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How businesses can use intelligent automation to help busy IT service desks

(Image credit: Image Credit: Cordis Technology)

Many employees across the world are still working remotely as countries begin to ease out of lockdown. Concurrently, companies are continuing to manage massive spikes in IT support tickets from remote workers, all while facing limited IT budgets and reduced staff resources. According to a report by the Parliament Street think tank, a third of businesses have hired external IT support to cope with the Covid-19 crisis, but not all can afford this luxury.

Traditional approaches to IT service desk operations have reached their limit. Many IT departments have worked tirelessly to ensure the infrastructure in place is able to meet the new demands of remote working. With this also comes the need for robust security, and it falls on IT staff to ensure they have the best solutions in place to stay protected. It’s crucial business leaders recognise the signs of an overworked IT department; not only to manage the high volume of tasks and requests, but also to prevent burnout.

Hiring additional support staff can be a good short-term solution to meet demands at busy times. However, with much uncertainty about the future of work, now is a good time for CTOs and

CIOs to be thinking about a post Covid-19 world. Implementing automation powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is one strategy which can help busy IT service desks teams – both in the short and the long term.

One step ahead: is your business in need of automation?

There has been immense pressure on IT service desks over the last three months to provide quick resolutions to IT issues as employees work remotely. In some organisations, with hundreds or thousands of employees now set up across the country (or the world) with different home set-ups, it’s an incredibly challenging time for IT service desks to manage requests at scale.

When IT teams are overburdened with high-volume IT support requests, productivity for the entire enterprise can suffer. With automation, experienced workers can be freed from high-volume but not necessarily high value tasks and can use that experience elsewhere in the business.

Many high-volume requests offer limited business value compared to the time and resources needed to resolve them. These high-volume requests are usually addressed with highly regimented actions, which makes them ideal candidates for automation. When these requests are handed off to AI, they can be resolved 24/7 and usually far more quickly than it would if raised as a queued ticket requiring human intervention. This not only has the potential to increase revenues because of the reduced downtime waiting on IT support tickets to be resolved, but it also represents a step-change in how managers think about resourcing their IT service desks, and provides a great alternative to hiring external support staff.

Meet your new (digital) employee

Digital employees represent the next great chapter in human-machine collaboration. When integrated with back-end information systems, such as IT operations tools, human workers work directly with these cognitive and conversational AI assistants to self-serve and complete a number of automated tasks.

For example, in most enterprises, a simple password reset today requires a user to either reach out to the IT department and wait to be serviced, or to submit a ticket and wait for it to be executed. A digital employee, such as Amelia, can lead employees step-by-step through processes, either by voice or written command, to complete the task. This relieves the IT desk of these common, lower-value tickets and allows them to focus on more critical projects. It also significantly increases Time to Resolution (TTR), which benefits employees as simple issues get seen to quicker and means the queue for those needing more complex human assistance is reduced.

However, it’s important to balance the work between digital and human employees and understand when humans need to step in. For example, what happens when people ask a question that the digital employee hasn’t been trained on or can’t help with? At this point, the digital employee needs to be able to seamlessly hand the query over to a human co-worker, who can then rectify the more complex issue.

Introducing the hybrid workforce

As AI takes an increasingly prominent role in the workplace, more and more individuals will be interacting with hybrid teams made up of both human and digital employees.  A hybrid workforce collaborating to execute processes can provide a high level of business continuity and boost productivity.

There is no question that people, processes, and performance will all be impacted by the automation provided by AI, so it’s understandable that some human workers may feel anxious about losing their jobs. However, companies must show their employees that, instead of looking at which roles will be usurped by AI, they are introducing AI as a collaborative tool to get the most out of existing roles. Businesses will also need to update and refresh their training programmes accordingly, to demonstrate how humans can work collaboratively with digital employees.

In action, a Swiss hospitality school had some initial pushback from employees in the admissions team when they started a Proof of Concept (POC) for Amelia to provide additional support. However, the perception of the technology completely changed after a second implementation was introduced with the IT team, where Amelia was introduced to manage the end-to-end process of verifying and providing all guests with access to Wi-Fi. The resounding success of the project and improvement experienced by the IT team in eliminating this repetitive, low value task resulted in them becoming ambassadors for the positive potential of automation and demand for Amelia grew across the organisation.

The future of work will be defined by the collaboration between humans and AI. By explaining – and showing through running a POC with a receptive team –  the many ways in which digital employees can improve employees’ experience of work, you’ll build a workforce ready and willing to welcome the future of work through a hybrid workforce.

Preparing for a post Covid-19 world

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing many companies to consider how their workforce operates under difficult circumstances. Some of the most substantial opportunities for automation within an enterprise can materialise by freeing employees from routine processes and reapplying their expertise throughout the organisation. This is certainly true for IT service desk staff.

Savvy companies that prepare for the hybrid workforce revolution will be the ones that drive the most impactful business value from AI. Companies in the UK are adopting AI faster than ever before, and it’s now up to the C-Suite to recognise the opportunities on offer for their IT service desk.

Faisal Abbasi, MD UK & I, IPsoft