The rise of zero-touch IT

This article is contributed by Thomas Donnelly, CIO at BetterCloud.

For business users, it sounds so simple: subscribe to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) app that does what you need to do. Simple. No fuss. Except that behind the easy-to-use interface, IT has a rapidly growing workload powered by those same apps. IT tends to be understaffed and unable to keep up with the flow of SaaS onboarding, security, and offboarding tasks. In addition, IT now supports a remote workforce that is always working. In short, IT is overwhelmed. Handling SaaS deployment and day-to-day management manually forces IT to be highly reactive – and therefore less efficient.

Blame the spread of SaaS, not the applications themselves. SaaS became too much of a good thing. Ten years ago, typical business employees used Microsoft Office, and some also used an ERP, CRM system, or SaaS budget application. Now the same companies are using hundreds of SaaS applications to increase employee productivity. With 20 or more additions per year, the implementation, maintenance and security challenges increased dramatically.
Much is at stake, with legal mandates severely punishing data, privacy and governance crimes, especially where PII and key corporate data are exposed. There has also been an exponential growth in the amount of data that needs to be protected. It’s critical that every step is done right in all SaaS ops processes that affect employees, customers, and job applicants. Privilege and security flaws cost too much. That makes automation of a growing variety of IT activities and workflows a necessity.

This automated approach is known as zero-touch IT. It is a fact that many IT activities and tasks can be completed without human intervention. Given the explosive population of SaaS apps, this is the most practical way to move forward.

Why was zero touch made for today, and how do you approach it?

First, zero-touch IT is a way to free your people from maintenance tasks and elevate your operations team to be more strategic. You’ve noticed the Great Resignation: IT talent never grew on trees, and now there’s an epic drought. Your team’s time and resources should not be wasted on what can be automated.

Second, IT serves demanding customers. Business users have become less tolerant of waiting for IT to come to their rescue, and they have higher expectations. After all, if they can find and load a CRM app on their phone in under a minute, why can’t your technology experts deliver them a new business CRM in, say, 10 minutes?
Users on board, request privileges and perform operations in different time zones. Automation doesn’t sleep, making it a good fit for asynchronous workers.

Third, zero-touch IT, when implemented correctly, reduces errors caused by fatigue and overload. A distracted IT worker can easily grant unauthorized data rights to a third-party contractor, with dire consequences.
There are options for zero-touch IT; independently constructed workflows can be automated, but this can lead to a spaghetti of disparate procedures that behave differently and cause confusion. It is best to approach zero-touch IT through a cohesive management platform.

Zero touch is a concept that is quickly becoming reality

The automation engine that enables zero-touch IT acts as a centralized command center to work with dozens of SaaS applications in a consistent, comparable way. It needs to run quite complex multi-step workflows that affect many different apps – some enterprises actively use and support more than 100 SaaS resources. Workflow setup should be builder-friendly; it must be a low-code solution, operated via menus and choose-click. IT workers are usually not programmers or developers, and anyone in IT should be able to use the platform.

Benefits of zero-touch IT

The zero-touch advantage most often cited for ROI purposes: It gives IT professionals the freedom to use their skills to contribute more as technology enablers rather than ‘fixers’, and drive the business forward in the world. Time is saved when IT teams don’t have to work through the backlog of tedious, multi-step tasks.

With a zero-touch IT initiative, workflows are better defined – that is what is needed to automate them. Workflows can span multiple apps; in many cases one application can initiate the necessary actions elsewhere, without waiting for human intervention.

To extend the value of zero-touch IT, the automation engine must be able to interact with automated ITSMs, key apps such as ServiceNow, workflow engines, and chatbots.

The latency factor for users is also drastically reduced, which can increase not only their productivity, but also their satisfaction with IT and the business itself. Onboarding is a good example of this. New hires are required to complete more than 50 tasks during onboarding on average. Statistics from the recruiting industry show that if a new hire’s onboarding process is positive, their retention rate is much higher. That’s an important problem; A 2021 Gallup poll found that only 12% of employees fully agree that their employer does an impressive job on onboarding.

Offboarding can be even more important, especially for security implications. Our data shows that IT teams spend an average of 7.12 hours offboarding a single employee of a company’s SaaS apps.

Perspectives and Conclusions

As much of enterprise computing moved to the cloud and a thousand special-purpose SaaS apps blossomed, the ROI case for easily managed automation of IT operations became much stronger. By moving to zero-touch, IT quickly leads to clarifying processes. Automated workflows reduce boredom and loss of time by taking people out of the loop. Zero touch tends to improve the way users see and interact with IT – and their employer. Interactions are less about many small, often frustrating requests and wait times, and more about technological improvement to solve bigger business problems.

With a 30% to 50% reduction in requests (because automation handles the rest), IT becomes less reactive and has the capacity to use technology to help others achieve their goals. This can play a role in helping departments become more strategic and business-oriented.

The alternative to zero-touch IT is an ever-growing crowd, as SaaS apps are added at a dizzying pace. IT experts should be force multipliers, not repairmen. Zero-touch IT is a practical, cost-effective approach to increasing resource utilization in the enterprise, and now is the time to adopt it.

Thomas Donnelly is the CIO at BetterCloud.

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