What is automation?

Automation frees your teams from time consuming, repetitive tasks, for improved efficiency.

Throughout history, peoples and cultures around the world have faced the same basic dilemma: how to get more work done while expending less effort. This natural drive has been the inspiration for countless mechanical and technological innovations. And, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, it introduced the concept of automation.

Automation has come a long way from the cotton gin and Henry Ford’s first moving assembly lines. In fact, with today’s advanced technologies, it’s estimated that as much as 45% of work activities can be automated—representing approximately $2 trillion in US wages. But more than simply a cost-saving measure, automation advances the employee experience. Automation handles mundane tasks, freeing up time and resources for more interesting, creative projects.

But what exactly is automation, and how can it help you grow your business? Here, we discuss automation—what it is, what challenges it faces, and how to put it to work for you.

Automation definition

Simply put, automation is the ability to use technology to perform tasks with minimal human effort. More specifically, automation describes the tools, techniques, and strategies designed to minimize labor, freeing up human workers to focus on other responsibilities.

The most-often cited benefits of automation include the following:

  • Fewer human errors
  • Higher quality work product
  • Increased speed
  • Improved productivity
  • Increased employee availability
  • Reduced labor costs

Of course, there are also challenges associated with automation. The most prominent of these is the risk of losing the human element when interacting with customers and associates. Other concerns include employee inability to adapt to using automated systems.

That said, the push towards automation is a major focus for business and technology decision makers, with 32% identifying accelerating digital business transformation as their top driver for process improvement initiatives.

Businesses may incorporate automation to control nearly any kind of task. Basic automation usually involves assigning simple tasks to automated systems, and relies heavily on automation tools, while more complex automation may demand dedicated software or even artificial learning programs. The following are examples of automation in business.

Business process management

Automation plays a key factor in business process management (BMP). BMP describes the methods a company can use to measure, analyze, and improve business processes for increased efficiency and reduced costs.

DevOps automation

Development and operations teams may implement automation for improved code development and testing, security testing, workflows, infrastructure implementations and changes, and validation of configuration management changes.

Workflow automation

Workflows gain increased efficiency and visibility when supported by automation. Workflow automation solves problematic issues that are common in manual workflows, including employee dependency, lack of transparency, and unnecessary bottlenecks and slowdowns.

Orchestration

Automation in orchestration helps improve workflow efficiency by automating computer systems, applications, and services. Orchestration is particularly effective in automating IT-related tasks, decreasing IT team workloads.

Automation vs. Orchestration

Most organizations have a clear idea of what automation is, but might not be as clear on orchestration. Orchestration incorporates automation, but takes it further. Orchestration automates many tasks together, allowing for entire automated processes that operate seamlessly, and effectively on their own.

Retail businesses need to be able to effectively address customer concerns and improve visibility into their own operations. Automation is helping retail businesses achieve this goal.

7-Eleven

7-Eleven fields over 66,000 stores across 17 countries, with a new 7-Eleven store opening its doors every 3.5 hours. To remain competitive and facilitate ongoing growth, 7-Eleven places significant focus on preventing, identifying, and resolving customer issues. By incorporating ServiceNow automation technologies, 7-Eleven saw a staggering 93% reduction in case volumes, 205% improvement in case resolutions rates, and a 75% reduction in service response times.

Learn more about how the world’s fastest growing convenience store is embracing automation and other digital technologies to improve their customer support offering.

Wayfair

As a leader in e-commerce, Wayfair depends heavily on its DevOps teams to ensure consistent, reliable software releases. But while Wayfair was already incorporating an advanced DevOps pipeline, the company was having trouble charting performance. Working with ServiceNow, Wayfair was able to improve end-to-end visibility into its operations, leading to 50% fewer production code rollbacks, a 95% decrease in integration times, and an overall reduction in revert times from 12 minutes to two minutes.

Discover how Wayfair and ServiceNow are using automation to accelerate the DevOps pipeline, offer faster delivery service, improve code quality, and reduce downtime.

To provide patients with the care they require, providers need to be able to coordinate effectively, respond to service tickets quickly, and focus their energies on improving patient circumstances. Automation helps make it possible.

Omnicare

Omnicare is an industry leading, long-term care pharmacy services provider. As Omnicare made the switch to outsourcing the day-to-day management of IT services, freeing up in-house IT professionals to focus high-value strategic initiatives, it encountered a problem: Omnicare would need to maintain its highly rated customer-service levels, despite outsourcing to other service providers. By integrating ServiceNow solutions, Omnicare was able to achieve full visibility into service-provider environments. This led to a 90% first-contact resolution rate, and used custom applications to help ensure optimal internal operations and customer satisfaction.

