Essential Use Cases to Jump Start Your IT Process Automation

At any given organization, there are always many, many manual IT processes that make great candidates for automation. From time to time though, we run across some process automation candidates that deliver noticeably higher ROI. As people started working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and more staff needed to start using ZOOM, we stumbled upon a manual process that really stood out as an excellent use case to help jump start automation at organizations.

Ayehu keeps track of the highest value automation use cases with the broadest applicability to our customers. We display those on our website where you can drill down and get more information on each one. That list is updated from time to time when we come across great new uses of Ayehu to automate toil out of a process. The use case we’ll be talking about today is one of those examples, and we think you’ll be intrigued by how it involves Ayehu NG tying together ServiceNow, ZOOM, Active Directory, and a chatbot in a very timely way.

We’re just about 6 months or so into the pandemic, so scenes like this ought to be pretty familiar to most everyone by now.

A lot of you, maybe even all of you, are working from home. Being remote and away from the office necessitated a big shift in how employees, contractors, and staff interacted with each other.

That left the door wide open for a company called ZOOM to step in and fill that interaction gap previously provided by the in-office experience. So suddenly, it seems the entire world is using ZOOM.

BTW – One way you can tell a product has really entrenched itself in the minds of consumers is when its name becomes a verb. Right?

You don’t just hail a ride-share to the coffee shop, you Uber to Starbucks.

You don’t just edit that image, you Photoshop it.

And now, we don’t just put together a web conference, we setup a Zoom call.

Now in case you’re unaware just how much Zoom usage has increased; I’d like to share a few metrics with you that might leave you stunned.

In the past, ZOOM was criticized for being a platform only small organizations used. In their financials, they report on how many customers with more than 10 employees are using their service.

A little over a year ago at the end of Q1 2019, they had 59,400 customers with more than 10 employees

One year later at the end of Q1 2020, they had 265,400. That’s a growth rate of 347%!

It’s not just smaller firms using ZOOM though. There’s a banking firm that deployed around 175,000 new ZOOM seats in Q1 and a global law firm called Baker McKenzie with over 6,000 attorneys worldwide adopted ZOOM as well.

Here’s another great visualization of ZOOM’s growth.

Back in 2013, ZOOM had just 3 million daily meeting participants.

That’s grown dramatically, and as of the end of March 2020, they now have 300 million daily meeting participants. I’m betting that number will go up when their Q2 financials are released.

Here’s the metric that made my jaw drop to the floor.

In January 2020, the number of meeting minutes ZOOM’s customers were consuming on an annualized basis was 100 Billion. That’s right 100 Billion meeting minutes.

Can you see the “bar” representing that number? No? Let’s zoom in, no pun intended.

100 Billion meeting minutes is that razor thin sliver of a yellowish vertical line that’s thinner than the grey border representing the y-axis of this bar graph. Why does 100 Billion meeting minutes look almost invisible on this bar graph?

Because just 3 months later in April 2020, ZOOM was on a run rate to consume 2 Trillion annualized meeting minutes (see previous graph). So while 100 Billion may sound like a lot, it’s a drop of water compared to the ocean that is 2 Trillion. This is a growth rate that must’ve left their DevOps team gasping for air the entire first quarter of 2020.

And what has all that growth in customers, meeting participants, and meeting minutes done? It’s led to a lot more of this.

It seems like ZOOM is everywhere and everyone is using it all the time.

That in turn has led to a problem for IT Operations in provisioning ZOOM accounts efficiently, while also documenting their distribution and assignment.

So I’d like to give you an overview of the workflow powering the use case we think is a great way to jump start your IT process automation efforts. It highlights Ayehu NG’s ability to be that single pane of glass tying together so many different pieces in your environment.

It’s going to start with an end user sending a request through Slack that they would like a ZOOM account.

The request goes directly to Ayehu, which looks up the manager that user directly reports to on Active Directory.

When the manager is identified, Ayehu passes along the user’s request to the manager, and awaits an approval or a denial.

In our use case, the manager approves the request, which BTW – is all done through email.

