How to Deploy Virtual Support Agents in 5 Steps

How to Deploy Virtual Support Agents in 5 Steps
Chatbot isometric vector illustration. Chat bot receiving client messages. Future marketing. AI and business. Website assistance. Customer service infographic. IOT 3d concept. Mobile app design

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:

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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.

Rule-Based vs. AI-Bots – What’s the Difference?

Rule-Based vs. AI-Bots – What’s the Difference?

Up until relatively recently, the only option end-users had for receiving IT support were phone calls, tickets or emails. Now, thanks to rapid iterations of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, IT departments are able to leverage the power of intelligent bots to offer round-the-clock, automated (read: agentless) support.

But not all bots are created equal. One of the biggest differentiators is whether they are rule-based or true AI. Understanding the key differences here will help organizations make more informed decisions when adopting a virtual support agent (VSA) model.

Rule-Based Bots

Rule-based chatbots are capable of answering end-user questions based upon a predefined set of rules that they have been programmed for. This isn’t to say they’re necessarily basic. In fact, with the right programming, rule-based bots can be built to be relatively complex (at least, to some degree). And because they are built on if/then conditions, they are much easier to train than AI bots, which means they can be implemented extremely quickly. That being said, they are far more cumbersome to maintain over time, as every new piece of information must be programmed as it’s needed.

Where these chatbots fall short, however, is in their inability to understand context and learn on their own. As such, there is often a disconnect between the end-user and the bot, which can lead to frustration and delays. For more complex issues, bots can hand over the conversation to a human agent who can provide a higher level of service and support. This means that rule-based bots cannot operate completely autonomously. They must rely on human intervention whenever anything outside of their database arises.

AI-Based Bots

While the human/computer interface of rule-based vs. AI bots is relatively the same, the major difference between the two technologies is their self-learning capabilities (or lack thereof). AI bots are programmed with machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) so that they can read and comprehend context and continuously learn and improve on their own. The key to success with AI bots is access to rich, relevant data.

While there is certainly an investment of time, resources and money upfront, AI-bots are generally much more cost-effective in the long run, because they require far less ongoing maintenance than rule-based bots. They are also more resource-efficient, since they can handle highly complex support needs without requiring any human input. This enables organizations to optimize their staff numbers, either trimming down or reallocating human resource to more meaningful, revenue-generating projects. Meanwhile, end-users receive the on-demand support they need, maximizing satisfaction levels.

Which Type of Bot is Right for You?

The best way to determine whether rule-based or AI bots are the right fit for your organization is to map out your needs. Generally speaking, AI-bots offer the most “bang for your buck,” because they can do everything a rule-based bot can do, along with much more complex and valuable functionality. This is especially important for IT operations. The good news is, you can experience AI bots in action free for a full 30 days. Simply download your trial of Ayehu NG today to get started.

Best Practices for Managing a Remote Workforce

Best Practices for Running a Remote Operation

The latest health crisis has forced many organizations into making the transition to remote work much more urgently than many would have liked. As such, a scramble to manage the logistics, like what kind of equipment will be needed, how to provision remote workers and how to maintain maximum data security have become the focus. What’s not being talked about nearly as much, but is equally as important, is how leaders who are used to managing staff in-person must adjust their approach in order to make the transition as seamless and undisruptive as possible.

Be intentional about individualization.

Not every employee is motivated or driven by the same things. Some may work best when given autonomy while others may require more hands-on leadership. Under normal circumstances, focusing on the unique needs and preferences of each employee is strongly recommended. When managing from a distance, this becomes even more critical. Managers must take the time to determine the circumstances and conditions under which each individual employee will perform at his or her best. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to remote work simply won’t cut it.

Set clear expectations right from the start.

Did you know that nearly half of all employees in the U.S. do not know what’s expected of them? Add remote work into the mix, and things could go off the rails pretty quick. To mitigate this risk, remote managers need to set crystal clear expectations with each and every employee. Specifically, employees should know exactly what the work entails, what the quality of that work should be and precisely when it is due. There should be no ambiguity whatsoever.

Arm them with everything they need.

You can’t simply hand out tasks and expect your team to perform them if they don’t have the equipment, information, guidance and support they need to carry out those tasks successfully. This is the case in an on-site operation, but even more so in a remote working environment, where people can tend to feel isolated. Implement technology that facilitates collaboration. Provide self-service options, like virtual support agents, so remote workers can receive the support they need on-demand. And make sure leadership is available to answer questions, provide feedback and offer guidance as needed.

