In ITIL, a standard change is one that is preauthorized, low risk, relatively common, and follows a procedure or work instruction. Successful infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders know that standard changes reduce the risks of automation while improving quality and cutting costs.
Standard changes reduce the risks of frequent changes as you gain cost reductions, quality improvements, and transformation benefits. Smart I&O leaders know that you can only automate what you understand. Since standard changes are defined activities used in response to specific events, they are actually “automation templates.” Positioning standard changes as automation on-ramps requires validating and optimizing cross-process workflow, especially in response to user requests. This is required even more with PaaS and DevOps. Success with standard changes also requires recording and evaluating usage, successes, and failures. For these reasons, your change management process should administer standard changes. Using standard changes shows opportunities for automation and reduces risks at the same time. Standard changes can free your resources for other strategic tasks as they reduce costs and improve service quality and customer satisfaction. The path to automation that enhances business agility, transformation, and revenue growth passes through change management and starts with standard changes.
- Effective automation means change. Automating complex tasks involving changes to applications has higher risks and rewards than simple automation, such as a security scan. This risk often holds back automation. Standard changes are preapproved changes that follow defined instructions in response to common situations. Standard changes are often complex, and they enforce consistency, resulting in less variability and higher quality. They free your resources for initiatives, and they capture and maintain the management information needed to meet compliance and other regulations. If you manage them well, they can prepare you for more frequent application software releases found in DevOps.
- Standard changes reduce risk. Standard changes deliver their full potential when you focus on automation. Our research shows that the most successful service management teams implement standard changes, manage them, and use them as automation templates. However, this approach makes it vital that your staff records every instance of use and documents results. Management must compare success rates and intervene as required. Unmanaged standard changes can cause staff to stop using them and you to miss chances for automation.
- Change Management is your automation on-ramp. Standard changes can improve your responsiveness and consistency, stabilizing your IT service quality. By creating a standard change, you start the process of automation and its mechanical implementation. Running a standard change “manually” for a period helps you “tune it” and gives you time to evaluate its risks and rewards as you consider it for automation. Focusing on customer, business, or revenue improvements through self-service automation often offers you the highest return on investment (ROI).
What do you need to do?
- Evaluate your current approach to both standard changes and automation. While most I&Os have some form of automation and standard change (even if by another name), their success arises from management and integration. Your answers to the following questions can help guide your actions:
- Do you have a formal process to create standard changes? Does staff using standard changes understand the policy for usage? Can managers show you evaluations of standard changes used in his or her area? Does change management review standard changes for effectiveness and compliance regularly? Can (and do) responsible managers suggest candidates for automation?
- How do automation projects arise today? Is the current goal of your automation efforts focused on small, repetitive tasks and monitoring or on large jobs like self-fulfillment and employee onboarding? Do you track the value of automation? Does change management play a role in the evaluation of automation results?
- Investigate using standard changes to drive automation. Start by identifying managers who are using standard changes (by any name) or automation (in any form) in ways that align with this brief and highlight their successes. Ensure staff members using standard changes understand the importance of documenting use, success, and failure. This may require modifications to supervisory control systems.
- Benchmark current capabilities. Assess management knowledge relating to change management and standard changes. Standard changes can require new processes, tools, and skills. Work with managers to establish critical success factors (CFS) and key performance indicators (KPI) around four areas:
- Percent of changes that are standard changes
- Success ratio for standard changes
- Percentage of standard changes that convert to automation
- Percentage of automation that is for DevOps or automating software releases
- Excite and incent your team with the possibility of standard changes as a path to automation. Standard changes are often back-to-back with service requests, so be sure to engage other I&O processes and functions. You should assign accountability for standard changes to change management and give each functional manager responsibility for standard changes used in his or her area. Set goals for each manager to identify opportunities for creating standard changes and to evolve appropriate standard changes into automation and then into self-service, if possible. Ensure the goals describe the customer, business, or revenue improvement expected.