EPISODE #18: Implementing Automation From a Small Company Perspective
According to a recent report, 57% of organizations plan to use some form of IT automation by 2020, and 40% of IT decision makers foresee automation technology having the biggest impact on their business. But which specific automation technologies should IT organizations implement to get the best results?
For insight on this we turn to Andy Dalton, CIO of IVM, whose recent Information Week article dove into this very topic. Andy recounts some of his own experiences implementing IT automation at his organization, and shares with us the one surprising skill he believes is most needed to make chatbots truly effective, the soft skills he feels are most overlooked when implementing IT automation, and the mindset that will work best for CIO’s when implementing automation technologies.
Guy Nadivi: Welcome everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Andy Dalton, CIO of IVM, a provider of smart vending solutions. Andy recently authored an Information Week article entitled Three Automation Technologies to Transform Your IT Department. Since we love exploring automation technologies pertinent to IT, we knew we had to get Andy on the show and talk with him further about the subject of his article.
Guy Nadivi: Andy, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.
Andy Dalton: Well thanks, Guy. Thanks for having me join you.
Guy Nadivi: Andy, let’s get right to it. What are the three automation technologies to transform your IT department?
Andy Dalton: Well okay we can jump right in. And I’m … start with by saying though that’s the title of the article, I’m sure there are hundreds of great automation strategies out there that could and should be implemented by the IT organization, but these in particular are three that I’ve seen recently being used and creating great results and I apologize up front because some of them are some buzz words…..that we’re all used to. But to start with is artificial intelligence, or AI, which we all know can mean a lot of different things, but in particular the use of chat bots.
Andy Dalton: You know there’s a lot of discussion around chat bots these days when it comes to the external customer service or sales assistance type roles that they can provide. But I don’t think we can forget the fact that the internal needs that chat bots can also serve for the IT organization, especially around the very simple and repetitive service tickets that often come in. Things like, I don’t know, software updates, forgotten passwords, employee onboarding, company-wide HR updates. If you could employ chat bots to handle those type of service requests you’d do a couple things. One, you free up your IT employees instead to focus on more complex projects. And you also provide a service that’s now available 24/7 so you can reduce the downtime of employees waiting for a response, you can reduce their frustration. All sorts of things. So AI or chat bots is the first.
Andy Dalton: The second technology that I think should be considered is that of predictive analytics. What I mean by that is just really automating the number crunching or data monitoring that is necessary to make informed recommendations to the IT department. Meaning for example what if you use machine learning? I know it’s another buzz word, sorry, but to track trends or support issues or things that can alert your team to larger issues that may be popping up because you’re watching these trends. Like you know a platform outage that because certain things are spiking you can watch and say okay, man this outage is on the horizon, now we know hey we can get out ahead of this before it even occurs. So chat bots, predictive analytics, and then what good is a discussion about automation if you don’t use IoT, right?
Andy Dalton: But when it comes to IoT a lot of different things you can do there as far as automation. One thing in particular that the IT organization can do is use things like smart lockers and smart vending systems for the distribution of things like devices, hardware, and other IT peripherals. For example, IVM, we had a global tech firm approach us with a need not too long ago so that they could more efficiently manage … they on an annual basis deliver 70,000 PCs to their employees, right? Well if you combine that with the fact that there’s a recent study that Zendesk put out where employees have to wait on average 24 hours for their IT ticket to get responded to. Well now you’ve got a major need for improvement with 70,000 things needing to be delivered and an average daily wait time, you got a lot of employee downtime and waste. So this firm decided to use our smart locker system to instead of their onsite IT staff to deploy all those devices.
Andy Dalton: So those are the three that I think are … should be considered by IT leaders.
Guy Nadivi: In your article you cited a couple of interesting statistics from Spiceworks’ 2019 State of IT Annual Report. Specifically, they found that 57% of organizations plan to use some form of IT automation by 2020, and 40% of IT decision makers foresee automation technology having the biggest impact on their business. What’s been the biggest impact automation has had on IVM’s business?
