5 Mistakes to Avoid with Self-Service Automation

Self-service automation is becoming more of the norm rather than the exception. In fact, a recent survey by SDI found that 61% of businesses were focusing on some type of self-service initiative (up from 47% in 2015). And it’s not only for making your customers’ lives easier. Many organizations are realizing the benefits of providing self-service options to employees to eliminate the need for many of the common issues plaguing the help desk, such as password resets and system refreshes. If you’re thinking about jumping on the bandwagon, here are a few common mistakes you should actively avoid.

Inadequate Communication – If you want your employees to adopt and embrace self-service technology, you have to ensure that they understand its many benefits. This is particularly important for your IT team, some of whom may feel uneasy or even threatened by the thought of automated technology handling some of their tasks. Gain acceptance and buy-in by communicating how self-service options will actually make the lives and jobs of everyone easier and more efficient.

Lack of Knowledge – What types of activities can you – and more importantly – should you be transitioning over to self-service? Many otherwise savvy IT decision makers rush into self-service implementation before they truly have a good understanding of what tasks are most beneficial to automate. Take time to learn about what your IT team is bogged down by and also what areas the end-user might not only benefit from, but actually appreciate the ability to handle things on their own.

Not Choosing a Tool Carefully – Not all self-service automation platforms are created equal and if you don’t carefully and thoroughly do your homework, you could end up with a less-than-ideal result. Not only does implementing a faulty tool mean more headaches for your IT department, but the frustration of everyone who has to use it will ultimately lead to disengagement, resistance and/or complete lack of adoption. Make sure the platform you choose is robust, user-friendly and versatile enough to handle both full and semi-automation needs.

Setting and Forgetting It – Like anything else in technology, self-service automation isn’t something that you can simply put in place and never think about again. Not only is it important to keep up to date from a tech standpoint, but it’s equally important to ensure that the system you have in place remains as effective as possible. Conducting regular audits of both the IT department and the end-users can help you determine whether new tasks could be automated or if existing ones could use some tweaking.

Forgetting the Intangibles – Last but not least, maintaining an environment in which self-service automation is embraced and celebrated involves regular assessment and selling of the many benefits this technology provides. When calculating ROI, don’t forget to also consider the intangible ways self-service is good for your organization, particularly how it allows IT to improve its meaningful contribution to the organization. That is a value that can and should be recognized across the board.

What could self-service automation do for your company? Why not find out today by starting your free 30 day trial of Ayehu. No obligation, just enhanced efficiency and better overall operations. Get your free trial now by clicking here!

Understanding the Stages of Automation

Every organization reaches a point (or several points) at which auditing and updating applications and business systems becomes necessary. Whether your company is currently at that junction or it will be coming down the road, it’s imperative that you use this opportunity to explore the power of intelligent process automation. From streamlining repetitive tasks to deploying AI-powered virtual support agents to perform complex end-to-end IT workflows, automation can skyrocket productivity and efficiency.

All this being said, there are a significant number of automation solutions available on the market today, all of which are not created equal. Decision-makers must educate themselves on the various levels and capabilities of automation. Let’s take a closer look at these levels below.

Simple Automated Tasks

The most basic level of process automation that exists presently involves simple tasks which are triggered by basic “if, then” actions. This type of entry-level automation has been around for decades and can (and should) be applied to all business functions.

IT teams specifically can use basic automation to create simple triggers, such as activating network changes whenever traffic thresholds are met or exceeded. Simple process automation is also capable of being integrated with other tools to create a more robust system. For instance, a monitoring system like Solarwinds can be integrated with an ITPA platform so that alerts trigger end-to-end automated workflows.

Chatbots and Self-Service Automation

The next phase in the process automation lifecycle is that of self-service automation, most of which is handled by chatbots. With this type of automation, an end-user can initiate a support ticket for basic needs, such as password resets. The automated bot is pre-programmed to respond to certain triggers in the interface and perform the requested action without the need for intervention from a human agent.

Self-service automation is valuable because it saves time, both for the end-user as well as the IT support team, thus facilitating a much higher degree of productivity across the board. It does, however, lack in the way of context. In other words, chatbots are only capable of understanding basic commands and following pre-determined decision pathways. They cannot interpret meaning or context.

Cognitive Intelligent Process Automation

This phase of automation takes the concept of chatbots to the next level by introducing advanced technologies, like artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing into the mix. Unlike basic self-service automation, virtual support agents (VSAs) are capable of understanding context in communication with an end-user and delivering intelligent responses based on automated research. They are also capable of learning, making their own decisions and executing complex tasks.

It’s important to note that in order to be effective, intelligent process automation must be built upon the foundation of a strong and accurate knowledge-base, as it is this data from which the tool will pull its answers.

The Next Wave of Intelligent Process Automation

What does the future hold for automation? Tomorrow’s (and to some degree already, today’s) business environment will feature on-demand, shared services that facilitate end-to-end operations and enable automation of even the most complex business processes. Thanks to ever-improving artificial intelligence technology, platforms will not only be able to learn and evolve from user interactions and human input, but eventually identify and create newer and better processes for even more streamlined operations.

The good news is, you don’t have to settle for basic automation, nor do you have to wait for the future to witness the power of cognitive intelligent process automation. In fact, you can experience it firsthand today by downloading your free 30-day trial of Ayehu NG.

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3 Ways Intelligent Automation is Outpacing Outsourcing

The subject of IT outsourcing has long been one of staunch debate over the past few decades or so. It seemed that with the increasing use of cloud computing, having IT operations managed elsewhere would become the norm rather than the exception. Yet, there’s one thing that is now giving outsourcing a run for its money and making the need for it nearly obsolete. That thing is intelligent automation, and here’s why it’s tipped the world of outsourcing on its side.

While the concept of outsourcing may not be disappearing completely, the need for it – particularly in the IT industry – seems to be shrinking. The reason is simple, really. Intelligent automation has provided a solution to each of the main reasons organizations turned to outsourcing in the first place.