Ayehu then does three things:

  • It provisions an account on ZOOM
  • Sends the user an update via Slack that their request for a ZOOM account was approved
  • It also emails the user their new ZOOM credentials

Finally, Ayehu opens a ticket in ServiceNow, and documents every aspect of this request, automatically creating a complete record of everything that transpired.

That’s it. If you wanted the whole thing to run completely on auto-pilot, without requiring manager approval, you could easily configure it to do that too.

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG to easily provision ZOOM accounts for your end users, download your very own free 30-day trial version today by clicking here.

How to Deploy Virtual Support Agents in 5 Steps

How to Deploy Virtual Support Agents in 5 Steps

Intelligent bot technology is disrupting almost every industry, with everyone from Verizon and Capital One to NASA jumping onboard. But while artificial intelligent is certainly not a new concept, developing and implementing virtual support agents in a practical and profitable way is still in its relative infancy. Unlike other, more established technologies, there aren’t necessarily any real standards for using bots. Thankfully, there are things we can learn from those already paving the way. Here are five real-world tips to help your company bring a VSA initiative to fruition.

Identify audience and need.

For VSAs to produce ROI, they must solve a specific problem (or set of problems) and/or deliver real, measurable improvement (such as with staff efficiency or productivity). As such, the initial phase of your virtual support agent strategy should involve identifying who you are trying to help and exactly why. The narrower you can get with this step, the better the outcome. Keep in mind you may have multiple iterations of the same engine, based on the user you are targeting.

Select a platform.

Once you have a clearer picture of your target user and target problem, the next step should involve choosing a platform through which the bots will be built and managed. This is the phase of the project that can overwhelm some decision makers. The good news is, there are platforms (like Ayehu) that are so easy to use and quick to implement that you can be up and running in mere minutes – no coding or scripting required. Even if you have a highly talented IT team, this would be the best case scenario.

Define your measure(s) of success.

One of the biggest challenges of virtual support agent (and artificial intelligence in general) is proving financial value. The easiest and most straightforward way to approach this is to determine as early as possible which metrics matter the most. What type of ROI do those in the C-suite and/or other stakeholders expect out of this initiative? Bear in mind, also, that some measures of success aren’t as easy to quantify, but are just as – if not more – important, such as end-user engagement levels.

Start fast – don’t wait for perfection.

Many people make the mistake of trying to make things perfect before rolling out their project. Instead, the focus should be on building fast and executing fast, even if that involves some degree of failure in the process. Take, for instance, NASA, which approaches each VSA initiative as a small startup with the goal of launching as quickly as possible. If you cannot iterate that fast, optimize the process as much as possible. For example, while Verizon was developing their Mix and Match bot, the consumer plan was being developed simultaneously. This made the actual rollout more seamless and successful.

Adjust and learn continuously.

A virtual support agent strategy isn’t something you set and forget. There is also the need for continuous adaptations and ongoing training to consider. Artificial intelligence is a fluid technology, which means your bots should continue to learn and improve over time. There will almost always be something to add, whether it’s a new term or a tweak in “personality” to better serve end-users. The main thing to remember is that VSA development is an ongoing process and must be treated as such if it is to be successful.

Want to give our intelligent automation a test drive and put the power of virtual support agents to work for you? Try it free for 30 days. Click here to launch your trial today.

Hired! How to Put Digital Labor to Work for Your Service Desk

How to Put Digital Labor to Work for Your Service Desk

Author: Guy Nadivi

With the proliferation of all kinds of bots the last few years, “digital labor” is a term you’re going to be hearing more and more about going forward.

Lee Coulter, who chairs the IEEE Working Group on Standards in Intelligent Process Automation says that “digital labor” is really just another term for “intelligent automation”. However, digital labor represents a paradigm shift that’s disruptive to the status quo. From what we’ve seen so far, you can expect that it will change how we work. It will change the kinds of work we do, and it will also create enormous new opportunities for cost cutting, as well as career opportunities for those who will be working with and managing digital labor.

