Using Automation to do Big Things With a Small Team

Written by Brenna Lee on January 3, 2022

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The following article is associated with a JumpCloud webinar on automation tips and tricks for small IT teams, featuring JumpCloud’s own IT Support Manager Ryan Bacon and Senior IT Support Specialist Noah Rosen — moderated by Tim Warton, MSP Partner Manager. Watch the full webinar recording here.

According to SaplingHR, 88% of organizations don’t onboard well, and the biggest onboarding challenge is inconsistent application of the process. So, while IT teams spend copious amounts of time onboarding new hires, processes are not streamlined, set in stone, or adequate.

Onboarding new employees — specifically, provisioning access to IT resources — is an important yet time-consuming part of an IT admin’s role. Why is this? Typically the process entails first adding new hires into the HR system, and then connecting users to all of the resources they need to get their work done… manually. To add onto that, if each IT team member onboards differently, even if the differences are minimal, onboarding becomes fragmented, confusing, and frustrating for all involved.

However, there is an overarching solution to save IT admins time and resources during onboarding — the solution is to automate wherever and whenever you can. Without an onboarding automation strategy in place, IT may spend thousands of hours on error-prone, lengthy processes each year. Plus, with current turnover rates across many industries at record highs, a tedious onboarding process can have a lasting negative impact on your organization’s overall efficiency, scalability, and security. This means your bottom line, employee retention, and public trust may all take a hit.

In the webinar and this article, we’ll dive into the basics of automating onboarding processes, including where and when to start, the perks of automation, common tools, and how we use automation at JumpCloud®. The webinar also goes a few levels deeper into using scripts to automate processes as well as best practices for creating your own automation scripts.

Automating Onboarding: Where to Start

During onboarding, some tasks are not repetitive enough or require too much human interaction to be worth automating. Other tasks are so monotonous that you wish they’d been automated years ago. So, where do you start with automating onboarding processes?

Decide What to Automate

When deciding on a starting point for automating your onboarding tasks, begin here:

1. Make a list of manual onboarding processes and tasks you currently do, and group them by how repetitive they are.

Example: Every new user must be added to your core directory and provisioned resource access — create a user group policy to automatically add all new users within a certain department to a group that already has the proper access to resources provisioned to it.

2. Create a roadmap of how long you think it will take to create and implement an automation workflow compared to the time you currently spend on the same manual tasks. 

Example: You currently spend an average of two hours just getting an employee connected to the resources they need (devices, networks, applications, etc.) — if it takes a month to implement an automation to do all of this in 10 seconds — it seems more than worth it, but that also depends on how many people your team onboards in a year.

3. Look at the capabilities of the software and tools you already use — do they include any built-in automation features? Keep this in mind when assessing new tools as well.

Example: Slackbot — use it to auto-answer common questions in Slack.

4. Automate processes that you foresee growing in complexity and scale over time — this way you already have a foundation in place that can be built upon, saving IT future headaches.

Example: If you currently manually create accounts within each web app and resource a new user needs, consider using a directory solution like JumpCloud that allows you to quickly add a new user to the core directory and automatically connect them to virtually all of their IT resources. Then, when you add new IT resources, you can easily integrate them with the cloud directory and build on the automation you already created.

Decide When to Automate

After dissecting your existing onboarding practices and choosing the processes you are able to and want to automate, create a timeline for when the work to build them will occur. For some organizations, creating automation immediately is a great strategy, but for others, automating processes should wait until a certain event happens that “tips the scales” and makes the investment in automation a necessary action. This qualifying event can be anything from hiring 20 more employees to spending over an hour onboarding a single new hire. Once this event occurs, it’s time to start automating processes — having a specific event in place that triggers the automation process is essential for meeting your onboarding goals.

Automating a bunch of processes that aren’t frequently used in a brand new organization may not make much sense. However, once that organization establishes an onboarding foundation and begins to grow, automating common processes is a smart move. Consider what stage your organization is at, where you plan to go, and how much improvement automation can have on productivity, security, and your bottom line.

Consider the return on time investment involved — once a manual process is taking more time in a given cycle than it would take to automate that task, it’s time to automate! It might not be worth spending a week automating something that takes a person 30 seconds a month to do, but if that task instead takes 10 minutes each week and is growing in time, it’s probably worth automating. 

