Creating an Intelligent Virtual Support Agent for your ITSM

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

A topic that’s really getting a lot of buzz these days is Virtual Support Agents.  Virtual Support Agents – or VSAs – are the next logical evolution of a chatbot, because where chatbots are primarily conversational, a VSA is both conversational and actionable, making them much more valuable to an enterprise, and particularly to a service desk using an ITSM platform.

In order to better understand why VSAs are so top-of-mind, it can be helpful to take a step back and understand what’s happening right now in IT operations at enterprises around the world, particularly with all the data they’re dealing with.

Do you know what a Zettabyte is? NO GOOGLING!

A Zettabyte is a trillion Gigabytes. That’s a “1” followed by 21 zeroes.

As humans, it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around numbers that large, so let’s use a visual metaphor to help provide a frame of reference for how much data 1 Zettabyte represents.

The visual metaphor we’d like you to envision should be a familiar one – grains of rice. For the sake of this visual comparison, let’s say one grain of rice is equal to one byte of data.

That makes a kilobyte, a thousand grains, equal to about a CUP of rice.

A megabyte of data would then be the equivalent of 8 BAGS of rice.

1 gigabyte of data in terms of rice is equal to 3 container TRUCKS.

A terabyte of data would then be the equivalent of 2 CONTAINER SHIPS full of nothing but rice.

Now get this – an exabyte of data in terms of rice, would cover all of MANHATTAN.

A petabyte of data, would just about cover all of TURKEY. (BTW – turkey & rice is a great combo!)

Finally, here’s what a Zettabyte of data in terms of rice would do.  It would fill up the PACIFIC OCEAN! 

Now, this last visual using the Pacific Ocean is very relevant, especially if you work in IT operations.  That’s because you literally feel like an entire ocean’s worth of data is inundating you these days, thanks to all the systems you’re maintaining that create, store, access and deliver data for your employees, customers, partners, etc.  Life in IT operations is a relentless tsunami of incidents, events, thresholds being crossed, etc., and it’s only getting worse.

How much worse?

In 2017 The Economist published a chart produced by IDC in conjunction with Bloomberg estimating the size of data comprising “The Digital Universe”. In 2013 there were 4.4 Zettabytes of data worldwide, but by 2020 there will be 44 Zettabytes. That’s an astounding CAGR of 47%. Don’t expect things to slow down though, because it’s estimated that by 2025 there will be 175 zettabytes of data worldwide!

Interestingly, IDC/Bloomberg discovered what appears to be a correlation between the exponential growth of data and an increase in the number of times companies are mentioning “artificial intelligence” in their earnings calls. This is probably not a coincidence, and it underscores something we say over and over at Ayehu – people don’t scale very well. 

Even the very best data center workers can only do so much. At some point, and that point is pretty much right now, end user self-service in concert with automation has got to take on a greater share of the service desk tasks all this growth in data is necessitating.

So when does it make the most sense for your end users to interface with Virtual Support Agents instead of live operators at the service desk? Well, one obvious answer to that might be as your organization’s first point of contact for L1 support issues.

We’re talking things like password resets, which Gartner estimates are responsible for as much as 40% of your service desk’s call volume.

Onboarding employees, and its closely related counterpart task offboarding employees, are also excellent tasks for a VSA.

How about VM provisioning and VM resizing?  These tasks lend themselves very well to a VSA interface.

Another good one is service restarts.  It makes a lot of sense to empower end-users to be able to do this themselves via a VSA.

And there are many, many more L1 support issues that would be great candidates for Virtual Support Agents.

But then what about your service desk?  What should your human agents do once the Virtual Support Agent has taken on all these tasks? 

Well, there are still probably a number of L1 support issues that are not well-suited for a VSA (at least not yet). The service desk can continue handling these.

Of course most, if not all of your L2 and L3 support issues are still best handled by a human service desk, for now.

And finally, vendor support issues are also probably still best managed by the service desk.

Still, deploying a Virtual Support Agent will clearly shift a lot of tedious, laborious tasks off of the service desk and free them up to do other things. But what kind of impact does this have on the cost structure of a service desk?

The average industry cost of handling an L1 support ticket is $22. In comparison, the average cost of a ticket handled by a Virtual Support Agent is just $2. Using these figures to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how many tickets can be off-loaded from the service desk to the VSA, will likely yield a significant reduction in support costs. What’s more, issues handled by VSAs often gets remediated much faster, resulting in greater end-user satisfaction than going through the service desk.

And if end users are going through a VSA instead of the service desk, then that means the VSA can reroute a trainload of L1 incident tickets away from the service desk, freeing up that staff to focus on more important, and more strategic things.  This is a huge value proposition!

What about the benefits VSAs provide to end-users?

Here’s an obvious one. Ask any end-user how much they love waiting on hold when they need an issue resolved, but no one’s available to help them. Waiting on hold can really degrade the user’s experience and perception of the service desk. With Virtual Support Agents, on the other hand, no one ever gets put on hold because the VSA is available 24/7/365. VSAs never take a break, or call in sick, or get temperamental due to mood swings. They’re always available and ready to perform on-demand.

Then there’s the mean-time-to-resolution metric, better known as MTTR. As every service desk knows, the speediness of their incident remediation outcomes is one of the major KPI’s they’re judged on.  Well when it comes to speedy MTTR, a VSA should be faster than a human being just about every single time.

Finally, does your enterprise have younger employees, particularly from the millennial generation? Of course it does! Just about every organization does, and some have them in far greater percentages than others. Well, guess what? This generation, raised on Facebook and mobile apps, generally prefers interfacing with technology as opposed to people. And that’s something we all know empirically because we’ve seen it for ourselves.

In addition to that visual proof, a survey conducted in 2018 by found that 40% of millennials said that they chat with chatbots on a daily basis! So, providing VSAs that empower younger workers with self-service capabilities might just give your organization a competitive advantage in attracting the best and brightest young talent to your company.

Questions & Answers

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

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

Q:          Do you have on-premise solution?

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

Q:          Do you have voice integration?

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

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

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

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

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

Q:          Can you please share the slide on IVA vs. ServiceDesk and elaborate a bit on the use cases?

A:           The entire PowerPoint file presented in this webinar can be found on SlideShare.

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

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

Q:          Can we use machine learning from an external source, train our model, and let Ayehu query our external source for additional information?

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

Q:          Can I create new automations to my in-house applications?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missed the live Webinar? Watch it on-demand and see the above in action by clicking here.

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