AI and chatbot innovation doesn't have to be idealistic. Go for practical first

A month ago I attended a CIO conference where I was asked to discuss three intertwined, yet conflicting themes – innovation, execution and results. In the IT and tech world, we hear these words a lot, but reconciling all three poses some challenging answers. Innovation is defined as “the introduction of something new.” So by definition, the first companies to innovate won’t know what it takes to seamlessly execute, nor have concrete evidence of results. 

From my vantage point as an executive at an intelligent chatbot platform provider, I watched enterprise leaders grapple with achieving these three goals in unison throughout 2016. By now, just about everyone in enterprise tech has read about the potential of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and chatbots. IT leaders believe these technologies will disrupt work and customer engagement models, and CIOs must look beyond their own industries – to Amazon, Google, Uber and others – for what will unfold. The experiences these players offer will inevitably drive the demand for speech to text, the preference for messaging over email, and the desire for systems that are smart enough to work on behalf of users, not the other way around. If it’s happening in the consumer world now, then we know what comes next. Expectations trickle into the enterprise workforce. 

But in 2016, IT leaders struggled to connect this innovative technology to execution and results. Tech providers and media alike ‘muddied the waters’ and proposed interesting but impractical initial use cases, oversimplified the nuances and inflated the promises of results.

Enterprise AI and chatbot discussions shift from ‘Blue Ocean’ to practical innovation

This fall, I saw the thinking about AI and chatbot innovation at the enterprise level change. History proves that practical innovation, including incremental and service innovation, can provide the best chance for early positive outcomes. Incremental innovation, as opposed to rip-and-replace solutions, makes existing systems better, faster and cheaper. Service innovation is created by altering how a service is offered or delivered. This is the type of innovation IT leaders will introduce in 2017, and one area is the IT Help Desk. 

I hear a similar story from all the IT leaders I talk to – they’re simply accustomed to being told to do more with less, and do it faster and better. For the help desk, that requires resolving tickets quicker without more staff, and/or making user self-service easier. Given those challenges, the inherent value of a chatbot aligns perfectly. Chatbots complete tasks through natural language and a short-form, message-based conversation. This makes digital tasks more intuitive and fewer steps or interactions to complete. 

Said another way, tasks get done in a fraction of the time, often without human intervention (ie a call to the help desk or an e-mail communication). Here’s one simple example:

Current Scenario: You created a wealth of resources explaining IT policies and systems. Resources sit in a knowledge base tied to your ITSM system, whether that’s ServiceNow, ZenDesk, or another. When questions arise, users search for answers in your company portal or system. 

Challenge: The breadth and depth of resources adds instant complexity. Additionally, the contrast in how a user naturally thinks about their issue/question and how IT categorizes the information creates a self-service disconnect. Imagine a user that simply wants a new company phone. Today, they must think about what information they need, navigate through multiple screens, and dig through the document just to answer one simple question, “what’s the company’s mobile device policy?”

New Approach: A chatbot turns that same task into a rapid question-answer style dialogue, getting the user what they need in seconds. Once the user reviews what’s allowed, the chatbot could place an order for a new device too.

The speed, ease and efficiency of chatbots applies far beyond this Q&A-oriented example. A service desk chatbot could send employees personalised alerts about system outages, reset a password, place asset orders, submit tickets for broken conference room devices or printers, and much more. It could assist staff to rapidly change an incident, pull a report on change requests, alert them when a lost device is reported and subsequently help them suspend or wipe the device, and more.

Making IT help desk service better, not just faster 

Designed thoughtfully, intelligent chatbots also elevate the quality and change the delivery of IT services: 

Change where and how end-users consume help desk services. The example I outlined above showed a user engaging a bot within the company portal, but that interaction can actually occur in whatever communication tool a user prefers, can access, or is using in the moment – SMS/text, email, communication and collaboration tools like Skype, Spark or Slack, and even popular messaging apps like Messenger. The user could also leverage speech-to-text for speed. There’s no interruption to the flow of work. No switching screens. And most importantly, self-service that works even when a user can’t access your portal.  

Make the system experience smarter and more human: An intelligent chatbot delivers a personalised, contextual, asynchronous experience that users have never had with GUI systems. A chatbot connects to a system, but is not tethered to it like a traditional UI. That means a conversation never ends like an application session expires. Instead, a smart chatbot can keep elements of the conversation in short and long-term memory, such as an employee’s address preference for new asset deliveries. It then uses that information to presuppose what a user will want to do, or to make a suggestion for the next action. 

A chatbot also understands context, which allows it to parse a request like “I lost my phone and need a new one” into two separate tasks it can complete – one to submit a ticket for a lost phone, and the second to order a new one. 

Practical innovation is easier to execute and measure 

Practical innovation might not be the “sexiest” innovation you can propose, but the impact can be just as high, and it can be easier to execute and quickly prove results too. The IT Help Desk is one entry point for AI and chatbots, an initial proving ground for the enterprise. This is why.

It’s practical because IT staff knows what the needs are and what must change. It’s an innovation that impacts your department and the people you serve company-wide. It has a realistic scope, which makes for an easier path to succeed. You can design and build faster because you’re working with systems IT already knows best. And finally, you own the data to measure results. Whether that’s speed of ticket resolution, service desk calls eliminated, time to communicate and fix outages or otherwise. 

Innovation doesn’t have to be eye popping. It doesn’t have to make headlines or be the subject of lengthy news features. It just has to work. Chatbots for IT give innovation, execution and results a realistic scope, and the data ownership to measure the results. Because at the end of the day, an innovative solution that bites off more than it can chew isn’t a solution at all. 

Lindsay Sanchez, is head of operations and CMO, Kore
Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock