In 2023, the success of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools accelerated the IT service management (ITSM) and wider business interest in AI. Consequently, it’s hard to talk or read about ITSM these days without mentioning AI and how it will revolutionise organisations’ IT service delivery and support capabilities. However, while ChatGPT and similar AI capabilities might be garnering most of the attention, we shouldn’t forget about the importance of automation as IT organisations seek to do and achieve more with AI in 2024.
Automation as an ITSM Trend
ITSM.tools run an annual reader poll to better understand the content people want to read in the year ahead. In many ways, this can be viewed as an indicator of the ITSM trends currently seeing traction.
When the trends between 2018 and 2023 are viewed together, as shown in the image below, you can see that automation, after a slight resurgence for 2021, dropped out of the ITSM-trend top six in 2022. It was as though people weren’t interested in automation anymore (or at least didn’t feel there was more they could learn to help with their automation investments).
However, as shown in the snapshot of the 2024 trend-poll data below (the poll was still open at the time of writing), to borrow the misquoted words of Mark Twain, “reports of the death of automation were greatly exaggerated.” Both AI and automation jumped up the list of ranked ITSM trends to sit in first and third place, respectively.
The “Rebirth” of Automation
You might wonder, “What else do people need to know about automation?” The answer is, of course, in what was a common term before the advent of ChatGPT – when the opportunity of AI in the form of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) was often referred to as “AI and automation” or “intelligent automation.” The latter phrase was also applied to the use of robotic process automation (RPA) and AI.
While AI brings “intelligence,” there’s still the need for automation to undertake tasks. Whether it’s AI being used to help with process execution (the “heavy lifting”) or actioning the results of analytics (the “heavy thinking”). This means that automation is often needed to fully benefit from whatever the AI capabilities do.
Examples of AI and Automation Being Used in Tandem
If we look at some of the most popular initial AI use cases in ITSM (and provided by ITSM tools), the need for automation is apparent:
- Intelligent workflows – the most visible ITSM use case for intelligent workflow is the ticket triage process. The AI-based capabilities might understand what each ticket “means.” Still, automation categorises, prioritises, routes, and potentially even resolves or provisions against the need.
- Virtual agents – ChatGPT or other generative AI capabilities might provide “conversational” end-user self-service capabilities (also called chatbots or virtual assistants). These offer focused responses based on end-user details and relevant articles from the knowledge base(s) or other sources. For example, a chatbot might interact with an end-user locked out of an application, guiding them through resetting the associated password. However, the virtual agent can also access automation capabilities to invoke automated tasks such as software installation or access provision.
- Virtual assistants – while this terminology can be applied to end-user self-service, it’s often used to describe the AI-enabled capabilities provided to service and support staff. For example, supplying initial diagnostics information or suggesting potential solutions or workarounds, perhaps based on incident ticket matching and previous resolutions. Again, the AI-enabled capabilities should be able to do more than present text (including links and media), with integrated automation capabilities allowing IT staff to not only understand what’s needed but also providing the mechanism to invoke associated automation capabilities.
- Intelligent email responders – these share the probable best responses to submitted email enquiries (provided as an automated email response). This might simply be focused text and media generated from knowledge articles and other sources. Still, it could also be automated actions (where the end-user clicks a button to invoke the required automated actions, including for service requests). The end-user can also auto-close the associated ticket if the suggested resolution works.
- Proactive and predictive analytics – this could be the identification of recurring issues and their root causes in problem management. Or it could be the prediction of issues before they are felt or even occur through AIOps capabilities. For example, system issues are predicted based on a degradation trend, with preventative measures such as resource scaling suggested. In both instances, automation can be used to continue the work of the AI. In the former, a change request might be suggested or automatically created based on what the AI already knows. In the latter, preventative measures might be suggested for human review, or the change could be made automatically, depending on historical data related to the risk and potential impact.
While these examples are only a subset of what’s already possible in ITSM tools, hopefully, they demonstrate the continued importance of automation.
AI might be seen as the automated “brain”, but much of what IT organisations hope to achieve with AI capabilities will still require the “brawn” of automation capabilities to truly remove the need for manual labour and reap the benefits – whether related to speed, cost reductions, or quality improvements – the IT industry is expecting from AI.
If your IT organisation wants to get the most out of AI, it must also get the most out of automation. Hence, it’s critical not to overlook the importance of automation with all the AI hype.
ITSM Automation Tools Day
Benedict Barrett from HaloITSM will demonstrate how Automation is strategically integrated to drive key processes within the HaloITSM platform. Attendees will learn about the practical deployment of leveraging integrations with 3rd party platforms, as well as within the HaloITSM landscape, to simplify processes at an enterprise level, including;
• Streamlining Service Desk workflows such as auto assignment, time-based escalation and SLA warning notifications.
• Automating tasks like data import, anomaly detection, and resolving alerts from monitoring systems.
• Implementing template-based onboarding workflows triggered from AD/HR.
• Scheduling and automating task creation based on contract expiry, warranty expiry, review dates etc.
• Using Halo runbooks or native integrations with 3rd party tools such as Azure for group membership updates.
• Utilizing automation with AI for tasks like triage, knowledge base drafting, touchless surveys etc.
29 February 2024, sign up below.