Andy Dalton: Well to be honest, Guy, you know the saying goes cobbler’s children sometimes have no shoes, right? So even though something I talk about quite a bit and we provide, this is an area that I would love to see IVM even do better in. We can always do more on this as far as our own automation. But that being said, the one significant place where we’ve seen it is…so we have thousands of these smart lockers and machines at client locations across the globe, right? And all of those devices have to be connected to our servers 24/7. So understandably one of the things we have to pay attention to is our machine connectivity reports because they’ve got to be connected. Well we also know that one of the key indicators for us of a potential issue with our platform is when machines anywhere across the globe start to lose connectivity. But if we only rely upon our employees to manually monitor thousands of machines and try to look for trends and raise potential red flags, well we’re placing ourselves at a huge risk, and our clients at that.
Andy Dalton: So what we did not too long ago was implement an intelligent automation in the form of predictive analytics. What it does is it basically creates alerts by watching for particular things across our connectivity reports. And it alerts our team for things that would lead to a potential outage or concerns that there might be outages in certain places, whatever it might be. In doing that we haven’t had unplanned system downtime in now over 12 months.
Guy Nadivi: What did you find were some of the bigger challenges of automating your IT operations?
Andy Dalton: Okay. Well I’ll start with this. I’ll start with probably one of the best things about automating right now which is the fact that many of these automation strategies are available online already via SaaS and PaaS solutions. They’re already on the market and you don’t have to develop them internally. That’s the good part. The challenge comes with the fact that you now have to integrate all of those new solutions that are available on the market often with legacy systems and software that just don’t integrate well with these new solutions, right? But these legacy systems are central to the daily operations of your enterprise. So that’s a big challenge.
Andy Dalton: Second challenge then comes with that in the upfront investment of resources like labor and money to set up those integrations, to connect the dots between your legacy systems and these new great solutions. Think about like the chat bot that I talked about earlier as an example. Incredibly helpful. Only as helpful though as the information loaded into it. Everyone loves the idea of using a chat bot, but not everybody is really willing to commit the time and resources necessary to actually load it with all the appropriate content. And so if you don’t load it with much there’s just not a lot it can do for you. So those are I’d say two of the bigger challenges.
Guy Nadivi: Did you ever encounter resistance to IT automation at IVM? And if so what form did it take?
Andy Dalton: Yeah I’d say absolutely. And whether it’s at IVM or anywhere it typically takes the same form, which is people, right? And not always people for the reason you think people, because you think they might be afraid of automation replacing jobs or whatnot, but automation means change. People don’t like change. Changing systems, changing processes, and hardest of all changing behavior. So I don’t have the reference on hand, but I have heard it say that nearly half of all corporate challenges … all corporate challenges when it comes to automation have to do with cultural resistance, people resistance, right?
Andy Dalton: I’d say the second largest resistance, and this is probably less what we encountered internally but more as we encounter with our client side, but across the board is issues of IT and data security, right? We know those areas right now, IT security, data privacy, they’re escalating out of control and people are concerned with them. You couple that with the fact that all these automation solutions are cloud based, well that means there’s going to be a lot of hurdles to get over in implementing those solutions. And so IT leaders are going to have to be good and proactive leaders in selling these changes even internally to their own security departments.
Guy Nadivi: What about skillsets, Andy? What kinds of skills did you find were needed to effectively automate IT operations at IVM?
Andy Dalton: All right well some of the skills we needed, they would be skills you would think of are very logical technical skills like database development and management, application development, and especially as you’ve heard me say a number of times in here API integration. Because all of these solutions have different open APIs that you need to figure out how to integrate with your own internal systems. Those are important. Others you wouldn’t think of, but they’re actually very necessary and sometimes even harder to come by, are the creative skills like content development. We all know everyone loves to be an editor, but writers and creators are much harder to come by. So, also like I talked about a few minutes ago with chat bots, right? You have to have the necessary resources and skills as people internally who are willing to create all that chat bot content and not just a bunch of people who want to sit around editing it.
