AI, Automation, and the IT Service Desk


by
September 26, 2017

While “AI, Automation, and the IT Service Desk” might not sound as interesting, or as crazy, as C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, artificial intelligence (AI) and the increased use of automation are poised to make the IT service desk a more magical place. Which is quite fitting given Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

But this is more of an IT-support nirvana than it is an IT-support Narnia, with the use of machine learning and chatbots, in particular, poised to radically change how we think about and deliver assistance and services to the consumers of corporate IT services. AI and automation allow IT departments to create better customer-supporting solutions that:

  • Speed things up
  • Reduce costs
  • Are potentially more effective than people-based efforts
  • Deliver a better customer experience
AI and automation allow IT departments to create better customer-supporting solutions.
Tweet: AI and automation allow IT departments to create better customer-supporting solutions. @stephenmann @ThinkHDI

This blog talks to how AI will help to improve IT support.

The More-Obvious AI Use Cases

Some AI use cases are easier to visualize than others. Three, in particular, are commonly talked about:

  1. Predictive analytics for incident management. Using data analytics to better understand what’s happening where, and where the risks and issues are, or will be. Of course, this also lends itself well to problem, change, capacity, and availability management, giving IT support staff a “crystal ball” capability that provides the proactivity needed to reduce the pressures of reactivity.
  2. Intelligent workflow. Firstly, using AI to understand which groups/people are best for particular issues or requests (and factoring in availability) and routing tickets accordingly. Secondly, better managing the customer journey, systematically, and quickly, taking them through the most-likely ways in which they will get the help they need.
  3. Demand planning. AI can accurately predict what will be needed—whether people, service capacity, new hardware and software, or other resources—in near real-time. In a service desk context, this could relate to a spectrum of needs, from the relative busy-ness of the service desk at different times during the day, week, month, and year, to the purchase of additional products/services.

Helping with Self-Help and Knowledge Management

Self-help and knowledge management are two areas that IT, and the service desk, have traditionally struggled with. AI can help in a number of ways:

  1. Intelligent search and “recommendations.” A search capability, for both IT and end users, that comprehends context and meaning, and what has or hasn’t worked before, not just the existence of specific keywords. Plus, suggestions of things that will directly help or that might be of interest/use. Such AI-powered recommendation engines are what Amazon and Netflix already use to better serve the needs of their customers.
  2. Making self-help more consumable. For instance, through intelligent autoresponders where end-user emails are automatically responded to, by email, providing the most-likely solutions. When a solution works, an embedded-button press automatically records the solution that worked and closes the ticket. It’s self-help via email, and on the end-user’s terms, rather than them needing to visit the self-service portal on the service provider’s terms.
  3. Making the “process” of knowledge management easier for time-strapped staff. AI can be used to identify knowledge-article gaps. This might be new articles that need creating or existing articles that can’t easily be found or effectively used. AI can then help further through the automated creation of new articles from existing, recorded, ticket resolutions.

Bringing Support Capabilities to People Rather than People to the Static Support Capabilities

AI-powered autoresponders, such as chatbots and virtual assistants, bring intelligent self-service to your customers. Consider:

  • Chatbots can answer simple, and some complicated, questions, learning as they work. They can also be used as service desk “concierges,” undertaking taking an initial level of data capture and/or triage before passing the end user to a service desk agent if needed.
  • Virtual personal assistants (VPAs) can augment what people already know or facilitate them in the things that they need to do. For instance, chatbots or other bots can be engaged with via voice-based VPAs thanks to natural language processing. For instance, a service desk agent could simply request “Close all tickets related to the New York office network issue.”

Delivering a Better Customer Experience

Much of the above has the desirable side-effect of delivering a better customer experience to both end users and IT staff. However, AI can also do more “sensitive” things related to the customer experience. For instance, machine learning can be employed for sentiment analysis, either in real time during a chatbot session or to understand what transactional or seasonal customer satisfaction survey data really means.

There will, of course, be many other applications of AI for the IT service desk, some of which we can’t even imagine, let alone do, yet. How are you using AI for IT support already? What do you plan to do? Or are there operational issues that you’d like AI to help resolve?


Stephen Mann is Principal and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. He is also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals. Stephen previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, and IT asset management. Follow him on Twitter @stephenmann.


Tag(s): supportworld, automation, service desk, service management

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