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Modern ITSM Practices: Automation

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IT service desk automations cut out steps of processes that don’t require human brain power to complete.

Automation could create major role changes in the coming years throughout the global workforce. Though passionate debate about the long term impact of widespread automation continues, we’re already seeing major impact to the IT service desk -- but not in form of replacing jobs. Every organization depends on service functions that need human planning, approvals, problem solving, and communication. That’s why we still, and will likely always need a staff of experts on the IT service desk. As the service demands within an organization grow, it creates more pressure and less time for service desk technicians. They need a every little time saver they can find, which naturally leads us to the simplest tasks that don’t require their skills. This is where IT service desk automation can make a major difference.

What is IT Service Desk Automation?

The abstract answer is that there is a growing list of numerous opportunities for automation in IT service management (ITSM). The way a particular organization deploys automation rules depends on the needs of the organization. It depends on patterns in tickets and requests. It depends on the lifecycles of tickets and requests within the organizational strategy. As you read through some possibilities and examples of automation rules, you’ll get a better idea of what service desk automations might mean for your organization. The simpler answer is that service desk automations cut out steps of processes that don’t require human brain power to complete. Think about it this way: why do we require the requester to provide information in certain fields of a ticket or a request? That information will impact the way that request is fulfilled or the way the incident is resolved. For most of these fields, the user-submitted information is going to determine, without any further questions: where that ticket goes, it’s priority level, how long it should take to resolve, and whether or not it should kick off another process. That’s why we require information in certain fields -- because the first few steps depend on it. Since the dawn of the service desk, we’ve required a human to capture this user-provided information and make mindless decisions on routing, priority, SLAs, and replies to the user. Automation rules will clear this poor technician’s plate of these tedious steps, speed up resolution times, help create accurate SLAs, and give some time back to technicians to put their brains to better use. So, what is a service desk automation? It’s a customizable rule that will automatically make routine decisions based on data input, speeding up service processes and empowering the organization through thousands of little time savers.

How do Automation Rules Improve the IT Service Desk?

It’s important to keep one particular goal in mind as you and your team layout the areas you’d like to leverage automation. These rules might make it easier for service desk staff to do their jobs, but the ultimate goal is to provide a better (and faster) experience for the customers of the service desk -- the employees in your organization. The following capabilities are worth considering, with this employee service in mind.

Priority and Routing

These two are standard occurrences upon creation of every ticket, and can be largely automated. Priority level will influence the expectations for resolution time, potentially move a ticket up or down the queue, and might even determine who works the ticket. They’re important, but fairly elementary steps that can be easily automated. For instance, maybe anything coming from a C-level executive would qualify as “critical” in priority. It’s easy to create a rule for that. Maybe anything containing certain keywords in the subject would be considered critical. Common examples include “outage” or “urgent.” Rather than wasting someone’s time clicking through every ticket and assigning a priority, you’re essentially programming your ITSM solution to associate priority levels with certain features of the ticket. Priority, of course, will shape the service desk’s response. If a ticket or service request includes the word “stolen,” you can create an automation rule that assigns the ticket to a Tier 2 or 3 technician (or even a specialist in security issues). Often, you can automate where the ticket is routed based on the same information. Those high-priority tickets from the C-level team might all funnel to an individual or group of the most experienced technicians. Simpler issues could go to Tier 1 agents, with higher priority incidents escalating to Tier 2 or 3 technicians. Maybe specific technicians handle specific issues.


When a major incident happens, your most important service desk staff members should know right away. When something happens that will impact a large group of employees, they can be notified of the incident as well. You can create rules for a variety of “if/then” conditions where the “then” results in a notification to an individual or a group. There are two major advantages of automated notifications. First, it will speed the process of more urgent incidents. It will loop in the right people from the start, and those people can get to work. Second, it’ll remove the need to communicate an incident to everyone it might impact. For instance, if the incident is a Slack outage, you can notify the entire group of Slack users automatically, instead of manually communicating the issue. In this instance, you’ve also prevented a barrage of “what’s going on?” emails. As the capabilities for automations continue to evolve to include other service desk function (like change and release management), you can imagine how this will improve the employee experience.

Staying True to SLAs

Holding the service desk to agreements on resolution times has always been difficult. When an employee creates a ticket, sometimes there’s not enough information to begin the process. A technician might request more information, which, in all fairness should stop the SLA timer. We can’t expect a technician to work an incomplete ticket, but how can we ensure the clock starts and stops at the appropriate times, so we can accurately measure success? Automation rules can help here, too. Imagine a requester creates a ticket, but the technician needs more information to start working. The technician comments, asking for more details, and changes the status to “awaiting input,” stopping the SLA timer. You can create an automation that changes the status back to “assigned,” starting the clock again once the requester replies with the necessary information. It’s not necessarily that you don’t trust staff members to track their own time, but why make them go through the extra steps. In this age of smart technology, your service desk solution should be able to handle that.

ITSM Automations Examples

Now that you know what we’re trying to achieve with automations, we’ll look at a couple examples. Let’s start with priority and routing: Perhaps you want to create a rule to helps the team react quickly to a request from the CEO. You could name it, “CEO Priority Rule,” which includes a brief description of what this automation rule will do. Next, you can set your conditions. In this case, if the CEO is the requester, this rule will kick in. As you might imagine, you could create rules for any requester or group of requesters within the organization. Finally, you’ll decide what happens when this condition is met. You can chose to change the priority to “critical,” and assign to a specific staff member. Pretty easy. Now, every time the CEO creates a ticket or a request, it will be a “critical” priority and will be assigned to the preferred tech. Technicians won’t need to waste any time manually processing this ticket and deciding where it goes. The most important member of your organization -- the CEO -- will have requests and tickets handled promptly. Let’s also consider how automations can help with SLAs. Naturally, the timer will pause when a technician is awaiting information from a requester (“awaiting input”). To accurately measure performance, you’ll want that clock to resume as soon as the requester provides this information, and we can’t ensure that if it’s a manual process. You can also make an automation rule that addresses this gap. The condition is that a ticket with the state, “awaiting input” receives a comment. That comment -- presumably the necessary information -- will trigger an action to change the state from “awaiting input,” to “assigned,” thus starting the resolution timer. This rule will make sure your resolution times are measured with pinpoint accuracy, helping you escalate at appropriate times, and ultimately delivering the best possible experience for your employees.

The ultimate goal is to provide a better (and faster) experience for the customers of the service desk -- the employees in your organization.

As you can see, automations are not intended to overhaul the entire service desk. In fact, your average employee won’t even notice them. However, they will notice a faster service desk. You’ll have more confidence that tickets and requests are arriving in the right places, on-time, and you’ll feel good about how your performance compares to SLAs (resolution times, in particular). For more modern ITSM practices, start with our introduction to this series.
Chris McManus
Chris McManus is a multimedia content producer at SolarWinds. He works with Service Desk customers on case studies and video stories, and he’s the go-to…
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