What is IT Automation & Why is it Important?
IT automation is the process of leveraging software, AI, machine learning, and other digital tools to perform routine IT tasks, and it’s revolutionizing how MSPs get things done. Patches, updates, and system maintenance can all be placed on “auto-pilot,” allowing MSPs, TSPs, and system administrators to focus their skills where they’re most needed.
Chances are you’re already leveraging some form of IT automation amongst your team, but you could probably automate further. Your clients deserve your best effort when providing their IT services, and ConnectWise is here to help.
IT automation: the fundamentals
There are three components necessary to leverage IT automation effectively:
- Sensors – these exist locally within IT hardware and infrastructure to detect system statuses.
- Actuators – facilitate the implementation of system commands
- Controllers – outline a particular automation’s workflow and make decisions
If all goes as planned, these three components will work together seamlessly to accomplish frequent IT tasks for you and your team in the background – with you being none the wiser.
These fundamentals can also be built on with other complementary features. For example, look at some of the key functions of ConnectWise Automate below:
- Automated maintenance – streamline desktop and server management with out-of-the-box script functions and automated time entries.
- Delegate administrative task – delegate administrative tasks such as emailing scheduled reports, generating random passwords, updating custom data fields, and running direct SQL queries.
- Agentless remote management – out-of-the-box scripting functions allows your team to manage agentless SSH-enabled and Telnet-enabled devices, such as routers, switches, firewalls, and various other IoT hardware.
How IT automation works
IT automation is powerful. Also, it can help you scale your business to serve more clients and offer more services, all while saving you money and time. Now, you might be thinking, “How is this possible?”
Well, by leveraging software tools or systems, you can essentially remove yourself from the IT tasks that are essential but can be done almost mindlessly. These would be tasks like internal system or network maintenance, installing software updates or patches, and more.
A few of the most popular areas where IT automation is effective are:
- System resource allocation
- Cloud automation
- Network or system configuration
- Security updates
There is a lot of opportunity for MSPs to streamline their organization within the five areas mentioned above. But, as technology evolves, even more opportunities for IT process automation are unfolding.
What is IT automation used for?
Although process automation sits at the center of what automation is in IT, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. IT automation can also be useful for accomplishing tasks like:
- Document processing – obtaining signatures for SLAs, scanning documents with virus scans, issuing reports, etc.
- Workflow automation – leveraging a particular alert, event, or notification as a trigger to let other team members know it’s time for them to act.
- Process mapping – identify bottlenecks in your current process and spot areas where cross-departmental collaboration can be optimized.
- Professional service automation – automate the non-IT aspects of your MSP business. This includes tasks like invoicing, budgeting, SLA distribution, and more.
- Automated maintenance – streamline desktop/server management across multiple devices, along with functions like proactive maintenance and self-service options for client end users.
- Delegating IT tasks – Distribute regular tasks like emailing reports, password generation, and running direct SQL queries without taking up your team’s bandwidth.
What’s more, complex software applications and algorithms that include AI and machine learning can now handle much more than the traditional IT tasks. Recently, we’ve seen IT automation tools defend against unpredictable cybersecurity situations. These technologies aren’t quite ready for widespread adoption yet, but they’re beginning to tell the story of what’s truly possible with IT automation.
Pros and cons of IT automation
Like anything, it helps to take an objective, real-world look at IT automation. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
Pros of IT automation
- Lower costs. You use significantly less workforce and financial resources for completing mundane IT tasks when you implement automation strategies. Productivity will increase, and you’ll also see a reduction in infrastructure costs as your entire system begins to optimize due to automation.
- Higher efficiency. Automation saves time. This is just as true in IT as it is anywhere else. Staff that once spent hours of their day on rote, repeatable tasks are now free to tackle higher-level IT challenges.
- More speed. Automation can increase the speed of your IT and cloud operations. Service and resource delivery tasks that once took weeks may now only take hours as workflow processes and decisions are executed instantaneously in the digital world.
- Reduce mistakes. Automation reduces the impact of human error and system redundancies. By reducing the number of humans performing these tasks, you’ll begin to see consistency improve throughout your organization – something that’s a struggle to accomplish with manual IT operators.
- Improved security. More automation means fewer humans, and with that, less human error. Your staff is no longer responsible for manually viewing and protecting sensitive or proprietary information. IT automation platforms can open, read, and safeguard mission-critical data and documents for you. As a result, the risk of data leaks or breaches drops significantly. You may even begin to see cybersecurity automation start to improve your team’s incident response.