Cost – For small to medium sized businesses, the costs associated with managing IT operations in-house were simply too high to justify. Instead, they turned to outside sources to provide these services, reducing expenditure. Automation makes managing IT operations internally much more affordable, so there’s really no need to rely on a third party provider.

Scalability – Another common reason businesses choose to outsource is the ability of these services to evolve along with the changing needs and demands of the business – something managing IT in-house couldn’t easily accomplish in years past. With intelligent automation, however, businesses can scale up or down at the click of a button – far faster than any third-party outsourced solution to could ever do.

Resources – Finally, there is the topic of logistics. Housing IT internally once meant the need for bulky and complex equipment, something that many smaller to mid-sized organizations simply could not accommodate. Intelligent automation, combined with cloud technology, eliminates this need, streamlining IT and making it simple to manage in an office of any size.

Essentially, intelligent automation is enabling enterprises of any size to do more with less. No longer is it necessary to employ a huge group of professionals to manage IT operations. Rather, the day to day IT tasks needed to keep the business running smoothly can be handled by just a handful of people. Now, what once made sense both financially and logistically – outsourcing –  is becoming more of a hassle than it’s worth.

As we’ve pointed out in previous articles, there are many benefits to keeping IT operations in-house. These advantages include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased control over procedures and processes
  • Enhanced security due to limiting access to only internal employees
  • Improved flexibility and customization (unique to each organization’s specific needs)
  • Time savings – no more relying on a third party
  • More cost-effective option than outsourcing to an MSP

For those businesses that choose to continue outsourcing their IT needs, automation will likely still play a significant role, as IT service providers leverage automation to deliver timely, precise and efficient results to their clients. So, either way automation will impact your business in some way, even if that impact is indirect.

In any event, as technology continues to evolve, it’s becoming more and more evident that the decision to outsource IT operations will be an increasingly complicated one. Overall, the trends indicate that automation will ultimately win the battle and provide businesses of all shapes, sizes and industries the ability to run efficient, effective internal IT departments.

Want to start harnessing the power of IT process automation for your own organization? Begin your free 30 day trial today by clicking here.
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Still need a reason to automate your IT processes? Here are six.

These days more and more businesses are adopting intelligent automation to help streamline operations, improve efficiency, boost service levels, cut costs and more. And while the overall goals and objectives of each organization may differ, sometimes to a great degree, there are a number of universal reasons that key decision makers cite for why they ultimately opted to automate their IT processes. If you’re still on the fence, here are 6 key advantages to consider.

Automation of Repetitive Maintenance Procedures – Every IT department has its own fair share of routine processes and procedures that must be performed to ensure that operations continue to run as smoothly as possible for everyone within the organization. Unfortunately, many of these IT processes are highly redundant, such as checking disk space, system restarts, monitoring log files, resetting passwords and managing user profiles. All of these things can and should be shifted to automation.

Enhanced Incident Management – Incident management is one of the most frequently automated and subsequently optimized IT processes. Businesses are under constant threat and it’s become increasingly clear that the human workforce simply cannot keep up. By automating the incident monitoring, response and remediation process, the entire operation maintains a greater degree of accuracy and security.

Reduction of Errors and False Positives – IT personnel are constantly being inundated with incoming requests and, as a result, are often bogged down putting out fires and chasing their tails. This heavy volume of work coupled with the increasing demands can dramatically increase the amount of costly errors committed. Incorporating automation as a central part of critical IT processes can dramatically reduce errors and also eliminate time-consuming false positives.

Empower Skilled Employees – Automating basic, routine and repetitive IT processes is something everyone in the department can benefit from. IT leaders can focus their valuable skills and experience on more complex, mission-critical business initiatives and front-line IT workers are empowered to resolve issues without the need to escalate to management.

Integrate Disparate Systems, Programs and Applications – Maintaining a plethora of different systems, apps and programs is a very inefficient and ineffective way to do business. In many cases, these silos actually work against, rather than with, each other, further hindering operational efficiency. The right automation tool can effectively integrate with these legacy platforms to create a more connected, cohesive and collaborative interdepartmental environment.

Establishment of Documented Best Practices – The very nature of IT automation is that it creates and maintains a series of consistent, repeatable (and therefore often predictable) patterns and processes. It also provides visibility, insight and the ability to identify, establish, document and hone best practices for improved operations moving forward.

Could your organization benefit from any of these basic advantages of automation? Find out today by starting your free 30 day trial of Ayehu NG.

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Your Top Artificial Intelligence Adoption Questions, Answered

According to Gartner, the number of organizations implementing some type of artificial intelligence (i.e. machine learning, deep learning and automation) has grown by 270% over the past four years. One big reason for this boost is the fact that executives and decision makers are beginning to recognize the value that these innovative technologies present.

That’s not to say they’re all on board. Are CEOs getting savvier about AI? Yes. Do they still have questions? Also yes – particularly as it relates to the adoption/deployment process. Let’s take a look at a few of the top questions and answers surrounding the topic of artificial intelligence below, along with some practical advice for getting started.

Is a business case necessary for AI?

Most AI projects are viewed as a success when they further an overarching, predefined goal, when they support the existing culture, when they produce something that the competition hasn’t and when they are rolled out in increments. At the end of the day, it’s really all about perspective. For some, AI is viewed as disruptive and innovative. For others, it might represent the culmination of previous efforts that have laid a foundation.

To answer this question, examine other strategic projects within the company. Did they require business cases? If so, determine whether your AI initiative should follow suit or whether it should be standalone. Likewise, if business cases are typically necessary in order to justify capital expenditure, one may be necessary for AI. Ultimately, you should determine exactly what will happen in the absence of a business case. Will there be a delay in funding? Will there be certain sacrifices?

Should we adopt an external solution or should we code from scratch?

For some companies, artificial intelligence adoption came at the hands of dedicated developers and engineers tirelessly writing custom code. These days, such an effort isn’t really necessary. The problem is, many executives romanticize the process, conveniently forgetting that working from scratch also involves other time-intensive activities, like market research, development planning, data knowledge and training (just to name a few). All of these things can actually delay AI delivery.