See how Omnicare and ServiceNow are applying automation to facilitate top-quality customer service at scale

Novant Health

Novant Health is an integrated network of physicians, hospitals, and outpatient centers. This not-for-profit healthcare system is dedicated to improving and simplifying the healthcare experience of their patients, delivering world-class care, clinicians, and technologies. However, their existing processes were taking clinicians’ valuable time, and negatively affecting the patient experience. ServiceNow solutions made possible improved transparency, more-effective collaboration, and better service, resulting in 62,000 more clinician hours for patient care per year.

Read about how Novant Health implemented ServiceNow technologies to streamline IT workflows and better address patient needs.

Financial institutions are making the switch to full automation, freeing up their human employees to better engage with customers and clients. Automation is eliminating the repetitive, mundane tasks that stand in the way of providing exceptional customer experiences.

Experian

Operating across 37 countries, Experian is a multinational consumer credit reporting company. But while this extended reach was allowing Experian to serve more than 100,000 clients and maintain demographic data for millions of consumers, it also meant incompatible processes, disconnected systems, and high operational costs. Working with ServiceNow, Experian was able to transform how it delivers IT services, adopting a single, unified platform throughout its entire business infrastructure. The end result was faster request approvals, seamless service delivery, and a 50% reduction in time spent resolving incidents.

See how ServiceNow helped Experian modernize and streamline their employee experience.

Discover Financial Services

As one of the world’s first all-virtual financial institutions, Discover Financial Services is dedicated to providing efficient, effective service delivery. Tom Eavenson, Vice President of Infrastructure Structure Services, has pledged that Discover Financial Services will be working exclusively with the ServiceNow platform to fully implement automated workflows as a replacement for written standard operating procedures within the next five years.

Watch the Discover Financial Services Keynote Interview

HR departments are experiencing unprecedented digital transformation. Legacy HR systems demand custom programming, and are simply not capable of keeping up with modern demands. HR automation is stepping up to replace aging systems, automating essential processes and handling crucial administrative tasks.

General Mills

General Mills was already a well-established entity within the branded consumer-foods industry when it undertook a company-wide global transformation towards increased visibility into employee HR inquiries. General Mills chose to work with ServiceNow, gaining a holistic approach, and creating an effective solution to the employee-service experience.

Watch how the HR team at General Mills turned to ServiceNow.

American Express Global Business Travel

American Express Global Business Travel (AMEX GBT) relies on expert staff to provide high-quality service to travelers in need. To do that, AMEX GBT counselors need easy access to relevant, reliable information at the click of a button. AMEX GBT and ServiceNow built upon their existing collaborations for onboarding and IT-service management, and created a unified HR portal. By bringing multiple functions and resources together on a single platform, AMEX GBT saw approximately 18,000 hours saved in productivity gains.

Read more about how AMEX GBT and ServiceNow are making essential resources more accessible than ever, with a powerful, unified employee portal.

We are in an exciting new era where IT is leading the charge to create innovations that will radically transform how companies are selling products and reaching customers. However, many IT organizations are still stuck in the old way of doing things. IT automation helps remove unstructured processes, fragmented data, and manual reporting in IT operations. Start with end-to-end processes with a lot of structured tasks and where automation will alleviate the most workload for the IT team. Provisioning VMs, patching machines, and installing may be the best options.

Business automation is becoming essential for all industries. As such, it’s likewise important to identify who in an organization should be involved in the automation process.

Professional Developers

In most organizations, developers will bear the greatest responsibility for creating and implementing automations. Developers will likely have the requisite experience and technical knowhow, as well as in-depth understanding of the company and customers to create automatic, data-driven processes that effectively address those areas where automation is needed most. That said, developers should be expected to work closely with other departments to ensure that the benefits of automation can be enjoyed company wide.

Citizen Developers

Developers may be the most obvious architects of business automation, but they are not the only ones capable of creating effective applications. In fact, any interested individual can become a citizen developer, with help from the ServiceNow Developer Program.

Providing citizen developers with automated tutorials, libraries, and the opportunity to connect with fellow citizen developers, the Developer Program offers a clear path to building automated apps to solve a range of problems.

