Last month, I talked about how to prioritize your automation efforts in 2 steps. Before you jump into the first project that comes to mind, first identify all potential automation projects, and then prioritize them based on benefits– either time savings or better customer experience. Sometimes, though, there’s a great project – one where automation will benefit both your IT staff and your business – but there’s no straight-forward way to automate the process.
This month, I’ll discuss the best way to go about automating any single process in a direct manner even when you can’t automate using a GUI alone.
- Revisit the list you created last month
Go back to your list of high-priority processes and find the ones that you can’t automate through your solution’s GUI. Usually this is because these processes are either 1) highly variable in what steps are needed to address them or 2) require actions that can’t easily be taken using your solution’s GUI.
- Before you give up on these processes, take a deeper look.
- Are there ways of standardizing the steps in this process?
If yes, do it – and then automate. If not, ask more questions before you give it up as impossible.
Perhaps you can’t standardize some processes due to the extremely heterogeneous networks you support. Do you strongly encourage clients to standardize their hardware, or do you just take on support for every type of device they have?
Obviously this choice goes beyond a focused discussion on automation. However, if your technicians spend much of their day conducting routine maintenance and remediation that just can’t be standardized – and so can’t be automated – this could be a wake-up call to re-evaluate your business plan.
- Are the steps standardized but you just can’t automate them through your solution’s GUI?
If so, see if your solution supports Command-line-based execution that side-step the GUI. You would be amazed at how many products, once you do a little investigation, actually provide you some type of Command-based option. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find this either, there are several products out there that let you create a macro for a GUI.
If you find that either of these options exists, then the fun part really starts. (Of course, that could depend on your definition of fun!) Building your automation this way can take some time just because you have to test your code and make sure it’s working correctly, but it’s a very powerful method.
- Write a script to support your automation need
First, write down the steps your technician takes to fix the problem. Then, I recommend writing a batch, VBScript, or some combination to replicate the steps. I also recommend using PowerShell whenever you can. For sample batch, VBScript, and PowerShell scripts check out the Microsoft Technet Script Library. (https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/scriptcenter).
Once your script is tested and working, write a procedure in your remote management (RMM) or helpdesk solution to run the script whenever defined criteria are met. Don’t forget to put in a recursive script that will verify the fix (via log output); perhaps resubmit the script procedure; and then escalate to a technician if the problem is still not resolved.
- Don’t forget reporting and record keeping
Automation without logs and record keeping is a just a horrible migraine waiting to happen.
However you implement your automation, make sure all activities are recorded and included in log reports. If you are automating processes via your RMM or helpdesk solution, make sure this is part of the standard methodology.
If you are creating your own macros, don’t forget to have these steps be part of your scripting.
This is especially critical if you are supporting clients in heavily regulated industries, such banking, healthcare, and retail.
Automation is a hugely important source of strategic and competitive advantage. By automating high-impact processes (i.e., processes that eliminate a lot of routine manual tasks or increases standardization and compliance), you can save time, eliminate stress on your IT staff, and increase customer satisfaction and goodwill.
In these past two blogs, I’ve discussed the best way to prioritize automation projects and how to handle projects that seem to resist automation. Next month, I’ll cover how to leverage configuration and policy management to turbocharge your automation efforts.
In the meantime, check out this complete automation cheat sheet to make sure you’re automating as much as you can for remediation, maintenance and measurement.
*Originally posted on MSPAlliance.