Utilizing a pre-packaged solution, on the other hand, can shave weeks or even months off the development timeline, accelerating productivity and boosting time-to-value. To determine which option is right for your organization, start by defining budget and success metrics. You should also carefully assess the current skill level of your IT staff. If human resources are scarce or if time is of the essence, opting for a ready-made solution probably makes the most sense (as it does in most cases).

What kind of reporting structure are we looking at for the AI team?

Another thing that’s always top-of-mind with executives is organizational issues, specifically as they relate to driving growth and maximizing efficiencies. But while this question may not be new, the answer just might be. Some managers may advocate for a formal data science team while others may expect AI to fall under the umbrella of the existing data center-of-excellence (COE).

The truth is, the positioning of AI will ultimately depend on current practices as well as overarching needs and goals. For example, one company might designate a small group of customer service agents to spearhead a chatbot project while another organization might consider AI more of an enterprise service and, as such, designate machine learning developers and statisticians into a separate team that reports directly to the CIO. It all comes down to what works for your business.

To determine the answer to this question, first figure out how competitively differentiating the expected outcome should be. In other words, if the AI effort is viewed as strategic, it might make sense to form a team of developers and subject matter experts with its own headcount and budget. On a lesser scale, siphoning resources from existing teams and projects might suffice. You should also ask what internal skills are currently available and whether it would be wiser to hire externally.

Practical advice for organizations just getting started with AI:

Being successful with AI requires a bit of a balancing act. On one hand, if you are new to artificial intelligence, you want to be cautious about deviating from the status quo. On the other hand, positioning the technology as evolutionary and disruptive (which it certainly is) can be a true game-changer.

In either case, the most critical measures for AI success include setting appropriate and accurate expectations, communicating them continuously and addressing questions and concerns with swiftness and transparency.

A few more considerations:

  • Develop a high-level delivery schedule and do your best to adhere to it.
  • Execution matters, so be sure you’re actually building something and be clear about your plan of delivery.
  • Help others envision the benefits. Does AI promise significant cost reductions? Competitive advantage? Greater brand awareness? Figure out those hot buttons and press them. Often.
  • Explain enough to illustrate in the goal. Avoid vagueness and ambiguity.

Today’s organizations are getting serious about AI in a way we’ve never seen before. The better your team of decision makers understands about how and why it will be rolled out and leveraged, the better your chances of successfully delivering on that value, both now and in the future.

Need Scalability? Intelligent Automation is the Answer

Imagine how much your company could accomplish if you had a veritable army of employees at your disposal. More importantly, what if these employees were perfectly happy waiting in the background for the next time you needed them? Believe it or not, that’s precisely what you’ll get with intelligent automation. Let’s take a look at the surprising way artificial intelligence can provide your business with the scalability you need to stay on top of your game.

Instant Access

With human workers, it’s not feasible to dramatically increase your workforce whenever the need arises, nor is it easy to decrease your numbers when things get slow. There’s a complicated process behind all of this and time is not on your side. With intelligent automation, however, you have a team of robots who are ready, willing and able to get the job done at any given moment.

Consistency

Bringing different employees up to speed via on-boarding and training can be challenging and time-consuming, especially in today’s fast-paced, digital age. Not to mention the fact that you have to initiate the entire process over again every time someone new joins the team. Robots, on the other hand, can be “trained” in groups of any size with the outcome being routine and perfect consistency across the board.

Cost Savings

Recruiting, hiring, training and retaining talented employees costs money. In addition to intelligent automation providing the ability to scale up or scale down instantly as well as train and deploy thousands of bots while maintaining complete consistency, all of this can be done at a reduced cost to the business.

Now, let’s take a look at a few real-world applications of these benefits.

Scenario 1

Your business is launching a new product and, as a result, will incur a substantial increase in transactions. Your current workforce is already maxed out and you don’t have the time or the ability to hire any additional employees. Intelligent automation can step in and bridge the gap, handling the influx of work at any capacity necessary without the major hassle and expense of staffing. Then, once things settle down, you can scale back down to normal as needed.

Scenario 2

Business has been particularly lucrative as of late and you’ve had to increase output significantly to meet the increased demands of your customers. Suddenly, the market takes a turn for the worse and your numbers start to rapidly decline. With intelligent automation in place, you won’t have to face the possibility of laying employees off. Rather, you could just scale back the number of robots.

Scenario 3

One of your biggest competitors has launched a new product or service and you’re scrambling to develop and implement something similar. Chances are you can’t afford to hire a slew of new employees to help bring your comparable product or service to market and doing so would take too long. Conversely, putting too much pressure on existing team members could result in costly mistakes and QA issues. AI, on the other hand, is available at the ready to take on whatever is necessary for you to remain competitive.

Without question, intelligent automation has the potential to bring your business to the next level. Are you ready? Give us a call today or download your free 30 trial now to get started.

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5 Things to Avoid for a Successful Intelligent Automation Rollout

For all the talk we do here at Ayehu about how to make intelligent automation work for your organization, one area we don’t usually cover is how and why these types of projects often fail. Sometimes even though the reason for adopting automation is on target, the outcome isn’t quite what one had hoped for. This can lead to costly double-work and the frustration of having to start over again. To improve the chances of your automation project going off without a hitch, here are the 5 most common mistakes so you’ll know exactly what to avoid.

Focusing on tools and tasks instead of people.

It may seem ironic, particularly given the widespread opinion that artificial intelligence is somehow out to replace humans, but one of the biggest reasons an automation project fails is because it was designed around a task or tool instead of the people who it was ultimately designed to help. The fact is, intelligent automation is meant to streamline operations and make the lives of your IT team better, not worse. Focus on how the project will benefit your human workers and the results will be much greater.

Failing to adequately calculate and communicate ROI.

For an automation project to be carried out successfully, the projected benefits and long-term gains must be determined and demonstrated upfront. This includes taking into account the early costs associated with adopting a platform and helping decision makers understand the time-frame for seeing positive returns. Without this, you risk upper management pulling the plug too early due to lack of results. (If you’re not sure how to calculate ROI on an IT automation project, here’s a helpful guideline.)

