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5 Tips for Maximizing Efficiency in ITOps

What started out as a promising year for CIOs has quickly and drastically gone off the rails. Today, most IT executives find themselves attempting to guide the train back toward the tracks as the focus has dramatically shifted from thriving to merely surviving.

With 61% of IT budgets being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the 2020’s highest priorities has become saving as much as money as possible. And while “doing more with less” is something most CIOs are adept at, finding ways to drive revenue and secure their organization’s position in the marketplace in the midst of a world health crisis is quite the unique challenge.

The key to overcoming this hurdle will ultimately lie in maximizing efficiency levels, and not just in terms of cutting costs, either. Today’s CIOs must focus strategically on changes and initiatives that will enable them to achieve the leanest operation possible while also adding value to the organization through improved services. 

That being said, here are five ways to improve ITOps efficiency without compromising on quality.

Audit existing operations.

When it comes to maximizing efficiency in IT operations, doing so will lie heavily in existing policies, practices and platforms. Now’s as good a time as any to conduct an audit to identify areas of waste to eliminate and other potential opportunities for improvement. The end-goal should be having an infrastructure in place that optimizes the use of seamless, cohesive technologies so that the IT team can focus their talents and efforts on revenue-generating activities and other ways to support the business.

Be willing to trim the fat.

After several years of enjoying annual budget increases and the freedom to explore and innovate freely, many CIOs now find themselves facing budgetary cuts and a bleak spending forecast. As such, it will almost certainly be necessary to trim back some of the spending and say goodbye to poor performers, both in terms of personnel as well as technology. Where before, experimenting with the unknown was feasible, in the current climate, IT leaders must focus on projects, platforms and people that they know will deliver value. Remember – occasional pruning is necessary for growth.

Establish a dedicated vendor-management team.

Keeping on top of vendor contracts is a full-time job in and of itself. For a busy CIO with dozens of tasks on their plate, this one often drops down the to-do list. But with so much opportunity for cost-cutting and service improvements, it should be a top priority. Rather than trying to juggle this on top of the multitude of other duties, it may make more sense to delegate this function to another individual or team, either in-house or third-party. The money that can be saved through continuous monitoring and negotiations should far outweigh the expense, and the potential for improved service will be well worth the investment.

Bring automation into the fold.

Most CIOs have already embraced automation to some degree, and for good reason. The technology is capable of speeding up operations, eliminating human error and freeing up staff from routine, repetitive and time-consuming tasks. It can also prevent outages, which helps to maximize profitability. All that aside, there have been many advances in automation technology of which many IT leaders are still not taking advantage. Intelligent chatbots and virtual support agents, for example, can help alleviate the burden on the IT team while providing faster end-user service. This creates a much more efficient, productive environment.

Incorporate efficiency into the long-term scope.

While maximizing efficiency becomes a natural reactionary goal during economic downturns, the most successful CIOs view lean operations as an ongoing objective. They consistently evaluate whether the people, processes, policies and technologies they currently have in place are serving their optimal purpose and they make proactive changes whenever and wherever necessary. Simply put, achieving operational efficiency isn’t just a one-and-done task. It’s something that should become an integral and permanent component of an organization’s very culture.

Like it or not, the world around us is evolving rapidly. Without the right attention, foresight and action, many CIOs risk being left behind. The five tips above should help IT leaders simultaneously streamline ITOps and minimize costs while still driving business growth.

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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:

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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.

Helping the IT Help Desk – What you Need to Know about Virtual Support Agents

What you Need to Know about Virtual Support Agents

This post was originally published as a guest article on InsideBIGDATA.

IT help desks everywhere are handling a growing number of requests from multiple channels every day. And the more time the service desk spends putting out fires by phone, through email, or in person, the less time they have to focus on resolving the bigger issues and applying their cognitive skills to more meaningful projects.

Are chatbots or virtual support agents the answer? The success of virtual support depends on several key factors. Here’s how to identify those factors and evaluate whether or not VSAs are right for your organization.

Chatbot vs. VSA

The first important piece of the puzzle is understanding the difference between chatbot and virtual support agent technology. While the concept is similar, there is a distinct and critical difference, particularly as it relates to use in the help desk arena. This difference can be summed up in one word: context.

If you’ve ever visited a website and used the “live chat” feature to ask a question, chances are the party you interacted with was a chatbot. And chances are even greater that the responses you received were basic and scripted based on a set of common inquiries. Simply put, chatbots are one-dimensional. They cannot engage beyond the basic communication that they’ve been programmed for.

Virtual support agents, on the other hand, when set up properly, have far greater functionality and flexibility than chatbots. Thanks to underlying technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing, VSAs are capable of understanding the meaning and intent behind human communication, even if it’s vague or ambiguous.

In other words, VSAs can understand context. As such, they are able to hold realistic conversations, generate authentic dialogue and provide intelligent responses based not only on the data they’ve received (like chatbots), but also on the context of that data.

VSAs and the Help Desk

As mentioned, help desk agents field a mind-boggling volume of incoming requests, the majority of which are routine and repetitive in nature, but important nonetheless. For instance, password resets are a necessary evil in the IT support realm as they are required in order to keep others in the organization productive.

Yet, the process of manually resetting user passwords is not only a tremendous waste of human resources, but it’s also a massive waste of money. In fact, Forrester Research estimates that the average cost of a single password reset is $70. Multiply that cost by the number of times your support team executes this task and it really adds up.

That’s where virtual support technology comes in. VSAs enable the help desk to automate almost all routine, repetitive and manual tasks. Beyond this, however, is where the true value of virtual support becomes evident. In addition to automating the basics, the technology behind VSAs enables them to work alongside human agents, providing the same level of support and assistance.

How it works is remarkably simple. The virtual agent pulls data from various knowledge management resources to respond intelligently to incoming requests. Virtual agents are also capable of taking action on behalf of the end-user without the need for human intervention. This means fewer escalations and a more manageable workload so human support agents can focus their skills on more meaningful business initiatives.

The Key to Success

Of course, as with any technology, virtual support agents do require work in order to set them up properly. For instance, AI and NLP technologies are essential components to VSA functionality. The most fundamental key to success, however, is the establishment and maintenance of a comprehensive, dynamic knowledge-base. After all, this is the resource from which the VSA will draw its responses. Without in-depth and accurate data, virtual agents will not be capable of operating to their fullest potential.

Gartner predicts that by 2023, 40% of I&O teams will be using AI-augmented automation, resulting in higher productivity with greater agility and scalability. Given the current benefits, coupled with the promise of improving technology, it’s not a stretch to see that VSAs will continue to play an increasing role in making the help desk experience better for everyone.

Click here to view the original post on InsideBIGDATA.