A few years ago, an analyst at HfS Research coined the phrase “Welcome to Robotistan”, which referred to a corporate world where humans intermingled with virtual FTE’s, primarily in the form of bots that could take on the boring, repetitive tasks so many humans despise doing. With the proliferation of automation the last few years, that vision has turned into a reality, perhaps quicker than many thought it would.

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing interest really skyrocket from organizations wanting to deploy chatbots to relieve humans of robotic-type tasks, and free them up for more important things, like for example, reshaping the digital workplace to accommodate all the people now working from home.

The worldwide chatbot market continues to experience extraordinary growth. According to Business Insider, in 2019 the market was worth a bit more than $2 ½ Billion, but they’re forecasting that by 2024 it will approach $10 Billion! That’s a compound annual growth rate of over 29% a year, which by any measure is very impressive.

Last year Salesforce.com released a major report entitled the “State of Service”. In this study they found that nearly a quarter of their respondents (23%) currently use AI chatbots and nearly another third (31%) said they plan to use them within 18 months.

That represents a projected growth rate of 136% in the use of AI chatbots from Spring of 2019 to early Autumn of 2020. Another clear indication of serious growth!

As we’ve often said at Ayehu, the biggest factor driving enterprise adoption of AI chatbots is probably service desk Cost Per Ticket.

The generally-accepted industry figure for the average cost of an L1 service desk ticket is $20. Enterprises deploying AI chatbots to enable self-help or self-service capabilities for their end users are finding that they can drive down the cost of those L1 tickets to just $4. Tell a CIO, CTO, or any senior IT Executive that there’s a way to reduce their single biggest expenditure on IT Support by 80%, and they’re likely going to be very interested in hearing more.

However, AI chatbots with automation that shift ticket requests to end-users for self-service can do much more for the Service Desk than just lower ticket volume and costs.

When AI chatbots are deployed as digital labor, service desks can also:

  • Slash MTTR by accelerating resolutions of incidents and requests
  • Liberate IT staff from doing tedious work and free them up for more important tasks
  • Raise customer satisfaction ratings, an increasingly critical KPI for IT Operations

Last year, Ayehu conducted an inquiry with a Gartner VP focused on the AI chatbot market, and he shared with us what they believe the biggest value propositions of digital labor are, based on an organization’s AI chatbot maturity level.

If your organization is interested in the technology but hasn’t deployed anything yet, in other words you’re in pre-production or your plans are still on the drawing board, then your biggest value proposition from digital labor is going to be cost reduction and deflection rates.

If your organization already has AI chatbot solutions in place, then your #1 benefit from adding automation and turning that AI chatbot into true digital labor will be increased customer satisfaction.

Regardless of whether you’re in pre-production and have yet to deploy digital labor, or have rolled out chatbots and are looking to add automation, here are some questions you should ask yourself and have answers to in order to guide your enterprise to the best possible outcomes.

What would AI chatbots mean inside of my enterprise?

How would they change business processes? How would they impact our cost structure? How would they increase our capacity?

How do I want our people to be able to work with digital labor?

This is another important question to ask in order to clearly demarcate where digital labor ends, and escalation to humans begins.

How do I want our people and digital labor to engage with customers?

This is actually important to answer whether the customers are internal or external.

There are a lot of important questions to ask your digital labor vendor as well before deploying, but here are 3 that really stand out.

What kind of scalability would an AI chatbot be capable of inside of my enterprise?

How many users can it handle? How many inquiries can it handle simultaneously? This is very important to know beforehand.

How easy is it to use?

How hard is it going to be to configure the AI chatbot for my enterprise? Do I need expensive highly-skilled programmers, or will one of my junior-level sys admins be enough?

Finally, how many other systems can I integrate my digital labor with?

The number of platforms your digital labor can connect to will dictate how much of your workload it can automate for you.