Automation can have a significant positive impact for businesses across essentially every industry. However, before investing in automation, decision makers need to be able to accurately gauge not only the need for automation, but also the anticipated ROI.

In creating a business case for automation, consider the following steps:

1. Determine which business processes you should automate

Not all processes are likely to benefit from automation. Review the areas where your business is experiencing bottlenecks, reduced productivity, and above-average numbers of human errors. These processes are more likely to benefit from automation.

2. Calculate time costs

Automation is designed to replace or assist human involvement when it comes to task completion. In some cases, employee involvement may be entirely eliminated from certain processes. In other cases, the work of the employee is reduced to only the key essentials. This means that employees should be able to focus on tasks, projects and ideation that machines or automated processes can’t handle. The idea is that with automation, employees spend their time more effectively, which saves on labor costs. In addition, costs from time wasted from human errors, miscommunications, or non-human events—such as paper jams from printers—may also be considered for the total cost.

3. Calculate automation value

The value from automation may be attributed to time or money saved by automating a manual task, and including any benefit you can attribute to the automation is appropriate. The basic formula to assign a monetary value to the freed-up time of a knowledge worker looks like this:

Time spent on single manual task x Frequency of performing task per month x Cost per hour x 12 months = Yearly savings.

An example of indirect value from automation is savings from downtime reduction. To quantify the value, you calculate the yearly costs of a service or system outage – before any automaton. You then apply the reduced rate of outage after automation to arrive at the savings.

4. Determine ROI

Finally, to determine whether automating a specific process or processes will result in a positive gain for your business, you will need to calculate the expected return on investment. Use the ServiceNow Value Calculator, and see for yourself how lucrative business automation can be.

Just as automation can be applied to a wide range of processes, how you approach your automation solutions can be equally varied. Here, we address your options in implementing business automation.

Build

If you prefer to have complete control over the code and behavior of your automation solution, you may choose to build it from scratch. Building apps takes a great deal of time, resources, planning, expertise, and effort, and that’s with an established development team. Beyond development, you are also responsible for maintaining the code and supporting users year after year.

Automation platforms

Beyond building your own automation solutions, there are a number of third-party automation platforms you might want to consider. The right automation platform will provide your business with all of the necessary tools and resources to automate vital processes at scale, and can offer additional support when needed.

If you decide to invest in an automation platform, be aware that you have a wide range of choices, and not all provide the same level of service. As such, reading reviews, researching case studies, and—when possible—trying out demos and free-trial options can help you get a feel for what each is capable of.

With that in mind, here are the four main factors to consider when choosing an automation platform:

Scalability

As your business grows, you don’t want to have to find a new automation platform to support increased demand. A scalable automation platform will be able to grow with your business.

Flexibility

Your chosen automation platform should be able to fit the unique needs of your business. Finding a platform that is flexible enough to do exactly what you need it to do is absolutely essential.

Reliability

You have a lot riding on your automation solution, so your platform should be dependable. Frequent outages, unreliable support options, bugs, and other issues will tell you that you need to keep looking.

Usability

Not everyone in your business who uses the automation platform is, or should be, a developer. The platform you choose needs to be intuitive and user-friendly enough that everyone can build effective automations. Find a platform tailored towards citizen developers and well as professional developers.

Automation is revolutionizing how businesses handle tasks across all departments. As the technology continues to develop, we can expect further advances in the following areas:

  • Workflows and machine learning
    Machine learning is expanding the capabilities of AI software, and soon we can expect to see new advances in robotic process automation designed to learn from, and improve upon, workflows. This will be made possible thanks to predictive intelligence and data analytics.
  • Automated agents
    Intelligent, software-based chatbots have already become commonplace throughout a variety of industries. Automation is poised to build upon this advancement, allowing for completely automated agents, capable of identifying issues, workshopping solutions, and providing a positive customer experience with minimum human oversight.
  • Low-code/no-code agility
    As non-developers continue to effectively implement automation solutions, new low-code/no-code options will become more widespread. This will allow for increased automation accessibility across entire organizations.

Automation is an emerging technology that is poised to change the way you approach business tasks. And while it consists of a range of solutions providing a number of valuable services, at its heart, automation exists to give you more time and freedom to focus on strategy, innovation, and the customer experience. ServiceNow provides the tools, solutions, and platform you need, to help make the dream of powerful automation a reality.

Capabilities that scale with your business

The Now Platform includes core capabilities that enable you to quickly and efficiently digitize workflows and run them at scale.