Further, consider how much automation can improve your processes — if you have manual tasks where elements continuously fall through the cracks, then automation can help patch up those holes. Even if automating processes like this doesn’t provide you with a huge time savings benefit, your organization’s accuracy, consistency, and security are all improved, making it worth the initial commitment.

The Perks of Automating the Onboarding Process

We already discussed some benefits of onboarding automation, which include improving your bottom line, employee retention, accuracy, security, efficiency, and productivity. Now, we’re going to dive into the primary perks of automation, which are:

  1. Substantial time savings for the IT department.
  2. Smoother scaling efforts.
  3. Improved security and compliance standing due to consistent and repeatable processes.

Time savings

Ask any IT team member about automation, and you’ll come out with a clear understanding of their goals, which include spending less time on menial tasks and more time on processes that need a human touch. The IT department is an integral part of any organization, and reducing the time IT admins spend onboarding new users frees them up to work on everything else on their plate.

Scalability

Organizations often take the route of throwing more people at a growing workload. However, this is not always a viable option due to resource and budget constraints, which makes automation unavoidable. In addition, growing headcount can create inefficiencies when the time needed to train, manage, and develop new staff takes more time than the manual processes did to begin with. 

Proper onboarding automation should create a dynamic that allows you to spend the same amount of time per week setting up 20 new users as it did 2. Work smarter, not harder. The goal is to take full advantage of your digital resources in lieu of running your IT team members ragged.

Security

In addition to reducing vulnerabilities that can occur through human error, automation can actually help obfuscate the process of onboarding new users, which is an important consideration. This can either be done via a tool with built-in automation capabilities, or through automated scripts that you create. 

Think about it this way: you’re much more likely these days to be working in a public place. If you are manually creating a new user, adding them to your directory, assigning them to groups, and adding them to each resource they need, those steps can potentially be observed or intercepted along the way. A better solution is to have automations set up within your directory to handle all of this with little to no human interaction or to have a script ready to run which handles these tasks automatically.

If someone happens to be looking over your shoulder, they won’t see any of the intricacies of a manual process; all they’ll see is you adding a new user’s basic information into your directory or HR system or executing a script. If the network you are currently working from is insecure, or your machine has been silently compromised, these individual steps could be monitored and data possibly leaked. On top of securing information and processes, properly designed automation is much easier to audit compared to manual processes. Automation creates consistency and makes evidence easy to pull whether you use scripts or off-the-shelf tools.

Common Automation Tools

While some people think of scripts when they hear automation, many others think of tools that you can purchase that require less technical expertise. When it comes to products, anything that reduces the number of human touches in a process counts as automation. Modern directories do this quite well — the JumpCloud Directory Platform specifically uses policies in conjunction with user groups, device groups, and more to create a seamless onboarding experience for admins and users. 

Other tools that many organizations find useful are ones that provide automated replies. Whether you want auto replies via email, your help desk, or your chat tool, there are plenty of products out there that allow for that. In email, you can use plugins or apps that generate auto replies or alerts, many help desk tools also include auto answer features that you can set up, and chat tools like Slack include a bot that can send out auto replies. Utilizing these features can help streamline the onboarding process as simple but repetitive questions arise, and they’re helpful to have in place in general, even past the onboarding process.

How We Use Onboarding Automation at JumpCloud

Here at JumpCloud, we have developed a single PowerShell script that makes the technical part of new hire onboarding and provisioning almost completely automated. We add new hires to a spreadsheet that includes their name, department, role, team, start date, and system serial number. Then, we run the script which creates an identity (username, password, and email address), assigns that identity to the proper groups, gives access to resources, and binds the user to their system. After that, security access requests are generated for the security team to approve to ensure compliance is maintained.

All of this is done via a single command, freeing up massive amounts of time for IT. Feel free to use this as a jumping off point for your own automations. If you don’t plan on using scripts, you can still automate many processes by simply using the JumpCloud Directory Platform. After you initially set up groups and policies, adding new users and provisioning the right access to them will be a breeze.

Learn More About Automating With JumpCloud

Our onboarding automation webinar goes into more detail on using JumpCloud for automation, how we have automated our own onboarding process, and scripting best practices.

JumpCloud

Doing Big Things With a Small Team: Automation Tips & Tricks

Brenna Lee

Brenna is an SEO Content Writer at JumpCloud that loves learning about and immersing herself in new technologies. Outside of the [remote] office, she loves traveling and exploring the outdoors!

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