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Why embracing new technology is key to successful IT service desks

IT was slow to support bring your own device (BYOD). Now chatbots and digitisation are rewriting IT service management best practices

Many service desk staff believe their jobs will not be offset by artificial intelligence (AI) advancements, according to a survey of 323 IT service managers by IT service management community for ManageEngine.

Almost 16% of respondents felt their jobs would be severely affected by AI by 2020, while 44% said they though it would have some impact on their jobs. Surprisingly, almost one-third said they though AI would have no impact.

According to some IT service management experts, despite the growth of AI technology such as chatbots, which can be used to manage helpdesk tasks, a fair proportion of IT service desk staff appear to be in denial over the prospect that their jobs may be affected in some way.

Stephen Mann, principal analyst and content director at ITSM.tool, told Computer Weekly: “I don’t think it will be too long before chatbots are used internally.”

AI such as IBM’s Watson can power a chatbot for only $27 a month, which makes an AI far cheaper than having humans man the IT helpdesk, said Mann.

He described chatbots as an evolution of self-service – providing self-service on steroids. “The technology will take away many of the simple tasks,” he added.

But in Mann’s experience, many IT departments have failed to see a return on investment in self-service IT, which means the uptake of chatbots could be similarly hampered.

“A lot of IT pros see AI as something good, to better service end-users, but there are three elephants in the room for AI,” he said. “The first is that AI will steal jobs; the second is whether a consumer wants to be helped by a human; and the third is that the tech will never be more human than humans.”

According to Mann, there is potential for chatbots to take over some of the more straightforward tasks on the IT service desk, freeing staff to work on more complex problem-solving, rather than simply following predefined scripts.

Changing the role of ITSM

Mann believes the IT service desk needs to rethink its purpose. Only 24% of respondents to the survey thought existing ITSM best practices had kept up with changing IT and business landscapes, while 77% thought there was more to be done to meet the expectations of millennial employees.

“It took the average IT department way too long to look at bring your own device (BYOD),” he said. “However, it’s been too easy to be blinded by the fact that employees use better devices and cloud services than in business.”

For Mann, the key to success for an IT service desk is to get the customer experience right, which is something people have come to expect when they are not at work. “Customer experience is the differentiator and IT departments need to understand that IT services management, delivery and support need to be far closer to the consumer world than they have previously been,” he said. “Ultimately, as an industry, we still need to invest more in getting modern IT support right.”

Staff performance is often measured based on metrics related to how many help desk queries are resolved per hour. Mann argued that such metrics may not necessarily give an accurate indication of the effectiveness of the help desk to keep employees working effectively by ensuring their IT issues are resolved quickly and efficiently.

Read more about the changing role of IT

  • Car firms are becoming more tech savvy, but connected cars open up a whole new set of challenges.
  • Chatbots have the potential to reduce the load on contact centres. A recent Capita workshop explored the impact of this and other emerging technology.

“The IT service desk does not necessary see the business process,” he said. “People need to understand how the business works. Consumerisation is the conduit for IT to focus better on the people who consume corporate IT services.”

This is reflected in the survey. Of the 323 IT service desk professionals who took part in the study, a quarter felt their efforts and value were sufficiently recognised by management. Two in four said they felt they did get recognised but not enough, while one in four said they did not get recognised for their work. Overall, 75% of respondents said they felt undervalued.

About 66% of those surveyed thought ITIL and other ITSM best practices had failed to keep up with the changing ITSM landscape.

For example, as businesses adopt a digitisation strategy, the role of internal IT can often change from supporting internal staff to supporting external customers. For instance, connected cars turn car makers into IT operations companies. This can lead to IT service management taking on a customer-facing role, as Computer Weekly has reported previously.

If an organisation has chosen to open up internal application programming interfaces (APIs), the IT service desk could find that IT support tickets are being submitted not just by humans, but also by machines using the external API. According to ManageEngine, the survey findings reinforce the need for ITIL to reinvent itself to keep pace with changing trends in IT.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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