Not setting appropriate expectations.

Sometimes an intelligent automation project is deemed a “failure” simply because it did not meet the (often unrealistic) expectations of certain stakeholders. That’s why it’s so important that those in charge of planning, testing and implementing any AI project include communication of the expected time-frame as well as the potential for issues and delays that may inevitably arise. When “the powers-that-be” know what to expect ahead of time, there are no surprises to have to deal with during the process.

Automating broken processes.

Another common cause of an automation project failure occurs when those in charge attempt to automate a process that isn’t working properly in the first place. Not only is this a huge waste of time and resources, but it simply won’t work, which means backtracking, adjustments and a whole host of other delays will ultimately occur. Before starting any automation project, be certain everything you’re planning to automate is relevant and ready.

Not using the right platform.

Just like most things in IT, not every automation platform is created equal. Some organizations fall into the trap of purchasing the cheapest tool they can find only to learn that, as usual, you get what you pay for. Others make the mistake of investing in a product that they think is top-of-the-line, only to discover that it has way more features than they really need, making it a complex waste of money. The key to successfully carrying out an intelligent automation project is to do your research and select a platform that is robust but easy to use and scalable to fit your specific needs.

Thinking about trying automation but not sure where to begin?

Check out these common tasks and processes that can and should be automated and then download your free 30 day trial of Ayehu NG to experience it for yourself.

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The Future of MSPs: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Author: Guy Nadivi, Sr. Marketing Director, Ayehu

Leading analyst firms are forecasting a lot of turmoil ahead for MSPs, so I thought it would be well worth exploring not only the ramifications of this expected market upheaval, but also how smart MSPs can actually take advantage of it.

Are any of you fans of old westerns?  I’m personally a big fan of movies about the old west, an interesting time in American history.  Western cinema, as many of you already know, often depicts harsh wilderness landscapes where people end up in a shootout, fighting over something that’s important to them.

One of the best examples of Western cinema is a classic movie called “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly”.  Maybe some of you have seen it.  Back when I still purchased DVDs, this was actually the first DVD I ever bought. 

This movie title, “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” is an apt metaphor I’m going to use to help me describe the current situation in the MSP market, where much like the old west, many MSPs find themselves in a shootout over something very important – market share.

Let’s start with ‘The Good.’  According to MarketsAndMarkets, a research and advisory firm focused on B2B markets, “The managed services market is expected to grow from over $180 billion in 2018 to $282.0 billion by 2023, a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 9.3%.”  That’s a pretty good market to be in.

Here’s the ‘The Bad,’ though. According to Gartner, “…as competition heightens, service providers will be forced to aggressively roll automation out across their client base and service lines because, if an existing provider is slow in implementing automation, this will leave that account quite vulnerable to competition, proposing a strong artificial intelligence proposition with the possibility of a vendor switch.”  In other words, Gartner’s saying that MSPs who don’t start introducing automation & AI to their customers, are now at risk of being left by that customer for another MSP that does.

And here’s ‘The Ugly.’ Again this is from Gartner and please note, this is advice they’re giving to sourcing executives at enterprises that hire MSPs.  “Understand the provider’s service capabilities, product development plans and AI roadmap to be able to negotiate effective reductions associated with new technology. Otherwise, consider moving away from the service provider if investments are lacking, lagging, or the service provider is not actively sharing the benefits with the client.” 

That last part might require a bit of explanation. Gartner is telling customers that they should EXPECT their MSP vendor to start automating their service offerings, and begin sharing the benefits of automation back to the client in the form of reduced charges. If an MSP doesn’t do that, they’re explicitly telling sourcing executives to go find another MSP that does!

Some of you might now be realizing seeing why I’m using the old west as a metaphor for the MSP market.  There’s a big shootout coming among MSPs that don’t start rolling out effective automation for their clients.

Here’s another one. The Good – according to Gartner, “Many of the large players in the Gartner Magic Quadrants that address IT infrastructure have rolled out intelligent automation that provides for effective management of the data center, end user, service desk and applications. The rollouts have been in the operations area and have reported improvements of 30% cost savings with 30% gain in service quality.”  So the organizations that have started automating are seeing significant benefits, meaning that automation is working really well.

But, also according to Gartner, here’s the The Bad – “Reconcile with the fact that revenue cannibalization is bound to happen in the near term because of automation. Instead, prepare to divert cost savings into fueling new projects. This is the best way to protect your turf.”  Interpretation: Gartner is telling MSPs that automation will cause unavoidable revenue losses in the immediate future, but your best bet for safeguarding market share is to invest in new automation projects now.

Finally, here’s The Ugly, and this too is from Gartner, “Use forward pricing to reap the benefits of artificial intelligence in your infrastructure outsourcing deal.” BTW – this is another Gartner recommendation specifically addressed to sourcing executives.  They’re advising them to incorporate the expected savings of artificial intelligence, and by inference automation, into their outsourcing deals REGARDLESS of whether or not their infrastructure provider offers it.  Meaning that whether or not automation and AI are part of an MSP’s strategy, the market will be expecting it to be, and that will put further downward pricing pressure on a business with already thinning margins.

Let’s do just one more of these.

The Good.  Gartner says, “Those providers that invest early will see their business flourish for a few years, and then will land in a position where the business around those services is underpinned by a positive and sustainable margin performance. Yes, it will be transactional and maybe per quantity in nature, but it will be nevertheless sustainable.”  So if you make the investment in automation now, you will reap the profitable benefits down the road in a SUSTAINABLE way.

Here’s The Bad.  “Those that fail to invest will see quick revenue erosion, followed by margin erosion, because they will be forced to lower prices without being able to enjoy the reduction in delivery costs that automation can offer.”  So again, they’re saying the market is expecting MSPs to provide automation, and will also expect lower pricing going forward, regardless of whether or not the MSP even offers automation.

And here’s the last Ugly.  “It will not be a question of getting to ‘smaller but sustainable,’ but a case of exiting with a strong focus on damage limitation.”  This advice from Gartner basically boils down to a warning that if you’re not going to start using and offering automation soon, you should consider getting out now while you can still get some value for your business.  Pretty dire warning!

