that support it. I am also working with this client to automate enabling Enterprise Voice, which gives users a phone number through their Skype for Business. The current manual process they’re using varies widely by location, which makes the current implementation process require a lot of institutional knowledge, most of which was undocumented. As we’ve started working on automating the process, we’re identifying areas to streamline and standardize the process, which reduces costs, training requirements, and implementation time.
Automation systems do not lose job satisfaction or become more error prone as they disengage, but people do. Automation allows your people to focus on problem solving and critical thinking, which keeps them engaged and challenged. Another client of mine was converting a set of their users from one of their brands to another. The client estimated that it would take one of their people a month of working on nothing else to make the change. To be clear, that’s a solid month of the same sequence of clicking and typing in user profiles in Active Directory. The entire process took less than 12 hours by scripting it with PowerShell.
How to Get Started
The easiest way to start automating is to learn or find someone who knows scripting. In the Microsoft world, almost everything that requires a user interface can be automated using PowerShell, and there’s often a lot more that you can only do in PowerShell. Find a repetitive process and start scripting parts of it for a single user or object. Eventually, you’ll work your way up to having the entire process scripted, and then just add the looping to apply that process to everything that needs it. Test your script, add some logging, and set it to run on a schedule.
As your needs increase, another powerful way to automate is to create a self-service portal. With the first client I mentioned, we’re using System Center Orchestrator and System Center Service Manager to create a portal where users will request actions in Skype for Business and Exchange, but we can expand to other areas as well. Orchestrator can use PowerShell, but scheduling a script through Task Scheduler is much better at handling a process that runs on a schedule, whereas Orchestrator—especially when combined with Service Manager—works very well for on-demand requests.
Are you exploring IT automation and need additional information or real world expertise? Credera has extensive experience in designing, planning, and implementing systems management and automation solutions. If you have questions about this blog post, points of view, or IT infrastructure, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.