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG as the automation platform that powers your digital labor efforts, download your very own free 30-day trial version today from the link below:

Download Free 30-Day Trial

Post-Pandemic IT: How Data Driven Automation Will Remake IT Better and More Efficient Than Ever

Post-Pandemic IT: How Data Driven Automation Will Remake IT Better and More Efficient Than Ever

                  Author: Guy Nadivi

The Coronavirus pandemic and its effects are likely to be with us for a while, but this health crisis will eventually subside, and once it does, many are wondering what things will look like on the other side, especially for IT. This question is particularly pressing in light of how many IT organizations very rapidly changed the way they work, and began delivering services to their enterprise’s end users, customers, and partners from remote locations.

In retrospect, we may look back on this period as heralding the acceleration of digital transformation for many organizations, much of which will be directly due to data driven automation.

In Q1 of this year, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a leading IT industry analyst and consulting firm, conducted an exhaustive global study on automation in the enterprise, spearheaded by their Vice-President Dennis Drogseth. Ayehu partnered with EMA to share some of the more intriguing highlights from that report with our audience, and then used the results as an input into developing some predictions for what post-pandemic IT will look like.

One of EMA’s findings was that automation has been making steady inroads into modernizing enterprise processes.

EMA also surveyed their respondents about which type of automation was at the vanguard of efforts to unify automation across IT. Interestingly, IT Process Automation was first, while RPA was last.

One of EMA’s most significant findings was that 90% of respondents viewed the coupling of AI/Analytics with automation as a “high” or “extremely high” priority. That in turn led to the uncovering of some other intriguing correlations.

 

Finally, EMA also uncovered the top obstacles to automating in enterprises that have not made good progress with automation. (Boldfaced results are the obstacles that were technical in nature.)

 

 

After combining #5 and #7, we boiled the technical obstacles down to 3:

  • Product complexity
  • Too much customization required
  • And lack of integration

Let’s examine each one of these a bit more closely.

Product Complexity

When it comes to automation, complexity is something we often hear about at Ayehu, primarily from organizations that have used automation vendors whose so-called “automation” actually involves lots of scripting.

This is why for many years now our mantra at Ayehu has been “Scripting DOES NOT EQUAL Automation”.

The idea behind automation is kind of similar to the idea behind a car having an automatic transmission instead of a stick shift.

Not everybody can drive a car with a stick shift. It’s more difficult for many people, requires additional driving skills, and increases the complexity of the product, which in this case would be the automobile.

Just about everybody however, can drive a car with an automatic transmission. You just get in the car, start it, decide if you want to go forwards or backwards by putting it in drive or reverse, and step on the gas. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

 

That’s similar to Ayehu’s philosophy on automation. Anyone should be able to create automation workflows, and it shouldn’t require any scripting, programming, or coding skills of any kind whatsoever. We’re often fond of saying that Ayehu is so simple to use, even a junior-level sysadmin who’s never written a single line of code in their life can become an automation wizard with just a few hours of training.

Customization Requirements

Every organization has its own way of doing things, and the automation tool needs to conform to that. Ayehu’s approach allows you to customize automated processes to fit your organization’s needs by taking a “Lego building block” approach to workflow creation.

Just about everyone who played with Legos as a kid already knows that Lego blocks are generally very basic and for the most part, fit into each other universally.

That basic simplicity and universal interconnectivity however, allows you to make an infinite number of forms and structures from very simple components.

That’s exactly how Ayehu enables you to rapidly customize workflows to fit an infinite number of IT processes. For those that were holding back on automation due to trepidation over the customization requirements, Ayehu’s flexibility and adaptability should ease any lingering concerns.

In case you haven’t seen the interface of Ayehu’s automation tool, here’s a screenshot that shows you what I’m talking about.

As you can see, it’s a kind of canvas where you build your workflow through a pretty simple, easy to learn drag-and-drop interface.

You have a selection of over 500 activities (or Lego building blocks) to choose from when building your workflow. Most of these are platform specific. You can see Active Directory, Amazon EC2, BMC Remedy and many other platform activities there on the left. All of these activities have been thoroughly tested, debugged, streamlined, and are ready to deploy in your environment.

After dragging-and-dropping your activities onto the canvas, you simply click on them to do some basic parameter configuration. No need for any coding.