Communicate openly and often.

One of the biggest challenges of working remotely, as mentioned earlier, is the feeling of isolation that comes along with it. This is magnified for employees who are accustomed to working on-site, where colleagues and managers are present in the flesh. Understand that managing a remote team may require more frequent communication, whether it be team meetings or one-on-one sessions (ideally, a combination of both). The key is emphasizing relationships, which are more challenging to forge from a distance.

Be supportive of front-line management.

Executive leadership needs to recognize that front-line managers are suddenly being forced to adapt to an entirely new way of working, and practically overnight. It’s an adjustment that brings with it a unique set of concerns that must be taken into consideration. For example, some managers may worry that they’ll be held accountable for disruptions to workflow that they have no control over. Others may find it difficult to trust employees that they cannot physically see working. Support and guidance – practical and emotional – is needed to make this transition as painless for managers as possible.

A Look Ahead…

A recent Gallup study found that 43% of employees in the U.S. are already working remotely to some degree. Thanks to recent circumstances, that number just skyrocketed. And although there will certainly be some growing pains, there’s a significant chance that once the dust settles and life returns to normal once again, far fewer employees will actually return to the office. By learning how to manage a remote operation now, you’ll position your organization for a much smoother ride, both today as well as in the future.

Click here to find out how Ayehu is helping organizations across the globe make the transition to remote working.

How Virtual Agents Can Help Businesses Thrive in the Face of Uncertainty

As the world is currently in the throes of battling the latest global health crisis known as COVID-19, the way organizations conduct business has changed suddenly, and perhaps permanently. Businesses across just about every industry and sector are facing two primary challenges: significant spikes in demand for IT support and the need to prepare for an economic recession that now seems imminent.

Conversational artificial intelligence (AI), also known as chatbots or virtual agents, can address both of these challenges, allowing businesses to maximize availability while simultaneously reducing costs.

Sustained and Enhanced Service Levels

With a tremendous uptick in remote working and all the risks and issues that go along with it, IT teams are being inundated with an increasing volume of support requests. Couple this skyrocketing demand with a decreased number of capable and available employees, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Virtual agents, powered by intelligent automation, can assist in a number of ways, including:

  • Delivering instant, automated answers to commonly asked questions
  • Enabling users to report problems and request assistance
  • Sending outbound notifications and updates about things like site closures, changes in service hours, or travel restrictions
  • Ability to scale on-demand to meet unexpected spikes in support needs

Virtual agents help not only to prevent lapses or delays in service, but because they are available 24/7/365, they have the potential to actual improve service levels – something that would otherwise be impossible in a crisis situation.

Augment Existing Workforce

In situations like the one the world is currently dealing with, there will inevitably be a dip in employee performance and availability. Team members may need to take time off due to illness, request changes in their shifts and, of course, transition to remote working.

Virtual agents can help organizations navigate these changes in circumstances by providing an extra level of support when human agents are not available. Furthermore, intelligent chatbots can be programmed to handle everything from helping employees set up their at-home workstations to assisting with onboarding – all without the need for any human intervention.

Optimizing Resources and Reducing Costs

With an impending economic downturn on the horizon, organizations are under increasing pressure to mitigate damages as much as possible. The ultimate goal is to keep operations running at a minimal cost – all without sacrificing service and performance. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the word.

For a tiny fraction of the average cost of a human agent, virtual agents can enable organizations to restructure their workforce, either eliminating non-essential roles or reallocating their resources so that skilled IT agents can focus on more complex or revenue-generating activities.

Over the coming months, businesses will also be looking for ways to save on things like on premise software, hardware and equipment, opting instead for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that are much more budget-friendly. Cloud-based intelligent automation platforms can help organizations reduce development costs, boost productivity and innovate rapidly.

In business, and in life, there will inevitably be times when we are faced with circumstances beyond our control, whether it’s the current health pandemic or something else. These situations can profoundly impact an organization’s ability to remain functional. Thankfully, technology like AI-powered virtual agents can help soften that blow, providing the ability to not only survive, but even thrive in the face of uncertainty.  

Put the power of virtual agents to work for your organization and strengthen your posture against whatever may come your way by launching your free trial of Ayehu today.

