Universal Mentors Association

How human-centered automation adds value to IT service desks


Presented by TOPdesk

AI and automation can make your service desk future-proof. In this VB Spotlight you’ll learn how to automate the crucial IT tasks that will reduce end-user down-time and boost customer experience, decrease IT service desk calls by 40% and more.

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With the growing maturity of AI and automation, there’s a huge opportunity for IT service desks to take much of the repetitive, time-consuming and error-prone work out of the hands of humans. From approvals to software rollouts, automation can help serve end users more quickly and more efficiently. But it’s not a matter of automating anything that can be automated — there are core factors that every enterprise should consider when first evaluating the state of their service desks and operations, says Barclay Rae, consultant, author and co-host of the Enterprise Digital podcast.

“We also have to make sure that we understand who our customers are, whether they’re ready for that and what the impact will be on them,” Rae says. “I can’t suddenly stick something in that might make it more efficient for me, but it might annoy my customers. Context is everything. I don’t want to sound as if I’m trying to slow it down. But we must be clear on what we’re expecting to get out of this and how we will then go about implementing it.”

It’s also crucial to not only have clear, manageable goals that directly improve the customer experience, but ensure that there’s usable, accurate data and solid processes in place already, or automation will fail, and that’s also not a great look for a company.

Lower-hanging fruit that immediately offers an impact are the standard higher-volume requests or processes — repetitive requests around passwords, processes like approving and installing new computers or new software, says Jeffrey Jacoby, US services team lead at TOPdesk. You could even consider routine cross-departmental processes such as onboarding, offboarding, or transfers which happen often, sometimes daily, for larger organizations.

“Leveraging automation for these standard processes can simplify the workflow for your technicians and streamline the workflow process overall,” Jacoby explains. “Some benchmarks, which you could think about more down the road could be chatbots to make the interface a bit easier for those end users to add input, maybe even supplier integrations or third-party systems, like an asset management system.”

Creating a roadmap to automation

Of course, like any other technology implementation, automation requires a plan and expected deliverables. IT automation needs to be handled carefully because so many processes touch the end consumer directly. Automating processes on the backend, such as reviewing queues and backlogs, can be handled in the background and very quickly. But most of the processes involved will require some interaction with the business or customers, such as incidents and requests, which you want to make as seamless as possible.

“The simpler we can make that, and the less onus we put on the customer to make some decision about it, the better,” Rae says. “We want to have a nice easy portal to interact with. I want this, I’m already approved. That’s where the whole approval system behind the scenes needs to be agreed with your business in advance, rather than just saying you’re going to plug it in and it’s going to work. It’s not going to work if all it does is automate a backlog and a queue for some managers to approve stuff.”

That involves tasks on the roadmap such as sitting down with users, whether internal, external or both, to make clear where they need to be involved, how they will interact with those processes once they’re established, and how they’ll test any implementation. Natural language systems, and bots particularly, generally take longer. The more questions a user can ask, the more significantly you’re multiplying potential results and outcomes.

“You have to be realistic about those things,” Rae explains. “People go on planes and read in-flight magazines that say, oh, yes, you can automate this and it’s fantastic. But there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that it works properly. And yes, they are easy to use. Yes, they are cheaper and easier to deploy. But that doesn’t take away the fact that you have to consult with people and build that into your planning.”

“We want to know and make sure that everyone is on the same page, knowing which processes are automated and which still require that manual input,” Jacoby adds. “After testing and deploying, monitoring and data insights will help for optimizations that can be made further down the road.”

The human element of automation

The technical benefits of automation are clear, but the people in the equation are the most important element, and planning needs to take that into consideration. The anatomy of a normal service desk call includes an array of components: the technical, the business, and the people and emotional, Rae says. So, no matter where you are in a system, the human using it has to be able to back out and return to the human service agent behind the system, because sometimes there’s no replacing that connection.

“In some ways, when we’re talking about automation, it forces us to re-appraise our own value to some extent,” he explains. “What are we good at? What do we need to do? What do we still need to maintain and not lose, just by doing this? There’s no point in just doing it for the sake of it.”

There’s also the fact that older demographics tend to not want to interact with automated systems at all, and it’s important to be mindful of that as service providers, he adds. And it has nothing to do with that stereotype that old people are bewildered in the face of new tech — that’s one that should be discarded.

“It’s whether I will trust it,” Rae explains. “It’s whether the interface is working in a way that I can use, understand, enjoy and get value from, with trust being a big part of that. I know some suppliers that I deal with where I will just not trust or use their system. I’ll do everything to get around it and talk to a person. And then there are others where I would have never thought of them as being particularly technical, but they have a very simple but effective automated interface.”

The human element of ROI

The most important metrics of automation come down to the human side of things, again, to determine whether a solution is providing an adequate ROI. That includes the actual cost and time savings of the task, along with productivity and efficiency of staff impacted.

For example, a task that can improve the routing of incidents or tickets and cut down the number of reassignments, or that reduces the number of incidents that users experience, rather than just turning them over week to week.

There’s also the feedback of the end-user base, Jacoby says.

“Are they happy with the automations that we’ve deployed?” he says. “It’s not just looking at the repetitive tasks and how many we’re automating, but also are people satisfied with the automations we have given them to use?”

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  • Core factors to evaluate the current state of your business and service desk
  • Transform and simplify your IT processes with automation
  • Accelerate delivery of internal processes and services


  • Barclay Rae, Consultant; Author; Co-host of the Enterprise Digital Podcast
  • Jeffrey Jacoby, US Services Team Lead, TOPdesk
  • Art Cole, Moderator, VentureBeat


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