Now that you’ve heard what the experts think, if you’re an MSP is it time to hit the panic button? 

NO!  Don’t panic.  Not yet anyways.

Let’s return again to our old west theme.  Back in those days when people went to the local saloon to enjoy some recreational fun, everybody played the same card game just like they always did. 

In modern times, up until recently, the game was always the same for MSPs too.  Now though, the MSP game is changing.

In fact, thanks to automation and other technologies, the MSP game is changing dramatically and everybody is being dealt a new hand. If you’re an MSP, your new hand in this new game means a new opportunity to increase market share!

Just to be absolutely clear about the changing game for MSPs, let me illustrate what exactly is changing.

Traditionally, the MSP game was about filling up massive cubicle farms to provide services with inexpensive labor.  Unfortunately, that’s just not sustainable anymore. Even if you’ve got a supply of the absolute cheapest labor and you can double up people in each cubicle, there’s one inconvenient fact that can’t be escaped – people don’t scale very well.

That includes even your very best data center workers, who can only handle so much. Today, analysts and thought leaders are telling companies to walk away from these kinds of outsourced deals, no matter how cheap your labor is.

And why are they recommending that?

Because the new reality is that digital labor is MUCH cheaper.  Not only that, but digital labor takes no vacations, or coffee breaks, or sick time, and it never has mood swings.  It’s always available, 24/7/365 and unlike people, it is extremely scalable.

The new game for MSPs is Automation-as-a-Service.  Leveraging digital labor to provide a much better offering, and doing it for even less than before.

Remember, in this new game MSPs are expected to play, Gartner and others are telling your customers that what they should demand from you is more quality, increased speed, and better results, all at a lower cost.  The only practical way an MSP can do that is with automation.

Back once more to the old west.  One of the really great stories in the history of that time period was the gold rush.  The gold rush of the 1800’s made a lot of MSPs very rich.  Yes, you read that right – MSPs.  Except back then, M.S.P. stood for Mineral Searching Prospectors.  (Alright, maybe I’m the only one who thought that was kind of funny.)

Today’s gold rush doesn’t involve any shovels or pick axes or specialized pans for sifting gold nuggets out of rivers.  That’s because today’s gold rush is in automation powered by AI.  Ayehu predicts that between now and about the middle of this century, a lot of MSP’s are going to get very rich by using an enterprise automation platform to provide Automation-as-a-Service for their customers.

Before diving into that though, I’d like to talk just a little bit about open source automation.

If there’s one character from the old west that best epitomizes the idea of working with open source software, it’s undoubtedly the blacksmith.  Everybody knows what blacksmiths did back then, right?  They took a piece of metal, and forged it into something like a horseshoe.  And by forging I mean they did a lot of hammering and a lot of sweating.

That’s exactly what you’re going to do with open source software.  Except instead of hammering, you’re going to be doing a lot of coding, but you’ll still probably do a lot of sweating too, just like the blacksmith. 

Maybe that’s appealing on some level.  Build it yourself and take full pride in forging an automation tool that does exactly what you want.  Except the problem there is that while you’re hammering away on your keyboard just to build the automation tool itself, your competitors are using commercial-grade automation software like Ayehu that works right out-of-the-box and is fully supported by the publisher.  That means your competitors are orchestrating actual workflows for their customers that are up & running quickly and in production to start earning those customers an ROI.  The best way to stay competitive as an MSP is to go with the tool that’s already proven itself and can earn a fast ROI for your customers.

Remember – generally speaking, your customers aren’t worrying about the plumbing.  They just want you to give them hot water.

Let’s discuss a couple of use case examples.

The first use case is a major international financial services firm, with what can only be described as a colossal environment:

  • They have over 60,000 servers
  • They also have over 10,000 database instances
  • And they have nearly 500 supported applications!

Their challenge was the high cost of monitoring and maintaining this massive infrastructure.

Using Ayehu’s automation platform, they realized:

  • A 40% improvement in MTTR
  • A 90% improvement in response times
  • And together, those two yielded a 15% cost savings in year one!

Not a bad return on investment, and a huge win for our MSP partner that delivered these results to this customer.

The second use case involves one of the largest department stores in America.  Not quite as big as the previous company, but pretty big nonetheless.  Their infrastructure included:

  • About 20,000 servers
  • Nearly 6,500 database instances
  • And all this was spread out between 2 different datacenters!

Their staff was spending a lot of time and effort on manual, repetitive tasks that were impacting their resolution times.

After Ayehu was deployed, they experienced:

  • a 95% improvement in MTTR
  • a 1,500 man-hour reduction of effort in Year 1
  • and a savings of nearly half-a-million dollars!

Quite an impact.

The final case study I want to share with you shows the power of automation in reducing the cost of operations for the MSP.  This case study comes from a global MSP partner of ours who’s among the largest $ multi-billion MSPs.

They were looking to reduce operations costs and improve their margins at one particular client where they had a multi-year contract with a project value of $11.6 Million per year.

After implementing Ayehu at that customer to automate numerous repetitive manual processes, their operational costs steadily dropped each year until by the 3rd year of their engagement, they were saving 35% in costs using Ayehu automation, all of which dropped straight to their bottom line.

And thanks to Ayehu, they were able to deliver a 30% FTE optimization while increasing their SLA performance by 98%.

As you can imagine, now that this MSP has mastered our automation platform with such success, they’re going to be aggressively competitive in the market place.

Speaking of SLAs, I should also point out that incorporating automation into your managed service practice will allow you to say goodbye to SLA penalties and missed targets. As previously mentioned, automation never takes a break, and it also remediates incidents much faster.  That more than anything will give your MSP practice its best shot at hitting its KPI goals. Typically with automation, you can reduce ticket-handling time for incidents down to seconds.

BTW – Since offering automation will alter your cost structure as it did for the MSP above, it will open up many more opportunities for you that were not previously economically profitable.  Automation will also enable you to generate more business opportunities from your existing customer base.  On average, our partners tell us Ayehu has increased their MSP wins by about 10x.