How Slackbots and Ayehu Add Automation to BMC Helix Remedyforce

Author: Guy Nadivi

BMC Helix Remedyforce is a version of the BMC Remedy platform popular among organizations already using Salesforce.com, making it easy to deploy rapidly for IT organizations who value being nimble.

Since that’s a growing segment of the market, and given the surge of interest in chatbots, BMC and Ayehu have partnered to showcase how to add Slackbots and automation to the Helix Remedyforce platform.

BMC Helix Remedyforce provides a robust IT Service Management platform for running an IT organization and supporting the business. It takes a modern customer-focused perspective, and adds in very intuitive self-service capabilities that empowers non-IT staff to request services and solve problems on their own. BMC Helix Remedyforce is comprised of numerous modules, including:

  • Self-Service
  • Service Catalog
  • Knowledge Management
  • Service Level Management
  • Dashboards
  • Reporting and Analytics
  • Incident and Problem Management
  • Configuration Management
  • Asset Management
  • Agentless Discovery
  • Client Management
  • Multi-Cloud Data Center Discovery
  • Change and Release Management
  • Mobile Apps for IT and Business
  • Collaboration via Chatter and Chat
  • IT Best Practices and Smart Practices

Together, all this functionality allows BMC Helix Remedyforce to offer a unique value proposition of a short time to value, with light effort, yet still yielding a powerful delivery.

If your organization uses a cloud computing platform like BMC Helix Remedyforce, then being very lean and very responsive is most likely a priority. But there’s a way to take that leanness and responsiveness one level higher to help your organization become a self-driving enterprise through the addition of Slackbots and automation from Ayehu.

At Ayehu, we often talk about the self-driving enterprise, which is our guiding vision that influences every aspect of our automation platform.

What is a self-driving enterprise and how do we define it? Very simply – becoming a self-driving enterprise means becoming less reliant on people, and leveraging intelligent automation to handle more of the robotic kinds of tasks humans really shouldn’t be doing anyways.

Ayehu’s platform comes with numerous features an enterprise needs to become self-driving:

  • SaaS-Ready Multi-Tenancy
  • Agentless architecture
  • Codeless interface
  • And overall it’s very easy to use

It also has two features which really extend automation’s ability to help enterprises become self-driving, and thus less reliant on people:

  • AI and Machine Learning
  • Slackbots, which are an extension of AI and Machine Learning that provide end users with an almost human-like channel as an alternative to calling the help desk everytime they have an incident or a request.

Slackbots of course, are part of the overall chatbot market, which is big and getting bigger. Lest anyone think chatbots are a fad, according to Business Insider, in 2019 the market was worth a bit more than $2 ½ Billion. In 2024 they’re forecasting it will approach $10 Billion!

That’s a compound annual growth rate of over 29% a year. Very impressive growth!

I think we can safely say that chatbots are here to stay.

Gartner published a report about the chatbot market (“Market Guide for Conversational Platforms: July 30, 2019 – ID G00367775), which calculated that “31% of enterprise CIOs have already deployed conversational platforms.”

That number “represents a 48% year-over-year growth in interest.”

This is a strong leading indicator that the market is ready, if not eager, for conversational AI in the form of things like Slackbots.

One big reason enterprises are so eager for conversational AI and Slackbots is the impact they’re having on one of IT’s biggest KPI’s – Cost Per Ticket.

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

However, if you turn any given service request into a self-help or self-service function with chatbots, 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 that 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), you’re probably going to want to hear more.

Enterprises are looking at chatbots as a way to divert calls or tickets or work away from the Service Desk, meaning people, and re-routing that load to chatbots, meaning software.

BTW – It’s not just because of bottom line costs and reducing calls and/or ticket volume to the service desk.

There are other value propositions for enterprise IT executives deploying chatbots:

  • Slashing MTTR by accelerating resolutions of incidents and requests
  • Liberating staff from doing tedious work so they’re freed up for more important tasks
  • And last but not least, raising customer satisfaction ratings, an increasingly critical KPI for IT

Today, there’s another big reason to start using chatbots – the Coronavirus COVID-19.

The Coronavirus pandemic is creating a new reality for everyone, and that’s led to widespread adoption of numerous precautions:

  • Washing one’s hands more frequently
  • Not shaking each other’s hands
  • Wearing protective facemasks

Perhaps the most relevant precaution being adopted, from an IT perspective, is the sudden surge in employees and contractors working remotely.

Numerous governments and health officials are imploring organizations to let their employees work from home, wherever possible, as a way of minimizing community transmission of the Coronavirus.

