Q&A: Using Process Automation to Improve the Digital User Experience
IT is looking for ways to improve their customer’s experience as it focuses on moving from being an information technology provider to a business technology provider. We know how process automation can make IT’s job easier, but how can it also provide better customer service? To find out, we contacted Randy Clark, chief marketing officer at UC4 Software.
Enterprise Strategies: Briefly explain how IT process automation plays into the overall effort of providing a positive customer experience.
Randy Clark: Customer experience is increasingly based on digital experiences with the company. Whether it’s simply system uptime or the derivative experiences of successfully completing a transaction, getting proper notifications, being presented relevant offers, or using a Web site that continually improves, IT process workflows support the business workflows that make the customer experience happen. IT process automation makes those workflows faster, better, and more reliable.
The digital experience is increasingly the touch point for brands and the delivery of the brand promise. With this, IT is now more like BT (business technology), but most IT companies aren't ready for this shift. What is required for business leaders to be ready to successfully handle this shift in order to ensure all of these elements flow together seamlessly?
The CIO and VP of operations should have an explicit transformation business and technical plan that is approved by the executive management team. The VP of operations should have an explicit IT process automation strategy. Managing the transformation of IT into BT should be treated as a core initiative of the company. Explicit strategies on cloud, big data, IT-as-a-service and DevOps should derive from the overall initiative and be owned in part by the VP of operations.
How would you weigh in on brand reputation versus strong customer service, and how can smaller, lesser-known businesses use IT to their advantage to gain new customers by providing the best customer experience to outweigh perhaps being the less-recognized brand name?
Digital experiences that delight can build lesser-known brands into household names quickly. Facebook, LinkedIn, Zynga, and Groupon are just the latest examples of what Apple and others have consistently shown. It’s no accident that technology brands dominate the list of the world’s most valuable brands. As retailers, banks, health providers, and service providers are finding out, leading business technology is the direct path to more loyal customers. Any challenger brand or smaller growth-oriented company can predict its success by evaluating its current digital experience position.
We've seen some major global brands recently suffer system outages, like United Airlines, that result in pretty severe interruptions to their Web-based operations, such as (in United's case) its Web site and passenger reservation system. How could ITPA technology have helped them avoid an outage like this?
IT process automation provides visibility and control at the business and technical workflow level so that problems with specific system management tools or tasks don’t go unresolved. By abstracting the process from the underlying hardware and administrative tools, IT operations managers dramatically reduce the risk of execution failure. By having the ability to “roll back” to previous working environments, ITPA enables faster resolutions. With predictive and process analytics, ITPA can spot potential failures and route work around high-risk systems, units, or routines.
What kinds of insight and visibility can businesses gather from ITPA solutions in terms of Web site updates and transaction processing reliability and orchestration?
Most ITPA projects pay for themselves in just a few months because there is new visibility to transactions and also what causes outages. Whether it’s finding fraudulent transactions, completing transactions to avoid penalties, ensuring service levels, or assuring uptime or fix times, IT and the business can identify what causes pain. Knowing the average cycle-time, complete rate, value, top three failure causes, and cyclical risk times can only be known with workflows that are automated and intelligently monitored. If an IT organization can’t find 3-5 practical operational fixes that pay for the ITPA project within 3-6 months, something is wrong.
Describe what the process looks like within the system, with ITPA in place, if a business suffers an outage. For example: are processes rerouted automatically? To where? Briefly, how does this work?
When a problem occurs, there are three options: 1) roll back to previously working systems, 2) fix the problem and continue, or 3) let the failure occur knowingly with other priorities in mind.
There are many ways to fix problems with your TV, from slapping it on its side to turning it off and on. These are manual fixes. Automatic fixes still require human oversight; for the data center, they include restarts, reroutes, rollbacks and ramp-ups. IT can flex up VMs to add computing power, bypass unresponsive processes or machines, or recheck, reset, or rebooting systems -- this is all core to ITPA.
The way it works is that an experienced IT operations managers codify their troubleshooting logic so that alerts are only triggered when ”real problems” occur. Then IT uses the analytics of ITPA to narrow and identify the root problem so it can be solved manually until, or unless, this fix can be codified.
How does ITPA technology enable businesses to be proactive in ensuring that system outages, should they occur, only happen once?
Complex systems fail in creative ways, so unfortunately there is no ”once” or even “again.” The top-three rule works: work the top three problems until they aren’t the top three, then focus on the next top three. This creates tremendous business value. Being the best of your peer group is more important than absolute goals or metrics. IT has failed and empowered the business for decades. The goal is to set expectations that can be achieved. SLAs are synonymous with ITPA. This is the serious dialog that every organization should have as IT truly transforms itself to BT.
What kinds of solutions does UC4 offer for IT process automation?
UC4’s ONE Automation platform delivers IT process automation for organizations facing increasingly dynamic applications and infrastructure, and those migrating to next-gen service models for cloud, DevOps and big data. Our solution covers all six traditional areas of automation (workload, application release, application process, run-book, data transfer, and VM automation) so organizations can scale up and out technically, organizationally, and economically. ONE Automation aims to achieve IT process automation convergence by covering the full spectrum of today’s automation needs.
James E. Powell is the former editorial director of Enterprise Strategies (esj.com).