How to Deploy Virtual Support Agents in 5 Steps

How to Deploy Virtual Support Agents in 5 Steps

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

Identify audience and need.

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

Select a platform.

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

Define your measure(s) of success.

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

Start fast – don’t wait for perfection.

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

Adjust and learn continuously.

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

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

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

How to Put Digital Labor to Work for Your Service Desk

Author: Guy Nadivi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would AI chatbots mean inside of my enterprise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How easy is it to use?

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

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

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

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

Download Free 30-Day Trial

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part I – Using Automation to Keep Your Network Fully Operational

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part I – Using Automation to Keep Your Network Fully Operational

With the current world health crisis forcing more organizations to enable employees to work from home, and industry analysts forecasting a year or more until we return to “normal” (whatever that may actually look like), businesses across the globe are scrambling to minimize disruption as much as possible.

This is impacting NOC staff as much as everyone, perhaps even more-so, given the fact that they are used to working in a ‘war-room’ type setting in which everyone is physically present. This will inevitably need to change. Thankfully, technology like IT process automation is here to lessen the blow.

Whether you work in a dedicated Network Operations Center (NOC) or operate something similar as part of a team that processes incoming tickets, you’ve probably already heard about the concept of NOC automation. Perhaps you’ve bought into the idea that this technology will all but eliminate the need for human workers. This isn’t necessarily the case, per se, but it can provide the augmentation and virtual support to not only get your organization through this crisis, but thrive well beyond it.

In part one of our three part blog series, we’ll be exploring five ways to keep your network fully operational, despite the critical external circumstances we’re all experiencing. Read on to learn more.

Enable Self-Service End-User Support

NOCs and their smaller counterparts handle an incredibly high number of tickets on a daily basis. Logic predicts that the greater the volume of tickets, the more challenging it becomes to do your job effectively. Given the current situation, demand for IT support is through the roof.

With NOC automation, much of the repetitive day-to-day tasks can be shifted to machine and the entire alert process can be streamlined and optimized. Add in the option of self-service automation, which allows the end-user to handle many of their own simple requests, like password resets, and the skilled IT pros are suddenly freed up to apply their time and talent to more mission-critical tasks.

Enhance Communication

When an incident occurs in a busy NOC environment, it’s alarmingly easy for the process to hit a bottleneck or become lost in the shuffle, especially during a worldwide pandemic. The front-line employee may initiate a request immediately, but if that process isn’t managed properly, there’s no telling where it will go from there. NOC automation is specifically designed to streamline the notification and escalation process so that everything moves through the pipeline in a smooth, timely manner.

When IT staff responds to a notification, an automatic follow-up message can be triggered after a pre-defined timeframe. When the problem is resolved, the incident is closed and a recovery notification is distributed. If the problem remains open, an alert is automatically sent to the system administrator for further review and attention. This ensures that the lines of communication always remain open and flowing freely to eliminate costly delays.

Improve Incident Management

When an incident is triggered and a NOC employee is available to handle it, there’s usually no issue. But what happens if that person isn’t available, or doesn’t have the capacity to respond in a timely manner, such as is frequently the case with work-from-home arrangements? The risk of a ticket sitting in limbo is greatly increased without some type of automated strategy in place. When NOC automation is implemented, the incident management process is much more efficient.

When an incident is triggered, the appropriate representative is notified. Here’s where technology really makes a difference. Should that person fail to respond in a specified amount of time, the system automatically escalates the incident to the next person in line, and so on. Furthermore, notifications and responses can be sent in a variety of ways, including email and SMS, which makes the entire process easier.

Better Insight for Improved Best Practices

NOC teams that perform at their best recognize that it requires continuous process improvement to stay a step ahead of the game. This is achieved through detailed, strategic reporting and analysis. Done manually, this can be a bear to perform and is probably at the top of the list of the least enjoyable tasks.

The good news is, NOC automation is capable of enhanced tracking and reporting, which means that the necessary data will be available ad-hoc at the click of a button. Advanced analytics can then be performed to help identify and develop best practices for ongoing success and future improvement.