Lack of Integrations

Ayehu has an ever-growing ecosystem of pre-built integrations and connectors available that are intended to simplify your automation process. Whether it’s an ITSM platform like ServiceNow or BMC Remedy, a monitoring tool like Solarwinds, infrastructure solutions like VMware, or just about anything at all, Ayehu can seamlessly integrate into it without needing to write a single line of code. The goal here is for Ayehu to be your single pane of glass for orchestrating automation across any platform in your environment, and that’s another way we help you overcome obstacles to automation at your enterprise.

Now that we’ve addressed some of the obstacles to automation that EMA’s report uncovered, we’re going to take a critical look at what Post-Pandemic IT will look like. We’ve got some very specific predictions we want to share with you, based on a synthesis of what EMA’s report uncovered, customer trends Ayehu has observed directly, and some published material by various thought leaders on this topic.

Before doing that though, I’m going to lay a bit of foundational context by talking about the current economic trends we’re all impacted by, as this is a big driver to some of our post-pandemic predictions.

At the time of this blog post’s writing, recent unemployment numbers have been nothing short of an economic horror show. The situation is bad, and we’re being told it’s going to get worse.

 

What does worse mean? Let’s get some perspective on things by looking at the numbers.

During the Great Recession, a little over a decade ago, the US lost a total of 8.8 million jobs. In the Information Technology field, there were 297,000 jobs lost. That’s a small percentage of the overall jobs lost. However, as a percentage of all the jobs in IT at the time, it was nearly 10%. So 1 out of every 10 jobs in IT were lost during the Great Recession, which lasted about 18 months.

Now we come to the COVID-19 Pandemic, which for the purposes of this economic discussion we’ll say began at some point in March of 2020. So far, as of the latest April unemployment report, we’ve already lost a total of over 20 million jobs. That’s more than twice as many lost during the Great Recession, and it happened in just a matter of weeks!

You may also have heard that this represents a 14.7% OFFICIAL unemployment rate, which is the highest we’ve had since the Great Depression. But earlier this week, the Treasury Secretary was asked if it was possible the UNOFFICIAL unemployment rate was actually higher (as high as 25%). He acknowledged that it very well could be, which is jaw-dropping.

In the IT field so far, there have been 254,000 jobs lost. Over a quarter million jobs lost! Given the total number of IT jobs in March 2020, that represents 8.8% of the industry. In just one month due to the pandemic, our industry has lost almost as many jobs as were lost in 18 months of the Great Recession!

BTW – every number just quoted is taken directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So how bad will it get? Well, no one knows for sure of course, but we can take an educated guess based on some of the projections out there.

For the total duration of the pandemic, there are estimates that ultimately 47 million jobs will be lost. How many of those are in IT? That could be AT LEAST 500,000 jobs, which would equate to somewhere around 20% of the industry.

Perhaps some of you might be thinking, well this is still early days, and as the situation develops, we could actually see job growth in IT due to the surge in demand for more IT services. Perhaps you’re right. Afterall, given how the pandemic has anecdotally awakened many organizations to the need for accelerating their digital transformation, there may in fact be a big surge in hiring of IT professionals.

So far though, that clearly hasn’t happened. In fact, once Federal bailouts like the Paycheck Protection Program run out of money, there could also be an acceleration in contraction of employee headcount in the IT field.

Given that reality, we’ve chosen to base our projections on the direction we actually see things going, as that seems to generally be the most prudent thing to do.

Here’s one more thing everybody needs to take into consideration.

If headcount reduction impacts your IT operations, it almost certainly WILL NOT RESULT in a corresponding relaxation of strict service level agreement targets. If your organization is obligated to continue meeting certain mean-time-to-resolution commitments, and you’re about to lose or have already lost some staff, you’re going to have a tough time meeting your SLA targets. Depending on how your SLAs are written, that could mean incurring some stiff financial penalties.

Just another data point to consider, as I proceed to present you with our predictions for what a post-pandemic IT will look like.