Q:          What’s your onboarding program like & how long does it take?

A:           Onboarding generally takes 6 weeks.  During that time we’ll put your team through training, help you get your own Ayehu environment up & running, and hold your hands helping you build your first workflows.  We’ll also help you build POC’s with your clients, and enable your success however we can.

Q:          What’s the difference between your solution and a freebie Open Source Software download?

A:           It depends on what open source software you’re referring to.  In general though, open source software means you’re doing all the heavy lifting of building out your own tool.  So be prepared to do a LOT of coding.  We’ve invested over a decade of man hours building out the Ayehu automation platform and it’s ready to go out-of-the-box right now without any coding.  The first question you should ask yourself then is, would you rather invest your time & effort reinventing the wheel, or using the wheel that’s been on the market for over 10 years to start adding value to your clients from day one?

Q:          How should an MSP determine when to use Ayehu versus some other automation tool?

A:           That depends on what it is you want to automate.  There’s a lot of different automation tools out there with a lot of different specialties.  Ayehu has a very specific focus on automating IT & Security operations.  We’ve been doing it a long time, we’re very good at it, and we’d be a great choice for any MSP looking for that kind of solution.

Q:          What is the minimum time to learn Ayehu?

A:           Very minimal.  Usually hours, but no more than a couple days.  We like to tell people all the time – take your lowest-level SysAdmin (even an intern), preferably someone who’s never written a single line of code in their lives, and let us train them for just one day.  Afterwards, they’ll probably end up being the most productive person on your IT staff.  Ayehu is very easy to learn.  If you’ve ever used a tool like Visio to build something like an org chart, then you’re already pretty well qualified to build automated workflows with Ayehu.

Q:          What makes Ayehu a platform that MSPs should use, compared to other automation tools?

A:           The Ayehu automation platform is actually designed with MSPs in mind.  So that means features like:

  • Being SaaS-ready which allows an MSP to create their own automation cloud, and since it’s also multi-tenant that means you can partition the same automation cloud out to different customers while managing it all centrally from one instance.  We deliberately made Ayehu an enabler for MSPs that makes it easy for them to offer Automation-as-a-Service.
  • Providing white labeling, so you can rebrand Ayehu as your own tool, which is a great way to reinforce brand loyalty with your customers.

•            Offering a strong partner enablement service that gets you up & running quickly so you can start delivering value to your clients ASAP & begin conquering more market share with automation.

Q:          You mentioned that Ayehu includes AI, but you didn’t give much detail.  Can you please elaborate on what Ayehu’s AI capabilities are?

A:           Ayehu is partnered with SRI International, formerly known as the Stanford Research Institute.  SRI holds something like 4,000 patents worldwide including for things like the original mouse & SIRI, Apple’s conversational AI.  SRI is Ayehu’s design partner, and they’ve designed a lot of the really cool stuff like Machine Learning-driven Dynamic Activity Suggestions.  That means that based on the workflow you’re building, our system provides a real-time recommendation on the next best activity to incorporate into your workflow, based on what we know has worked best for other customers building similar workflows.  That’s been available since last year.

              Another cool AI/ML feature is Dynamic Rule Suggestions, to augment the current static rules we have for triggering workflows. What that means is that when an incident comes into Ayehu, if we have a static rule that matches its profile, then that rule will kick off a workflow to remediate that incident.  Dynamic Rule Suggestions will allow us to suggest rules for incidents that don’t match any rules so they don’t just fall through the cracks.

              By next year, we’ll be offering Dynamic Workflow Suggestions. This is exactly what it sounds like, namely we’re going to be offering real-time suggestions of best practice workflows and workflows that are industry-specific, based on a little understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish.

              So there’s a lot of very cool AI & machine learning features baked into the product and we believe it’s all going to give our customers an insurmountable market advantage.

To see this information in action, click the image below to watch the on-demand webinar.

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And the Employee of the Year Award goes to: A robot?

Imagine: you’re in the annual company meeting and the CEO announces who has been the busiest, most productive employee over the past 12 months. Now, imagine if he completes that statement not with the name of you or any of your co-workers, but instead points to your intelligent automation platform. In other words, a robot.

Can a robot really take the place as employee of the year? The answer is an emphatic yes. Here’s why.

It’s no secret that the IT department is continually being asked to do more with less. In other words, be as productive and efficient as possible while simultaneously limiting the amount of resources being used to do so. As a result, IT leaders have to find a way to maximize output while also minimizing the time and costs associated with producing that output. With humans, this simply isn’t possible without either extending the hours worked or hiring additional staff, neither of which will achieve the goal of keeping expenditures down.

Another area of pressure IT leaders experience is that of user satisfaction. Internal service levels and external customer expectations are increasing at a rapid rate, and if you can’t meet those demands effectively, you will lose your competitive advantage. In other words, your bottom line will suffer. Yet again, in order for human agents to achieve these goals is to either work more or hire additional team members.

Enter intelligent automation, or a team of artificially intelligent robots who can basically take on all the time consuming day to day tasks that the help desk currently handles. Whether it’s password resets, system monitoring, incident management or some other complex workflow, intelligent automation can be leveraged for it all. As a result, the work will be completed faster, with fewer mistakes, driving productivity and efficiency up while also bringing costs down.

Many IT professionals erroneously view these robots as a threat to their very livelihood. After all, if a machine can be used to do all these tasks, what’s the point of keeping humans on staff? Why not automate the entire operation? Well, for starters, many automated processes still require some type of human input.

Secondly, while intelligent automation may take some of the work away from humans, it will inevitably free those humans up to apply their skills to more complex and important business matters. So, it’s not a replacement, but rather a shift in responsibility. Furthermore, experts predict that AI will actually create 58 million new jobs by 2020. As such, it should be embraced rather than feared.

So, when the big boss stands up and hails automation as the company’s busiest employee, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for the people who work there. As long as the technology is leveraged properly and viewed as the powerful and innovative tool it truly is, its role as employee of the year is something that will drive the ongoing success of the organization and make the lives of human workers easier and/or more meaningful.

