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Next-generation service desk: the future is intelligently automated

By Daisuke Honda, - Insight

Three-fifths (59%) of service desk professionals said increased automation was a top priority for 2016, according to research by The Service Desk Institute [pdf].

And we can only expect usage of this technology to increase as organisations strive to create a more user-centric Service Desk experience while freeing up staff to focus on more insightful or strategic tasks.

Automation in itself is nothing new, of course – self-service portals and other services have been around for a number of years now, but for various reasons these have been poorly adopted and utilised.

Additionally, only 34% of IT organisations rely on self-service portals as part of their Service Desk strategy, according to Gartner’s self-service strategy paper.

But with increasingly powerful technologies such as machine learning becoming available to support automation, applying it to the Service Desk is fast becoming a viable and desirable option for businesses across the world.

Here’s how to get it right…

Knowing what to automate

Some things are best left to humans – there’s no getting away from that. And so the first question on your mind when looking to introduce automation to any environment is likely: which parts should we automate?

The best way to start is by focusing on the end-user and finding the right balance between what is easily automated and what has the largest business impact. What tasks are most important to the business and how can you help the end-user perform those tasks more efficiently?

Think about the tasks that are carried out most frequently or on a regular basis across the business – these are likely the best targets for automation.

One example is resetting a password. The impact of a person not being able to work because they can’t access their computers or specific applications is much more significant than for other unrelated faults.

If you do things with the user in mind, if you understand their normal behaviours and the task(s) trying to be fulfilled, you’ll find it much easier to overcome any potential cultural challenges that can come with introducing automated portals.

It will also enable you to push the boundaries of automated technology further, potentially introducing it as a more proactive function – one that anticipates and eliminates IT issues without being prompted.

The rise of self-learning Virtual Agents

While some things are indeed best left to humans, other things are best handed over to machines so humans can get on with all the things they didn’t have time to do before.

By automating processes that have remained manual and out of date, we’re able to take steps to focus on more pressing matters. Many repetitive tasks and processes are scripted already – why not hand them over to a machine?

In days past it would have seemed odd to have a customer service function without actually having someone to talk to.

But that World is long gone. Now Virtual Agents can be as helpful as any human when it comes to solving simple IT issues.

And they provide this basic support function in a much more personal way that a self-service portal ever could. They effectively bridge the gap between automated machines and the human touch.

Take-up of this technology is only likely to rise with the increasing introduction of cognitive, artificially intelligent Agents that can self-learn, anticipating and resolving a huge range of end-user issues, often before they affect the user.

In the long-run, Virtual Agents will be able to act as proxies for Service Desk representatives, completing tasks for them and presenting questions back to the user.

This is huge. It means AI technologies will eventually be able to identify and resolve issues automatically, or even proactively prevent them. They’ll be able to prioritise cases and make teams more organised.

There will be massive potential gains in terms of both productivity (real value for our customers) and cost reduction, benefiting both suppliers and IT organisations.

In fact, Gartner predicts that those using automated and cognitive platforms will be able to achieve a 60% reduction in IT support services running costs by 2017.

AI and humans working in harmony

Glenn Drawbridge recently claimed AI will save us, not enslave us. I couldn’t agree more.

The beauty of automation in the Service Desk context is that it will free up IT professionals to focus on more complex and business-critical tasks – ones that require insightful, strategic or creative thinking.

Look at the introduction of the ATM, for example. While it reduced the need for cashiers, it also led to humans being repurposed for more customer-facing or advisory roles.

In the same way, future Service Desk Agents will be problem-solvers supported by automated technologies.

Where the user will have one point of contact with IT, their experience will be a hybrid of human and machine – machines completing everyday actions while humans provide higher-level advice and help identify opportunities.

Service Desk Agents will no longer be seen as technology workers, but commercial specialists and gatherers of customer insight. The Service Desk will be a barometer – a critical business enabler – and humans will continue to play a vital part in making that happen.

I say bring it on!

Download our Next-Generation Service Desk whitebook for lots more insight around automation and its role in the future of IT.

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