Escalation to Management or Clients

Depending on the type of service your NOC provides, keeping customers in the loop on the status of incidents may be a requirement. Furthermore, those in leadership roles within your organization, including executive management and possibly even specified shareholders, should be kept abreast of the status of things like significant outages. In either of these cases, figuring out who needs to know what, who will be in charge of spearheading this communication and executing an open dialogue can be a challenging and time-consuming task.

With NOC automation, alerts can be automatically sent to designated parties so they are kept in the loop and workflows can be set up to notify other business stakeholders about critical incidents. Additionally, in-depth reports on incident resolution performance and mean time to repair (MTTR) can be generated to satiate management and keep them in-the-know, reducing the need for follow-ups and manual status reports.

In conclusion, NOC automation is not poised to take over and replace human workers, but rather it is designed to enhance and complement the skilled personnel working within. And at a time when the world is busy trying to navigate through a crisis of epic proportions, relying on technology has never been more important.  

Want to experience for yourself just how these benefits can play out in your NOC? Start a free trial of Ayehu NG today by clicking here.

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.

Addressing the New Social Distancing Rules as Businesses Re-Open

Over the past several weeks, as organizations were forced to shut down due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak, some serious weaknesses have been exposed. First, many quickly discovered how drastically unprepared they were for disaster response.

According to a recent survey conducted by AvidXchange, a shocking 40% of organizations polled did not have business continuity plans in place. And despite the fact that 60% of those surveyed did have a continuity plan in place, only 37% of them actually have the technology necessary to enable employees to work remotely as part of their strategy. Furthermore, only a mere 19% said their workforce has the appropriate technology to be able to work from home.

Then there was the challenge of offshore IT support. In particular, many organizations that rely heavily on MSPs for their IT management recently discovered that such an arrangement isn’t always viable. For instance, the entire country of India – where a massive number of these MSPs are located – was ordered to lock down for several weeks. Unfortunately, working from home there is a rarity, which left the reliant businesses in quite a bind.

In recent weeks, we’ve discussed the various ways that intelligent automation could address these issues. For example, we talked about how automation could help minimize and possibly even prevent business disruption when transitioning to a work-from-home setup, as well as which factors to consider when making this change. We also talked about how automation could help companies for which remote work wasn’t an option, as well as how it could be an insurance policy for those relying on offshore MSP arrangements.

Now, as the world slowly but surely prepares to reopen, there has come to light a new challenge. Many businesses are now quickly coming to the realization that they’re simply not prepared to respond to the new social distancing rules that will inevitably be in place for the foreseeable future.

For larger enterprises, the first wave of reopening will likely involve a return to work of only a portion of employees. After all, we can’t have droves of workers filing in, sitting in cubicles located just inches from one another. But how will companies fare on only a segment of their workforce. Yes, some can continue working remotely, but what about organizations that weren’t able to facilitate such an arrangement? How can they be expected to operate at full capacity with only a small percentage of their people?

Once again, we are seeing a point at which humans and robots are coming together to work in tandem. Intelligent automation can be brought in to fill in the gaps, be it executing complex IT processes and workflows, monitoring systems 24/7 to prevent and address incidents, or delivering instant self-service IT support – all without the need for human agents. This will support just about any arrangement a company has, whether it’s a partial remote/on premise setup, or operating on a skeleton crew during the first wave.

Most importantly, technology can (and should) be used to help manage those processes and workflows that are most critical to business continuity. The aforementioned study revealed that there is a direct correlation between the existing gap in technology preparedness and the mission-critical processes that are necessary to keep businesses operating. Intelligent automation is a surprisingly simple and affordable solution to these glaring needs. And 85% of those surveyed agree that this is something they need to invest in.

The fact is, while the coronavirus situation happens to be at the forefront, it’s really only one of the many serious risks organizations today face. Beyond health crises, there are any number of disasters that could potentially knock a business off course, whether it be something physical, like a fire or flood, or something digital, like a cyber-attack. Having a solid plan for backup and recovery – one that leans heavily on innovative technology – is the key to survival.

By leveraging intelligent automation, you can fortify your organization and make it more resilient so that no matter the external circumstances, you’ll no longer be vulnerable to them. Best of all, getting started with automation is quick and easy. Simply download your free 30-day trial of Ayehu NG.

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.