Give the employee of the year a test drive in your own company and experience the power and impact of intelligent automation for yourself by starting your free 30-day trial of Ayehu.

How to Automate Incident Response for Splunk Alerts in Minutes

Author: Guy Nadivi, Sr. Director of Marketing, Ayehu

Let’s talk about Splunk, a market leader in the Security Event Information Management (SEIM) market. BTW – You can always tell who the market leader is in any category when its competition starts touting itself as the ones who will eradicate that company. Recently, one of Splunk’s competitors described themselves as “Splunk Killers”, reaffirming that Splunk is indeed at the head of its class in that segment.

In Gartner’s 2018 Magic Quadrant for the SIEM market, Splunk appears higher than everyone else and further to the right than anybody but IBM. What this means is they excel above all other competitors on the y-axis of the Magic Quadrant, which is a measurement of “Ability to Execute.” On the x-axis of the Magic Quadrant, which measures “Completeness of Vision,” they exceed almost everyone except IBM.

Score highly on those two measurements, and Gartner considers you a Market Leader.

Market share is another key indicator of market leadership, and here Splunk is ranked No. 2 with 13.7% market share. Only IBM has a larger market share when it comes to SEIM’s.

Thanks to Splunk’s January 31, 2019 Form 10-K filing with the SEC, we also know they have 17,500 customers in more than 130 countries, including 90% of the Fortune 100. Another clear indication that they are a leader in this market.

With a market position like that, it seems worthwhile to talk about how to quickly and easily automate incident remediation for Splunk alerts in minutes.

As many people know, Splunk produces software for capturing, indexing, correlating, searching, monitoring, and analyzing machine-generated big data.

Some sources of that data include logs for Windows events, Web servers, and live applications, as well as network feeds, metrics, change monitoring, message queues, archive files, and so on.

Generally, these data sources can be categorized as:

  • Files and directories
  • Network events
  • Windows sources
  • And the catch-all category of “other sources”

There are a number of outputs and outcomes Splunk generates from this data, including:

  • Analyzing system performance
  • Troubleshooting failure conditions
  • Monitoring business metrics
  • Creating dashboards to visualize and analyze results
  • And of course storing and retrieving data for later use

That’s A LOT of data, and the more systems Splunk monitors, and the more those systems grow, the greater the volume of machine data that gets generated. This is becoming a problem because IT and security operations are getting inundated by all this data, and not just from Splunk, but other systems as well, though Splunk generates a big chunk of this.

Every time there’s an incident, an event, a threshold being crossed, etc. new data is generated, adding to the surge already flooding over IT and Security Operations. And it’s only getting worse.

Ultimately, it’s people who have to deal with all this data, and the problem is, (as we often say) people don’t scale very well.

Even the very best data center workers in NOCs and SOCs can only handle so much. At some point – and that point is pretty much right now – automation has to take on a greater share of the task burden all this growth in data is necessitating.

Why automation? Because people may not scale very well, but automation DOES! And if you’re in one of these overwhelmed data centers, that should be music to your ears.

Here are just a few of the ways automation can bring relief to NOCs and SOCs drowning in Splunk data:

Triggering Workflows

Let’s say there’s been an event detected of a corporate website being hacked and defaced. This event can trigger an automatic workflow that quickly restores a website to its pre-defacement state. In fact, an automation platform like Ayehu can do this MUCH quicker than humans could do manually once they got the alert. Restoring the website automatically and almost instantaneously minimizes the damage to corporate reputation, not to mention the threat to job security because the defacement happened in the first place.

Remediating Incidents

In addition to the example of remediating a website defacement incident, let’s consider a situation where Splunk generates an alert about a specific machine due to some observed suspicious activity. Ayehu can remotely lock it either automatically or at the SOC analyst’s manual command, to mitigate any damage until a hands-on inspection can take place. Furthermore, this automated incident remediation workflow could also include doing things like deactivating that user’s Active Directory credentials, turning off their card key’s ability to swipe in or out of a building, etc.

Data Enrichment

This task is well known to anyone who’s ever had to perform cybersecurity forensics during and after an incident. It involves aggregating all the information a SOC analyst needs to make an informed decision about what’s happening in real-time, or what happened as part of an after-incident evaluation. This can be a laborious manual task, and certainly one that’s difficult to script out.

If your automation platform easily integrates with just about anything in a typical, heterogeneous IT environment, however, then it can gather this critical information very rapidly as well as add more precise context to it about the nature of the incident. This will greatly reduce time-to-decision-making for SOC analysts, which is vital when, for example, you’re watching a ransomware virus swiftly encrypt your enterprise data and you need to decide on a course of action fast.

Opening Tickets

Just about every data center uses an ITSM platform like ServiceNow, JIRA, BMC Remedy, or one of many others. It’s very important to document what steps were taken to remediate an incident or conduct a cybersecurity forensics investigation. SOC analysts are pretty overwhelmed these days, and often don’t have the time to do that. When they do have time, they often don’t document as thoroughly as necessary in order to provide a complete picture of what transpired.

An automation tool like Ayehu can do this much quicker, and in real-time during workflow execution, so everything is properly documented, and nothing slips through the cracks.

Now let’s walk through the flow of events that uses Splunk data and alerts as triggers for actions.

We call this flow a closed-loop, automated incident management process. It starts out with Ayehu NG creating an integration between Splunk and whatever IT Service Management or help desk platform you’re using, be it ServiceNow, JIRA, BMC Remedy, etc.

When Splunk generates an alert or any kind of data you want to act upon, Ayehu intercepts it via the integration point. It will then parse it to determine the underlying incident, and launch the appropriate workflow for that situation, whether it be remediating that specific underlying incident, gathering information for forensic analysis, or whatever.

While this is taking place, Ayehu also automatically creates a ticket in your ITSM, and updates it in real-time by documenting every step of the workflow. Once the workflow is done executing, Ayehu automatically closes the ticket. All of this can occur without any human intervention, or you can choose to keep humans in the loop.