This has 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 at most organizations just keeping the lights on.

Wherever remote workers may be though, they can always submit their service requests through a chatbot, and they can do it from both a web or mobile interface 24×7.

The great news about that is that there’s really no training required for someone to start using a chatbot or Slackbot, especially if it’s on their smartphone, an interface they’re already familiar with.

Slackbots can play an increasingly important role in a self-driving enterprise, allowing users to converse with the bot naturally (so to speak), and in their own language. The bot can understand the request, or if not, request clarification. Once it has the information it needs, the bot simply goes out and executes the request. It’s just that straightforward.

In addition to BMC Helix Remedyforce, there are many other systems you can quickly plug into Ayehu, which then acts as an integration hub across just about every platform in your environment.  This allows your users to initiate automated tasks via chatbot for every system you integrate with Ayehu. Best of all, almost every system Ayehu connects to can be seamlessly integrated without writing a single line of code.

If your organization aspires to be a self-driving enterprise, Ayehu automation + BMC Helix Remedyforce + Slack chatbots can provide a powerful combination which add value to such IT functions as:

  • Incident resolution
  • Alert-driven notification
  • Cross-IT change management
  • Service request management
  • Configuration management and infrastructure provisioning

If you’re interested in test driving Ayehu NG v1.6 with all its cool new features, download your very own free 30-day trial.

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

How AI is Revolutionizing the IT Support Role

Over the past several decades, the role of IT support has evolved from basic plug-and-play transactions to handling much more complex tasks and workflows. Unfortunately, the pace of technological change and demand for faster, more accurate and more seamless service has also evolved – in many cases, beyond what human agents are capable of. Furthermore, support teams are being hindered by antiquated processes and technology silos, preventing them from realizing their true value.

That’s why more and more organizations are turning to emerging capabilities, like machine learning and artificial intelligence, to help supplement and enhance the IT support role. AI tools, like intelligent chatbots and virtual support agents, have already proven highly effective in facilitating greater efficiency and superior end-user service.

IT Support’s Greatest Challenges

To truly recognize the impact AI can have, it’s important to understand just what today’s IT support agents are up against. Research has shown that L1 and L2 IT support personnel waste hundreds or even thousands of man hours each year simply due to time-consuming manual labor and inefficient infrastructures. Often times, agents find themselves having to switch between multiple systems and platforms just to accomplish a simple end-user support request.

Another major hurdle modern IT support teams face today is a lack of adequate access to data. Or, perhaps we should clarify this to lack of access to quality, usable data. Agents (and their managers) need access to insights like this in order to analyze and improve performance. Unfortunately, these insights are not always readily available in many organizations, crippling the support desk and ultimately impacting service levels.

When these issues occur, either individually or compounded, not only does the end-user become frustrated, but so do the IT support desk agents. And if they’re feeling unhappy, overworked and unfulfilled, they’re far more likely to churn, leaving organizations with the burden and cost of recruiting and training. It’s a never-ending cycle.

How AI Can Help

How AI is Revolutionizing the IT Support Role

To answer the call of these costly and frustrating challenges, organizations across the globe are turning to AI technologies. In particular, they are leveraging the power of intelligent chatbots to handle lower-level support needs. Imagine how much more valuable your skilled IT workers could be if they weren’t wasting half their day resetting passwords or restarting systems. Not only do virtual support agents resolve issues faster and improve customer satisfaction, but they free up the IT team to focus their efforts and skills on more value-added business initiatives. This is good for everyone involved.

Artificial intelligence can also assist with building out additional content resources, helping higher level agents resolve issues faster and providing invaluable insight to management to facilitate data-driven decision-making. Machine learning algorithms can automatically and continuously analyze past cases to provide real-time guidance for best next steps as well as identify and make suggestions on areas of potential improvement. It’s like having a consulting firm working on your behalf, 24/7/365, only without the hefty price tag.

When IT support agents have access to the most up-to-date tools and innovative capabilities like AI, they’re jobs will be made infinitely easier. Trained workers will be able to apply their skills to more meaningful work, end-users will receive faster and better service, while at the same time, organizations will realize improved satisfaction levels, higher productivity and efficiency, and lower costs overall. That’s what we call a win-win-win!

Want to experience this kind of breakthrough for your IT support team? It’s as easy as downloading Ayehu NG. Click here to try it free for 30 days and put the power of AI to work in your organization.