Andy Dalton: And then probably I’d say the other skill that we found very important and it’s going to be anywhere is the soft skills of leading change, right? Building the political support within the organization, helping actually lead the organization through that change and the different systems, and then actually celebrating afterwards for the risks that were taken and the results that came from it. But those soft skills are easily overlooked.
Guy Nadivi: Is there a minimum ROI needed to justify automating IT operations tasks at IVM?
Andy Dalton: All right so when you discuss ROI always a prerequisite conversation that needs to take place first by the IT leaders needs to be around like the key goals with any new automation. Mainly because ROI isn’t always as simple and clean as just cost reduction, especially in smaller companies. But sometimes it can be calculated back to cost. For example, if I reference my earlier example about our global tech client that wanted to improve their efficiency on 70,000 laptop deployments a year. Well when they ended up using our locker systems they were able to automate their onboarding and their laptop refresh process. And they now have close to 1500 employees using those lockers on a weekly basis and they have actually calculated they’ve cut their delivery costs down by as much as 30%. Well that’s a great ROI for them. And especially with the larger enterprises sometimes it’s a little easier to figure those hard ROIs. It’s not always as easy to get kind of a cost savings, but it is nice when you can.
Guy Nadivi: What single metric then, other than ROI, do you think best captures the effectiveness of automating IT operations?
Andy Dalton: Yeah … As I think about that question I don’t know if I can nail it down to a single metric, but I could definitely share with you a couple that I think are very important to take into account. They would be, and I’ve kind of mentioned them in passing probably in the last few minutes. One is increased employee satisfaction which leads to better productivity, which we all know. Meaning if you’re not sitting around waiting for 24 hours for your laptop refresh to happen you don’t get so disgruntled and you’re just a better employee and more productive.
Andy Dalton: Now second would be, which probably the most direct with a lot of this automation, is going to be the labor hours saved. You know you’re going to decrease maybe your headcount that you need to have in your IT service department. You’re especially going to be able to decrease maybe the number of IT staff that have to be at every single distributed location and you can have a little bit more of a centralized labor force there, whatever it might be.
Andy Dalton: The third metric you might want to consider, which is very important, is just the downtime of employees where they’re sitting around waiting for stuff to happen because maybe the IT department’s just not open, so.
Guy Nadivi: Andy, for the IT executives out there listening in, what is the one big must have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion with regards to implementing automation, AI, predictive analytics, and Internet of Things?
Andy Dalton: So I’d say this, what I kind of had to learn over the years and actually here at IVM, and the biggest thing is just be willing to redirect resources and fight the temptation to have a scarcity mindset. What I mean by that is this, the volume of needs and requests that are going to be placed on every IT department in every organization these days is increasing rapidly. We all know it’s increasing on a daily basis. And it’s going to continue to outpace everyone’s team’s bandwidth. So if you’re someone who’s waiting for the time when your team finally catches up, good luck. If you’re waiting for when your budget gets increased by your executives so that you can bring on more resources and handle the backlog, good luck. Or if you are hoping you can better manage your current team just to make them more productive, once again good luck.
Andy Dalton: Instead I think you’ve got to embrace a different mindset where you’re just kind of not waiting and using the best of what you have and you know all that kind of stuff. Instead just say okay I’ve got to redirect resources now before I have them, set up some of these automations, get them in place so that tomorrow, next year, whatever, we can actually be where we need to be because if you just wait it’s just not going to happen.
Guy Nadivi: Sounds like wise advice. All right, looks like that’s all the time we have for on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio. Andy, it’s been great having you on the show and getting a hands-on perspective about why IT should be automating and the three automation technologies that will transform IT departments.
Andy Dalton: Well thanks for having me on the show, Guy.
Guy Nadivi: Andy Dalton, CIO of IVM. Thank you for listening everyone and remember don’t hesitate, automate.
CIO of IVM
Andy is the Chief Information Officer for IVM, Inc., where he helps to encourage innovation for the future of supply vending. He has more than 25 years of executive leadership experience across a variety of business areas including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, business development and information technology.
Andy Dalton can be found at: