What ITIL 4 means for AI and automation in IT service management

Eight years in technology time is equivalent to decades, it seems, now that digital transformation is driving lightning-speed change. So, it was high time to release a new version of ITIL, which was last updated in 2011. There are a lot of questions about what the forthcoming publication, ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 edition, has to say about the many changes that have taken place in IT service management (ITSM) since the last update. This includes delivery models like cloud and new approaches like DevOps.

IT professionals will view the updated ITIL 4 approach through many lenses. Some people will be interested in the replacement of the ITIL service lifecycle with the ITIL service value chain. Others might be interested in the detail of new approaches to incident management. But one of the most important aspects of ITIL 4 is the call-out of automation.

This includes the use of different technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI) – to automate tasks that were previously manual (or even to introduce capabilities that were previously too difficult, if not impossible, without automated assistance).

Let’s take a closer look at the focus on automation that’s inherent within the new ITIL 4 publication.

Using automation in ITSM

For most ITSM professionals, automation is nothing new. But, in some ways, ITSM pros could be accused of succumbing to the “shoemaker’s children go barefoot” effect – where they’re too busy providing shoes (that is, automation) to others to sufficiently see to their own organisations’ needs.

To be sure, ITSM ecosystems currently use many automation-based capabilities, from workflow automation (and everything that comes with this in ITSM tools) through discrete automated capabilities such as password reset to the use of orchestration—maybe via third-party tools—to automate repetitive infrastructure tasks.

Even so, still greater automation of ITSM practices is possible, which would result in significant benefits. For instance, much of the IT industry has already grabbed automated cloud management capabilities with both hands. The automated elements of DevOps, and the overlaps with the cloud, have also been widely embraced.

Today, ITSM has the opportunity to continue automating what has traditionally been high-volume, low-value ITSM and IT support tasks. AI and automation can continue to reduce manual effort. This leads to:

  • Fewer human errors – though AI and automation can still make wrong decisions based on what’s known, it will perform better than its human equivalents
  • Faster speed of execution – AI and automation work at a far quicker pace than people
  • Lower operational costs – whereas AI and automation are not only quicker and more available, it’s also cheaper relative to the human labor that would otherwise be needed
  • Increased availability of service and support – the AI and automation provide 24×7 availability
  • Better employee experience – AI and automation provide higher availability, faster speed and better outcomes

The role of AI in ITSM

The ITSM industry spent much of 2018 looking at how a new wave of technological capabilities could help to improve IT service delivery and support. Example use-case scenarios are gaining traction with ITSM tool vendors and their customers, including:

  • Initial ticket processing – from categorising tickets through prioritisation to resolution-group assignment
  • Digital agents (also called virtual assistants, cognitive assistants, digital colleagues, bots, chatbots and more) – bringing dynamically delivered self-help to those who need assistance
  • Analytics – using the artificial intelligence technology to better understand large data sets
  • Context-based information and knowledge – to both end users and IT support staff for swifter resolution

Organisations today have the great opportunity to change the way that work is automated in ITSM by using these and other AI-enabled capabilities. This will make work easier for everyone.
AI and automation in ITIL 4.

The new ITIL 4 Foundation builds on the nine guiding principles first shared in the 2016 ITIL publication “Practitioner Guidance.” These nine principles have morphed into seven, and it’s here that the ITIL 4 focus on the need for greater automation appears:

  • Focus on value
  • Start where you are
  • Progress iteratively with feedback
  • Collaborate and promote visibility
  • Think and work holistically
  • Keep it simple and practical
  • Optimise and automate

The seventh principle – optimise and automate – is brand new for ITIL 4.

Principle 7

This is how ITIL 4 describes the “optimise and automate” guiding principle: “Resources of all types, particularly human resources (HR), should be used to their best effect. Eliminate anything that is truly wasteful and use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of. Human intervention should only happen where it really contributes value.”

This comment goes further than advocating for automation; it also suggests there’s a need for more than traditional “heavy lifting” automation. Thanks to the inclusion of “use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of” the more astute reader will also think of the potential of AI to improve IT service delivery and support operations and outcomes. With this including the “heavy thinking” through AI as well as the “heavy lifting” through both automation and AI.

Beyond Principle 7

Within the wider ITIL 4 Foundation book, both AI and automation are repeatedly referred to. But don’t expect the ITIL 4 Foundation book to have all the answers when it comes to how AI and automation can be used and how best to adopt it – this simply isn’t what the ITIL 4 Foundation book is aimed at. It never has been and probably never will be. However, the new seventh principle is a good beginning toward acknowledging the need for more AI and automation in ITSM. This will free highly skilled ITSM professionals to pursue higher-value and more satisfying work.

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