Post-Pandemic IT Prediction #1: Digital Transformations Will Be Accelerated

If it isn’t already, expect digital transformation to become a major focus for many IT organizations, including yours.

Bill McDermott, the CEO of ServiceNow said on a recent earnings call that they’re seeing “…that customers who are farthest along in their digital transformation are better equipped to manage this crisis. Companies lagging behind are realizing that they now have a burning platform. Accelerating digital transformation has become a business imperative.” He then went on to predict that over $7 trillion would be spent on digital transformation over the next three years.

Digital Transformation, of course, has been one of the bigger buzzwords of late. Of all its many definitions, the one we like best is “the collection of technology, process, and even cultural disruptions an organization adopts to maximize its competitiveness in the 4th industrial revolution.” Those technology disruptions can include things like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and of course automation.

For IT departments, digital transformation ultimately boils down to optimizing and accelerating delivery of computing services, regardless of whether the customer is external or internal, or whether they’re working from home or sitting in a corporate office.

Post-Pandemic IT Prediction #2: AIOps Deployments Will Be Accelerated

90% of the respondents to EMA’s exhaustive survey reported viewing the merging of Artificial Intelligence with analytics and automation as a “high” or “extremely high” priority. Given the massive paradigm shift that working from home brings to an organization’s infrastructure, AIOps is being increasingly viewed as the best solution to monitor and manage on-premise and remote worker systems.

One example we’ve been hearing a lot about lately is the massive increase in VPN usage as a result of the upsurge in staff working from home. This has led to an increased need for monitoring and managing VPN license servers, to ensure that with all the VPNs being used remotely, the license limit isn’t suddenly breached, thus crashing the VPN server and creating an outage for everybody in the organization logged into it.

At this point, the new norm of working from home is virtually certain to become a long-term permanent consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak, especially considering the liabilities organizations may incur by bringing workers back to open office plans with shared desks and common areas. It’s just very hard to see how that arrangement can possibly continue.

There are discussions about retrofitting these types of work areas with partitions and sneeze guards, but it remains to be seen how effective that’s going to be, particularly compared to just letting people continue working from home. That’s especially true now that everyone can see working remotely isn’t the productivity apocalypse many control-freak executives thought it might be.

As a result, expect to see the accelerated use of AIOps due to this monumental workplace transition.

Post-Pandemic IT Prediction #3: Accelerating Implementation of AI Chatbots

There was already a trend towards deploying AI chatbots as 24x7x365 virtual operators that enable self-service automation for service desk requests. The momentum driving that shift pre-pandemic was the huge reduction chatbots delivered in cost per ticket on L1 requests ($4 vs. industry standard $20).

The COVID-19 outbreak however has placed pressure on many IT organizations to expedite the rollout of AI chatbots, and reroute call volume away from humans working at the service desk towards virtual operators that are always on-call. If your organization suffers any headcount reduction as a result of the economic situation, and even if it doesn’t, there’s likely going to be a much bigger emphasis on using AI chatbots to facilitate more self-service incident remediation and request fulfillment.

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG with all its cool new features and get a head-start on post-pandemic IT, download your very own free 30-day trial version from the link below:

https://info.ayehu.com/download-free-30-day-trial-ng

4 Tips to Improve Adoption of Self-Service Automation

4 Tips to Improve Adoption of Self-Service Automation

Many individuals (and even entire teams) mistakenly believe that self-service IT is something that threatens their livelihood. To the contrary, providing employees the control over their technology usage can make the job of IT much easier and more efficient. In other words, it’s a good thing, not something to fear and resist. So, how can you make the case for self-service intelligent automation, particularly given the current push to work-from-home due to COVID-19?

Focus on the needs of the end-user.

The first part of the process involves identifying what needs end-users face that the IT department is responsible for fulfilling. This could include everything from simple password resets to entire user setups for new employees. As these needs are identified, they should be built out into what’s known as a self-service IT portfolio. The second part of the process involves determining the actions required in order to deliver these services. This will make up the service catalog.

Standardize and assign value.

