Automation Without Transformation Is Pointless

To get true business value from automation, you must pair it with a cultural shift that enables transformative results

Milind Wagle
Nicole Collins
Automation Without Transformation Is Pointless

The acceleration of digital transformation initiatives has put IT teams in a unique position: Since digital technology now plays a key role in essentially every business process, IT teams now have end-to-end visibility into everything the business does. This could include everything from the most basic backend tasks that are just about “keeping the lights on,” all the way up to the most advanced customer-facing applications that improve user experience and drive new revenue opportunities.

The visibility IT teams now have into business operations makes them well-positioned to drive transformative change that increases business value and sets the organization up for long-term success.

Automation is one example of a strategy IT can implement to drive greater business value throughout the organization. At a time when budgets are getting tighter and teams are increasingly asked to “do more with less”, automating repetitive, low-value tasks should be a no-brainer. Automation allows you to quickly scale up the skills, experience and impact of the people you already have.

When employees are freed from performing manual tasks such as filling out paperwork and running one-off reports, they can focus more on serving customers better, and ultimately unlock new business value. In addition, automation can help business users make more informed decisions quicker and remove the potential for costly human error in critical operations.

Automation and transformation depend on each other

It’s easy to see why there’s so much excitement around automation in enterprise settings. However, it’s important to remember that there’s no value in pursuing automation solely for its own sake. You can’t just stack automation on top of your current processes and call it a day. If all you’re doing is automating bad processes, then you’ll only end up making those bad processes run faster.

Automation is a means to an end, and that end is digital transformation. To drive true business value, you must formulate your automation strategy to ensure it supports your digital transformation goals. This means not only implementing the automation technology itself, but also undertaking a cultural shift to ensure you’re ready to use it to its full potential.

Digital transformation shouldn’t be solely the realm of the CIO’s office; to be successful, it must take place in a cross-functional manner. At Equinix, the IT function and the business transformation function are tightly aligned with one another to help drive our company-wide automation strategy forward.

Business leaders must strive to understand exactly what customers want and constantly reshape the organization to better provide it. Examples of how Equinix is using automation to drive better results for our customers include:

  • Automating notifications to remind customers to clean their data center cages properly and comply with safety policies. This keeps customers informed about how to protect their equipment and maximize energy efficiency.
  • Automating interconnection opportunity maps. These allow our customers to maximize the value proposition from Platform Equinix® and make the most of our robust, global network.
  • Automating resolution of air leakage incidents. Indirectly contributing to our sustainability goals, this automation has brought down resolution time by 86% (115 days to 16 days), leading to power usage effectiveness (PUE) improvements.
  • Automating customer care ticket routing and resolution. We are now able to analyze and classify customer service emails, streamlining our reach and customer experience.
  • Automating testing in our quote-to-cash processes. This helps eliminate manual quality assurance processes and shrinks our release cycles for applications and upgrades.

Enabling the future of work with automation

Read just about any business publication these days, and you’re sure to see headlines about how work as we know it is changing. A lot of this can be explained by new technologies—including automation—driving changes in how people work, but there are clear shifts happening in where and when people work as well. Examples include a greater preference for hybrid or fully remote work schedules in the aftermath of the global pandemic.

Transformation leaders need to get proactive about communicating the organization’s strategy for the future of work, and what role automation will play within it. This should include the why of work; that is, why should experienced, knowledgeable employees choose to work for your company when they have so many other options available to them? Specifically, how can you apply automation to help create a company culture that drives greater employee satisfaction and engagement?

One example of how we’re striving to do this at Equinix is E-Bot, our AI-powered employee chatbot. Employees can interact with this digital assistant to get answers to their IT questions and resolve issues without needing to work with a human help-desk representative. Today, E-Bot resolves 43% of all employee help-desk tickets for the company. Employees can interact with E-Bot from anywhere, at any time; this helps us provide the kind of flexible work environment today’s employees expect. We also like to think it makes employees’ lives just a little bit easier.

Further examples of how Equinix is using automation to optimize our operations and support our employees include:

  • Automating employee background checks. This saves time and prevents rework for our HR team.
  • Automating the cross-function procurement process. This simplifies the process of gathering the needed approvals and helps complete requisitions and invoices much quicker.

While we’re thrilled with the success our automation strategy has driven so far, we understand that digital transformation requires constant iteration and improvement. We’ll never stop looking for new opportunities to improve our processes and our employee experience.

Helping employees help themselves

Another key aspect driving the future of work is the democratization of tech skills. Business users are increasingly taking a hands-on role in things that were once the sole purview of IT—including automation. The growing prevalence of low-code and no-code platforms means business users can now build their own automation tools.

Business users have first-hand knowledge of how automation could solve the challenges they face, so it only makes sense that they should help implement the solution. Business users can now build the exact automations they need to eliminate manual processes from their job responsibilities faster than ever before.

In the past, many organizations have been threatened by shadow IT—business users bypassing IT to solve their own technology problems—because it could lead to inconsistency, complexity and other sources of risk. While we at Equinix wholeheartedly embrace the idea of citizen IT—empowering employees with self-service options—we also advocate a standardized framework to ensure a secure and consistent approach.

Simply allowing all employees to do whatever they want would lead to a random, scattershot approach to automation. We believe that this inconsistency would show up in our customer interactions, ultimately leading to a frustrating user experience. This is why we feel it’s so important for our automation strategy to include elements of structured architecture governance. This means the IT team is responsible for building frameworks that control what kinds of processes should be automated (and how) and ensure that sensitive data sets aren’t placed at risk during the process.

We also offer an automation intake form where employees can submit ideas to be reviewed by an automation council made up of relevant SMEs. With this form, we hope to encourage wider adoption of automation tools company-wide, while also ensuring a standardized approach. After an employee submits the intake form, the automation council reviews the request and works alongside the employee to build and deploy the new automation workflow.

Managing the cultural shift

In any organization, employees are the ones who feel the transformative impact of automation the most. Business leaders often make the mistake of assuming that employees understand the benefits of automation and will thus be excited by the prospect of automation-driven transformation. However, change in any form can be difficult, which is why any good automation strategy needs effective employee communication and enablement. This is part of what we mean when we say that adopting automation requires both a technological shift and a cultural shift.

For one thing, what makes automation so exciting is the speed at which it allows the organization to transform. This includes identifying new opportunities for improvement quickly and rapidly executing those improvements by removing any slow, manual steps. However, this level of speed may be uncomfortable for some employees at first, especially for processes where they’re accustomed to working with other humans instead of automated tools.

Getting employees comfortable with speed won’t be easy. Start by offering employees as much transparency as possible about:

  • What processes are changing and why
  • How the changes will impact their day-to-day work
  • How the changes will ultimately be for the best
  • How you’ll evaluate the success of your automation strategy over time, and make updates as needed

Equinix is automating digital infrastructure to maximize value for customers

At Equinix, we’re not just automating our own internal processes; we’re also automating the digital infrastructure services that we offer to our customers. As the world’s digital infrastructure company™, we know our customers want it to be as simple as possible to buy, implement and manage the digital infrastructure services they need. Automating digital infrastructure helps us provide this kind of streamlined, self-service experience.

The Equinix Customer Portal allows customers to change their digital infrastructure without having to work directly with an Equinix employee. This capability helps give our customers the agility and flexibility they need to optimize their own digital transformation initiatives.

For a closer look at how Equinix is building the future of digital infrastructure to support automation and other transformative technologies, read the Platform Equinix vision paper today.


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