We all need to automate more

A common challenge today many business, including IT resellers, face is the lack of suitably qualified staff. There seems little doubt this situation will continue for an extended period due to various reasons. However, I believe the situation has been greatly exacerbated by many businesses failing to truly embrace the power of automation, especially IT automation, in their business.

A common process I see in many businesses undertake is simply adding more technology without the drive for improved effectiveness. Many business seem to add more technology because they ‘believe’ it will make them more effective. However, unless there is a plan and desire to become more effective it rarely happens. In reality what happens is, they become less effective, as technology systems add increased burdens, costs and demand more resources. In many cases, they make things far worse and introduce more inefficiencies due to complexity and a lack of integration.

If you take a step back and look at the wider picture here, it was a common belief that computers and technology systems in general would remove the mundane burden of repetitive and undesired work in our society. However, if you look around today most people and businesses are far more stressed, are far more ‘time poor’ than they have even been and yet we have all this wonderful and powerful technology at our finger tips. We carry super computers in our pocket, but when was the last time everyone turned up to a meeting on time?

One of the reasons I suggest is that fact that most are merely using the ‘system default’ configuration that comes with any technology. They don’t invest in learning and exploring how to make the technology work best for them. Technology developers can only supply their products with a single configuration that ‘hopefully’ suits most users. That is rarely the case. Unfortunately, merely ‘accepting the defaults’ leads to inefficiencies which leads to being more time poor, which leads to less time being available to learn and optimise technology, which leads to merely ‘accepting the defaults’…. and so on through an ever more inefficient spiral.

Another reason is the fact that today we live a very much ‘now’ society. People don’t want to wait. They want instant gratifications. The days of investing for the long term no longer take primacy, which is strange, given that things like compound interest have been referred to by some pretty smart people as the eighth wonder of the world.

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”

― Albert Einstein

Unfortunately, this fallacy of constant technology efficiency is unlikely to change. I would actually contend that it is, in fact, only going to accelerate. That, however, does present an opportunity for those who are prepared to invest some time and truly take advantage of what things like automation can achieve.

I like to think of technology automation along a spectrum. In the past, we have had things like scripting such as PowerShell that provides a huge mount of leverage. You can write a PowerShell script to do just about anything in the Microsoft environment these days. It allows a single person to obtain a consistent result once it has been developed. The problem is however, someone still needs to run that script. If an IT reseller is managing an environment for a customer, that customer can’t run the script themselves, they need to get the IT reseller to run that script. That is still not as efficient as it could be. It also centralises the power of automation, placing it in the hands of a small, technically savvy audience.

Next on this spectrum is the automation we see today in technologies like the Power Platform that allow an army of citizen developers to easily create ‘low-code’ solutions for business challenges. This means that most customers using Microsoft 365 have this capability. You can also see Microsoft raising the awareness of this audience to the possibilities without the need for dependencies on IT resellers to run these automation processes. Sure, they solutions developed by ‘citizen developers’ may not be as elegant as those created by a skilled developer, but does that really matter any more if it gets the job done? A growing army of people entering the workplace are ‘digitally native’ and more than willing to ‘try’ technology. By doing so, using the Power Platform, they are not only solving business challenges but they are increasing their own skill and career value.

Where I think we are going is to a world where automation are wrapped up inside a bot or something like Power Virtual Agents. Recently, I wrote this article:

Automated user tenant access control

In essence, it allows you to control when users can login to a Microsoft 365 tenant. Even thought this solution was created using Power Automate, it still needs someone to execute it if perhaps you wanted to use it when an employee goes on leave. The friction is much lower than using a PowerShell script, but it still could be better.

Think about wrapping this tenant access control solution inside a Power Virtual Agent bot and having that published to a channel in Teams. Then, when a user wants to take leave, they converse with the bot for approvals as well as automating the process of denying access while they are away. The bot can ensure that all the correct information is collected and correct processes are followed and documented, every time! Most importantly, this puts the power of automation in the hands of the people that use it. Using a bot, it does this in a friendly a conversational manner. It doesn’t introduce IT complexity to scare the end user away from actually using it. There are lots and lots of benefits.

The good news is that there are already lots of automation options you can take advantage of. The bad news is that you are unlikely to using them enough in your business. A modern approach to staff shortages shouldn’t be ‘where do I get good staff’. Instead, it should be ‘how can I automate more to reduce that dependency’.

Without doubt, the best place to start for most ‘non-IT’ types is the Power Platform in Microsoft 365. Yes, there is an upfront investment to be made, but like compound interest it will produce significant returns over time.

There are real opportunities for smart businesses to leverage the automation capabilities already inside most systems today. These are available to all but the smart ones will take them, implement and transform their impact on the market and their own businesses. Let’s put technology to work to do thing it supposed to do. That is, to make our lives easier and better, not simply as adding more that we don’t need. Simplicity is truly the effectiveness superpower.

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