With self-service automation, it’s important to ensure that any and all services and workflows being automated are as standardized as possible. Otherwise, you could end up automating broken processes, which will not only not help but could actually harm your overall business operations. It’s also important to assign a clear price/performance to each item in your service portfolio and catalog. This provides insight into the true value of the self-service IT activities.

Sell the benefits to each group.

If you want everyone – from the end-users to the IT team – to jump on the intelligent automation bandwagon, you have to demonstrate the actual benefits each group will achieve as a result. For instance, show employees how much more quickly they can get their needs taken care of without having to rely on someone from the help desk. At the same time, show IT personnel the time and effort they’ll be saving by eliminating these routine, repetitive tasks from their workload.

Start small and work from there.

You can’t expect a huge change such as self-service IT adoption to happen overnight. The process will take time and involve researching various automation platforms to determine which one best suits the particular needs of your business and then testing that tool before rolling out a full implementation. Start by automating one small area, such as password resets, and then work from there. Your service portfolio and catalog can provide the blueprint of what areas to automate in which order.

If you’re thinking of adopting intelligent automation to create a more consumer-style, self-service IT environment for your employees, it’s important to recognize that these things take time. Following the steps listed above can make the process go much more smoothly and help achieve the buy-in and support needed from others across the organization.

Ready to try intelligent, self-service automation? Click here to start your free trial.

Pandemic-Proof Your Service Desk with Automation for MS-Teams

Author: Guy Nadivi

I’m going to assume that just about everyone reading this blog post is affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 7th, 2020, the New York Times reported that at least 316 million Americans — about 95% of the country — have been told to stay home for at least the next few weeks, and likely longer. That’s forced a lot of organizations to very rapidly change the way they work, and especially for IT, the way they deliver services to an organization’s end users, customers, and partners.

One platform being chosen increasingly more often to deliver those services is Microsoft Teams. When you add automation to MS-Teams, you can create a pandemic-proof way to empower your end users and others with self-service, effectively turning MS-Teams into a virtual service desk operator that’s available 24x7x365

Adding a virtual service desk operator should be high on the list of priorities for IT Operations teams these days, because anecdotal evidence suggests that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, their workloads have mostly gone up, and in many cases, way up.

One thing likely to have caused workloads to spike upwards, of course, is the recent & very rapid switchover to remote working.

Numerous government & health officials have encouraged organizations to let their employees work from home, wherever possible, as a way of minimizing community transmission of the Coronavirus.

This created a new reality for those workers, because now that they’re working from home, they can’t just walk over to the help desk cubicle to make a casual request. They might not be able to do it by phone either because the help desk staff is also working from home, and they’re pretty busy right now just trying to maintain the status quo at most organizations.

Maintaining the status quo on its own is a pretty onerous task.

Ayehu’s customers, partners, and prospects have been telling us that IT Operations is already inundated with things like:

  • Application Issues
  • System Alerts
  • Outages
  • And of course the ever popular Password Resets

This represents just a fraction of the many incidents, requests, & projects that IT Operations is responsible for.

Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of all that, IT has been tasked with this massive emergency project to start supporting most if not all people working remotely. It’s an absolute tsunami of work, and it’s further overwhelming IT Operations staff.

I think everyone can agree that this massive transition to remote working can be categorized as “unplanned work” for just about every IT Operations team.

It just so happens that last month, PagerDuty conducted a survey about the impact of unplanned work on IT Professionals. I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of the results in particular.

Nearly 1/3 of respondents, 31% have said they “considered leaving a job due to too much unplanned work”. That should be pretty startling to anyone in IT management, especially right now, because if 1/3 of your team is thinking about leaving due to unplanned work, what will that do to your IT operation?

This isn’t a hypothetical scenario either, because as it turns out, 21%, over one-fifth responded that they actually have left a job due to too much unplanned work! So again, ask yourself what would happen to your SLA’s, ticket queues, etc. if one-fifth of your IT professionals just got up & walked out? I’m guessing it would drastically complicate things even more than they already are.