Cons of IT automation
- Process rigidity. Automation is excellent in specific scenarios. With this said, there’s a reason automation works best on repeatable tasks. The protocols and commands used to accomplish automated IT tasks don’t do well with variables or changes. As a result, many IT automation software tools are built for hyper-specific purposes and are limited to that specific sole function.
- Initial cost. While you’ll eventually see costs drop, the initial cost to purchase and configure IT automation tools can be high. MSPs can mitigate this cost by carefully considering their automation plan. What processes do you want to automate most? Automating daily tasks that consume a lot of time will probably add the most value. If you’re completing a particular task once a month or once a quarter, it probably doesn’t make sense as a candidate for automation.
- Errors caused by improper setup. The speed and power of automation are undoubtedly a blessing, but they can also be a curse. Because IT tasks are running at a much faster speed behind the scenes, errors in automated IT tasks can cause much more damage than manual ones. This might sound daunting, but it really isn’t. Take the time to ensure IT automation processes are set up correctly before deployment, and your system will work just fine.
IT automation best practices
Since errors within your system can compound due to improper automation, we thought it’d be helpful to outline some IT automation best practices.
1. Plan for proper resource allocation
IT automation will end up saving you a significant amount of resources. Granted, that doesn’t mean that no resources are required to initiate and operate automation processes and tools.
MSPs and IT admins get themselves in trouble when they view their automation infrastructure as a “set it and forget it” scenario. There will be ongoing expenses, both financial and otherwise, when it comes to managing your automation processes. This is especially true when it becomes necessary to make changes.
Again, this is nothing that should deter you from implementing automation within your own MSP business. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Plan ahead, allocate company resources accordingly, and you’ll be well-equipped to handle any challenges that might crop up.
2. Make sure the team is onboard
All the important stakeholders on your team should be involved in the decision to automate. No staff or team members appreciate a solution or policy that’s forced on them.
Furthermore, employees who have a voice within the company, and feel invested in where the company is headed, are better employees in the long run. Honestly ask for and listen to your employees’ feedback on recommended tools and processes. They will be using these platforms every day, and they may even have insights that haven’t occurred to you.
3. Choose tools that are the right fit
Every organization is different, and you can’t automate everything. We mentioned earlier the idea of prioritizing what you should be automating. Not only does this cut costs from an implementation standpoint, but it also gives your team clarity on which tools they need and which they don’t.
A good rule of thumb is that any automation tool you choose should be able to cover 90% of the scenarios you would apply it to. You also want to make sure that the tools you choose don’t have too much of a learning curve, and that they’re something you can see yourself and your team implementing long-term.
4. Think long-term
Your organization and team structure is going to change over time. Subsequently, so will your business goals and objectives.
The automation strategy you choose should be part of a larger overall plan. The tools you use and the processes you choose to automate should be able to adapt with you as you scale and grow.
Learning how to properly scale your MSP business can be an uphill battle. If you plan on being in this industry for a long time, you owe it to yourself to check out our free eBook: How MSPs Can Profitably Scale.
5. Put someone in charge
The process of automating your business operations can get rather complex. You and your team may want to appoint someone to lead the change management as you shift your processes from manual to automated.
The team member who leads your charge toward automation can’t be just anyone. To effectively guide the automation process, you need someone with experience in this arena and the time to dedicate toward implementing these changes.
6. Automation should lead to simplification
There is no shortage of IT automation tools and software platforms. If someone had the budget, they could automate most tasks within their team. The problem with this, however, is that automating too much can turn your team’s workflow into a convoluted mess.
Focus on what is most important. Automate the tasks that use the most time and energy, require the least effort, or are just plain annoying and mundane. Once you do that, everything else will start to fall into place.
7. Recognize a good fit
As we mentioned in tip #6, not all processes are a fit for automation. So, which ones are a fit?
You’ll want to look for automation opportunities with tasks that are:
- Have predictable results
- Able to run without much monitoring or management
- Can be easily replicated for other customers/clients
How MSPs can get started with IT automation
If you’re ready to discover what IT automation can do to your business, there’s good news. You can start today by meeting with your team.
Brainstorm all the tasks or processes you and your staff run through daily. From there, work through the list and prioritize which ones would be a good fit for automation using the criteria mentioned above in tip #7.
When you’re ready, contact us at ConnectWise to start moving the process forward. We want to be your partner in IT automation, and we look forward to showing you what our suite of first-class IT automation software tools can do to supercharge your MSP business.