This closed-loop illustration also reveals why we think of Ayehu as a virtual operator, which we sometimes refer to as “Level 0 Tech Support”. Many incidents can simply be resolved automatically by Ayehu without human intervention, and without the need for attention from a Level 1 technician.

Imagine automating manual processes like Capture, Triage, Enrich, Respond, and Communicate. Automating resolution and remediation can result in a pretty significant savings of time, which can be particularly critical for data centers feeling overwhelmed.

Customers tell us over and over that automating the manual, tedious, time-intensive stuff accelerated their incident resolution by 90% or more.

We can also say with confidence that you can automate incident response for Splunk alerts in minutes, because Ayehu’s automation platform is agentless. Being agentless also makes us non-intrusive since we leverage API’s, SSH, and HTTPS behind enterprise firewalls under that organization’s security policy to perform automation. The only software to install is on a server, either physical or virtual, which centralizes management and greatly simplifies maintenance and upgrades.

Another reason it only takes minutes to automate incident response for Splunk alerts is because the Ayehu automation platform is codeless. This is something really important to consider because while there are many vendors out there touting their platforms as “automation”, the fact remains that they’re really just frameworks for scripting, and we steadfastly believe that scripting IS NOT automation.

For starters, in order to script you need to have programming expertise. With a true automation tool, however, you shouldn’t need to have any programming expertise. In fact, the automation platform should be so easy to use, even a junior SysAdmin with zero programming expertise should be able to master it in less than a day. Why is that so important? Because one of the promises of true automation is that you don’t have to rely on specialized talent to orchestrate activities in your environment. Requiring specialized programmers would be a bottle-neck to that goal.

Finally, the Ayehu automation platform includes AI and Machine Learning built into the product.

The first thing you should know about Ayehu’s AI and Machine Learning efforts is that we’re partnered with SRI International (SRI), formerly known as the Stanford Research Institute. For those not familiar, SRI does high-level research for government agencies, commercial organizations, and private foundations. They also license their technologies, form strategic partnerships (like the one they have with us), and create spin-off companies. They’ve received more than 4,000 patents and patent applications worldwide to date. SRI is our design partner, and they’ve designed the algorithms and other elements of our AI/ML functionality. What they’ve done so far is pretty cool, but what we’re working on going forward is really exciting.

Questions and Answers

Q:          What are the pros and cons of using general purpose bot engines compared to your solution?

A:           General purpose bot engines won’t actually perform the actions on your infrastructure, devices, monitoring tools, business applications, etc. All they can really do is ingest a request. By contrast, Ayehu not only ingests requests, but actually executes the necessary actions needed to fulfill those requests. This adds a virtual operator to your environment that’s available 24x7x365. Additionally, Ayehu is a vendor-agnostic tool that interfaces with MS-Teams, Skype, etc. to provide these general purpose chat tools with intelligent automation capabilities.

Q:          Do you have an on-premise solution?

A:           Yes. Ayehu can be installed on-premise, on a public or private cloud, or in a hybrid combination of all three.

Q:          Do you have voice integration?

A:           Ayehu integrates with Amazon Alexa, and now also offers Angie™, a voice-enabled Intelligent Virtual Support Agent for IT Service Desks.

Q:          If a user selects a wrong choice (clicks the wrong button) how does he or she fix it?

A:           It depends on how the workflow is designed. Breakpoints can be inserted in the workflow to ask the endpoint user to confirm their button selection, or go back to reselect. Ayehu also offers error-handling mechanisms within the workflow itself.

Q:          Does Ayehu provide orchestration capabilities or do you rely on a 3rd party orchestration tool?

A:           Ayehu IS an enterprise-grade orchestration tool, offering over 500 pre-built platform-specific activities that allow you to orchestrate multi-platform workflows from a single pane of glass.

Q:          Can you explain in a bit more detail on intent-based interactions?

A:           Intent is just that, what the user’s intent is when interacting with the Virtual Support Agent (VSA). For example, if a user types “Change my password”, the intent could be categorized as “Password Reset”. That would then trigger the “Password Reset” workflow.

Q:          Thanks for the information so far, great content! I would like to know if I can use machine learning from an external source, train my model, and let Ayehu query my external source for additional information?

A:           Yes. Ayehu can integrate with any external source or application, especially when it has an API for us to interface with.

Q:          Can I create new automations to my inhouse applications?

A:           Yes. Ayehu can integrate with any application bi-directionally. Once integrated with your inhouse applications, Ayehu can execute automated actions upon them.

Q:          Is there an auto form-filling feature? (which can fill in a form in an existing web application)

A:           Yes. Ayehu provides a self-service capability that will allow this.

Q:          How can I improve or check how my workflows are working and helping my employees to resolve their issues?

A:           Ayehu provides an audit trail and reporting that provides visibility into workflow performance. Additionally, reports are available on time saved, ROI, MTTR, etc. that can quantify the benefits of those workflows.

Q:          What happens when your VSA cannot help the end user?

A:           The workflow behind the VSA can be configured to escalate to a live support agent.

Q:          If there is a long list of choices – what options do you have? Dropdown?

A:           In addition to the buttons, dropdowns will be provided soon in Slack as well.

Q:          Did I understand correctly, an admin will need to create the questions and button responses? If so, is this a scripted Virtual Agent to manage routine questions?

A:           Ayehu is scriptless and codeless. The workflow behind the VSA is configured to mimic the actions of a live support agent, which requires you to pre-configure the questions and expected answers in a deterministic manner.

Q:          Is NLP/NLU dependent on IBM Watson to understand intent?

A:           Yes, and soon Ayehu will be providing its own NLP/NLU services.

Q:          Are you using machine learning for creating the conversations? Or do I have to use intents and entities along with the dialogs?

A:           Yes, you currently have to use intents and entities, but our road map includes using machine learning to provide suggestions that will improve the dialogs.

Q:          What are the other platforms that I can deploy the VSA apart from Slack?

A:           Microsoft Teams, Amazon Alexa, ServiceNow ConnectNow, LogMeIn, and any other chatbot using APIs.

This is a recap of a live Webinar we hosted in May 2019. To watch the on-demand recording and see this content in action, please click here.

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