During this pandemic, many of you have no doubt heard the term “Flattening The Curve”, which refers to slowing, not stopping, the number of sick people who have to go to the hospital for treatment. Flattening the Curve is all about minimizing the number of cases that doctors, nurses, & hospitals have to deal with simultaneously so that the healthcare system doesn’t collapse.

And flattening the curve, of course, is one of the main reasons so many organizations are justifying sending people home to work remotely.

Flattening the Curve for the Healthcare System

But how about “Flattening the Surge” for IT professionals so that service desks & other operational teams don’t buckle under the strain?

Just like the healthcare system, IT Operations has a capacity threshold too. If the # of daily incidents, requests, etc. come in too high & too fast, IT Operations might collapse. Remember what PagerDuty’s survey said your IT staff might do because of too much unplanned work?

The way to avoid that disaster, the way to pandemic-proof your service desk, is with automation for MS-Teams.

Flattening the Surge for IT Operations

Thanks to COVID-19 causing so many people to work remotely, the NATURE of work is changing. That change will almost certainly carry over once the pandemic ends, and the all-clear signal has been given.

I want to share with you what work might look like post-pandemic from the perspective of Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365. He recently said:

“It’s clear to me there will be a new normal…… We don’t see people going back to work and having it be all the same. There are different restrictions to society, there are new patterns in the way people work. There are societies that are thinking of A days and B days of who gets to go into the office and who works remote.”

So he believes there’s going to be a new normal, and that new normal involves a lot more remote work for people who, pre-pandemic, found themselves exclusively in corporate office environments.

One of the products Jared Spataro is responsible for is Microsoft Teams, and the market that MS-Teams is in is called Unified Communications. More recently that space has been referred to by Gartner as the Workstream Collaboration market.

According to Statista, Microsoft’s market share in the Workstream Collaboration space has been growing very steadily, but on March 5th, 2020, things took a dramatic turn. On that day, Jared Spataro, who we just heard from, announced that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Microsoft Teams would be made available to everyone FOR FREE as of March 10th, even if you didn’t have an Office 365 license!

What happened next was truly stunning. The worldwide number of daily active users for Microsoft Teams exploded from 32 million to 44 million very quickly. An increase of 12 million users, about a 37% jump in basically a matter of days.

That definitely caught the attention of Slack, their top competitor. Slack’s TOTAL WORLDWIDE user base is 12 million users! So with their announcement, Microsoft effectively added the equivalent of 1 Slack user base to their own.

Now just to be clear, here at Ayehu we love Slack. It was the first platform we built chatbots for, and we’ll continue building chatbots that enable automation for Slack because it’s a great platform. But when it comes to market share going forward, the writing’s on the wall, and at least in the near-term, this market is probably going to be dominated by Microsoft Teams.

The great news about that is that Microsoft Teams, like other chatbots, can help flatten the surge for IT professionals by diverting calls or tickets or work away from the Service Desk, and shifting that load to end-users for self-service. Combining Microsoft Teams with automation can do more than reduce work volume though, it can also slash MTTR by accelerating resolutions of incidents & requests, liberate IT staff from doing tedious work & free them up for more important tasks, raise customer satisfaction ratings (an increasingly critical KPI for IT Operations), and last but not least reduce costs.

Let’s drill down a bit deeper on that last value proposition, specifically as it’s often measured by service desks – Cost Per Ticket.

There’s a general industry figure out there, published by Jeff Rumburg of MetricNet, an IT research & advisory practice, that the average cost of an L1 service desk ticket is $20.

However, if you turn any given service request into a self-help or self-service function with a chatbot like MS-Teams, you can drive that cost down by 80% to just $4 per L1 ticket. 80%!

If you’re a CIO, CTO, or any senior IT Executive, and someone tells you there’s a way to reduce your single biggest expenditure on IT Support by 80%, without reducing service effectiveness (in fact, possibly speeding it up), wouldn’t you want to learn more?

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG with all its cool new features & ability to add automation to MS-Teams, download your very own free 30-day full-version trial today.