For the last few months, companies have been dealing with their new business reality - operating within the constraints of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Since this virus hit, its impact has been devastating for the business community. We’ve seen heartbreaking stories of companies unable to cope with the downturn and a surge in unemployment rates. While it’s pleasing the Government is stepping in with relief packages, what’s not being addressed is the need for a viable solution to enable companies to keep operating and employing their staff when a disaster strikes. According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are nearly two and a half million businesses in Australia and for them to function proficiently in times like these, they need innovative ways to move their workforce from office-to-home without interruption. For companies Australia-wide this problem has caused a significant headache and resulted in lost productivity. And, as always, it seems that the greatest strain has been placed on IT service desks who have been inundated with questions and requests from staff who simply want a solution to their problem so they can carry on with their work. The resolutions they need are not necessarily difficult but when the company’s workforce is 450+ strong, the ability of an IT service desk to satisfy staff demand efficiently becomes problematic. Fortunately, as work-from-home becomes the norm, companies are looking at ways to onboard their home staff proficiently and are utilising artificial intelligence (AI) automation to empower their employees to carry out their role unabated. AI technology AI technology is considered a computer science that helps to build smart machines (or digital solutions) that can perform tasks that typically require a physical worker to complete. The introduction of AI technology into a company does not spell the end of employees, it simply means staff are enabled to work in a more concise and less labour intensive manner, no matter their role. AI technology and automation makes sense when moving from office-to-home. Staff members, in their personal lives, are used to being surrounded by technology that adds value. If devices like Google Home and digital TV can be operated quickly, staff don’t want to be hampered by the slowness of technology as they try to work. AI technology also empowers employees to self-care their IT issues and gives them the tools - often through automation - to solve their problem without needing to raise a ticket and wait for a response from an IT service desk. This is positive news for companies given the shift from customer-experience to employee-experience, as AI technology can be used to keep staff members happy and healthy in their role. The Hay Group, a management consultancy, found in a recent study that employees who are engaged in their role are up to 43% more productive than those who are not. This means that companies need to understand what their staff require and do their best to accommodate it. And as Richard Branson says, “If the person who works at your company is 100 per cent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy. Effectively, in the end, shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy." Having usable and reliable AI technology and automation is one way to achieve this. How AI automation technology increases productivity For a Chief Information Officer (CIO), the efficiency gains of utilising AI technology across their service desk only benefits IT staff and employees working from home. It goes without saying that due to COVID-19, employees don’t have face-to-face access to IT service desks and can’t approach informally to get a quick answer and apply it themselves. Therefore, IT service desks get swamped with requests that take seconds to fix but that doesn’t necessarily mean a resolution can be delivered quickly. With an uplift in work-from-home employee-interactions comes increased pressure on IT service desk staff to understand and resolve their IT issues from afar. That’s why if a process can be automated through AI technology, it should be. As a CIO, you’d be aware of the regular requests your IT staff deal with on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon for an IT service desk to spend large portions of their day resetting passwords, granting access to online folders and files and working from home reimbursement forms and reconnecting VPN’s for other employees. AI technology deviates repetitive tasks away from IT service desk staff and allows employees to solve their issue via step-by-step automation. This benefits both parties. IT staff can focus on other aspects of their role, like conducting the large scale IT maintenance a company needs to operate, while work from home employees don’t have to wait for a resolution to their issue. While it might be insensitive, COVID-19 has given companies a new way forward in how they operate. Enabling large scale staff to work from home was always going to happen but a clearly defined process wasn’t in place before this virus hit. Now, companies have been forced to act and to do so quickly. Fortunately, there are solutions to help companies struggling to move staff from office-to-home and to reduce the stress placed on IT service desks dealing with the technical and repetitive issues employees experience. AI technology, in the form of automation, is not a staff-replacement initiative. It’s valuable technology that’s enabling CIOs to minimise the pressures on their IT staff and enables employees working from home to do so without interruptions or long delays.

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Service Desk's or Help Desk's as we used to call them have been around for years, if we look back to the early 1980's we had the early vendors like Peregrine and BMC who gave IT support the ability to log trouble tickets and track their lifecycle. In the late 1980's client service architectures become the order of the day so we shifted from mainframe green screens to windows based client server technologies. - automating diagnosis in machine time and suggesting next action to resolve issue.

Products like HP Openview Service Desk or commonly referred to as OVSD entered the market, provide a richer user experience for the Service Desk agents. At around the same time the Helpdesk become known as the Service Desk as the focus shifted from simply helping "users" fix issues to actually viewing these users/employees as customers of the services provided by IT. The Service Desk became shop front to IT as the level of reliance on technology increased across the business. As more technology began driving business it was necessary to have clearly defined processes and SLA's on how to support this rapidly growing mix of technologies used to support the business. it become clear we needed a process framework and so ITIL was born.

Organisations across the globe invested heavily to employ process consultants to help define and document best practice processes aligned to the ITIl Framework. With process swim lanes in place and roles and responsibilities defined we needed to educate IT staff to use a common taxonomy and understood and Incident was not a Request. Vendors acknowledged the adoption of ITIL and importance of supporting it and so to ITIL verified was introduced with Pink Verify able to assist in verifying.

So now we had processes defined according to a framework we had people educated on Incident vs Request vs Problem and we had a tools to drive the process which relied on people - people, process, technology.

What we failed to achieve is how do we improve the service experience for our employees, call wait times increased, call resolution times increased and scaling the Service Desk was expensive, more calls resulted in more Service Desk staff. And so the inevitable happened, service experience declined with an overloaded Service Desk, employees waited days for their issues to be resolved and business productivity was impacted resulting in "we can outsource the service desk for less expense". This has it's own challenges if not done correctly which I will talk in in a future blog.

Software vendors being the innovative crowd they are continued to innovate and SaaS was born with products like ServiceNow where Opex vs Capex being the discussion of the day. While SaaS certainly removed the operational overhead for the IT department of having to manage yet another application, it did little to solve the employees service experience when dealign with the Service Desk, which research shows the important factors are:

  1. How quickly can you solve my issue

  2. Can you solve it on first contact

  3. Can you keep me updated on the progress if you cant solve it on first contact

Instead we moved to solve only part of the problem - the load on the Service Desk and having to do more with less. We invested in self-service portals and asked users to try and solve their issues themselves with Knowledge Article before contacting the Sevrice Desk and so the phrase "shift left" was coined.

And so we usher in a new era, and era where Artificial Intelligence (AI) enables IT to deliver a rich service experience to the employees by solving their issues quickly and on first contact. An era where AI is embedded in the enterprise application an abstracts the complexity of AI through Observe | Learn | Augment | Automate. An era where doing more with less is possible. An era where we can do more with less and deliver the best possible service experience for our employees.

Don't be stuck in the NOW. the Smart | Simple | Better way to run your Service Desk

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