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The Strategic CIO: Leading With an Automation-First Strategy & Zero-Touch IT

Thomas Donnelly, Justine Bienkowski, Rudy Fraser

September 8, 2021

4 minute read

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This post is an adapted excerpt from our new ebook, The Strategic CIO Manifesto: How to Evolve IT from a Reactive Cost Center to a Strategic Partner. To download the full ebook, click here.

In the past decade, almost every technical department has redefined how they operate by leaps and bounds. And with technology accelerating and a pandemic changing the way workforce interacts, it’s critical for IT to be proactive in enabling the business to address these new challenges.

The technology for IT to achieve this is finally becoming viable—and it’s time to reinvent IT.

The role of the CIO needs to evolve. We need to help businesses meet the new challenges of our changed world, which means driving customer outcomes, unlocking hidden value, and overcoming inequality, while keeping our data secure and enabling a remote-first workforce.

In other words, the CIO needs to be at the center of enabling your company’s strategy!

If you’re an IT leader who wants to become a strategic business partner, the first step is to adopt an automation-first approach. Here’s a look at how to get started, plus how we did it at BetterCloud.

The benefits of adopting an automation-first approach

Technology teams often only have the bandwidth to react to problems, which forces them to focus on keeping the lights on, as opposed to truly enabling the business. But with the accelerating pace of technology and explosion of SaaS adoption, reacting to tickets or projects is no longer a sustainable mode of operation.

The first step to becoming strategic is to adopt an automation-first approach when solving technology problems. Moving to this approach will create more scale for your business and free up the resourcing that’s required to be a strategic department.

Additionally, it will start the process of changing your team’s culture. Ultimately, your team will shift from reactive to proactive, from ticket takers to tech enablers, and from operational to strategic partners of the business!

How to get started with an automation-first strategy and zero-touch operations

First, it’s important to create a system to eliminate as much operational work as possible.

IT teams need to shift gears and prioritize getting the tools and skills to focus on automation. The primary mode of operation here is staying proactive, anticipating customers’ needs, and automating. Here are four significant operational changes you can make to start the process:

1. Start by measuring the potential impact of an automation-first approach. Keep track of which tickets are candidates for future automation.

2. Start driving automation with your existing team using low-code or even no-code automation tools. There are automation tools, such as BetterCloud Manage, that only require a few days of training before you immediately realize value. No advanced scripting or programming is required, so there is a quick return on investment. Look for low hanging fruit such as user lifecycle management to get a few big wins under your belt as you’ll want to start gaining momentum to make larger changes later.

3. Mandate that a certain percentage of your IT time is spent on automation. Once you have some tools in play and you start to automate tasks, it’s time to set your automation goals. I usually start out pretty small, somewhere around 10%. By eliminating manual tasks, you’ll quickly create capacity, which allows you to dedicate incrementally more time on automation, which compounds. In a perfect world, anything that you did manually last sprint would get automated in the next sprint.

4. Create “moonshot” or “stretch” goals to push the limits of automation around your most complicated and time-consuming IT tickets. Below are some examples of our end-to-end user lifecycle management goals:

As you get into the 30%-50% automation maturity levels, you need to start layering more tooling and software engineers to continue driving additional value with your automation-first strategy. For instance, advanced tools such as ConversationalAI are becoming more viable, which help drive resolutions with little or no human interactions!

How we do this at BetterCloud

BetterCloud IT denoted every single ticket that we thought that could be potentially automated. The results were astonishing. Our data showed that over 38% of every ticket that IT received could potentially be automated with our existing tooling. This is where we are leveraging the BetterCloud product in powerful ways, and the benefits to the organization and end users are massive.

We are currently mandating that 30% of all our IT work is spent building automations. Just in the past month we have added over 34 BetterCloud workflows! Below is a graph highlighting the steady increase of automations run by the IT teams in BetterCloud. This increase means that end users spend less time waiting on IT and we spend more time proactively solving their challenges.

Revisiting our goals from above related to user lifecycle management, below is our progress on these goals:

Want to learn more about how IT can become a strategic business partner? Check out our new ebook, The Strategic CIO Manifesto. Packed with practical tips and advice that will enable you to gain the proverbial seat at the table, you’ll learn how to transform IT from a reactive cost center to a strategic partner to the business. Download it here!