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Automating the IT Help Desk: A Win for Employee Experience & Cost Reduction

Joel Krishnan

Senior Manager, Intelligent Automation Consulting
Blog

When the world rapidly shifted to remote work last March, companies had to quickly rethink what platforms, systems and tools their employees needed in the new model. It was no longer an option to walk over to the IT department to ask for assistance or approval on downloading new software. Instead, the IT help desk had to become more digital to keep up with new and different requests from employees (sometimes from all over the world). In fact, during COVID-19, organizations have reported higher numbers of support tickets due to remote work, with as much as 20-30% increase in volume from before the start of the pandemic. Now, over a year later, many businesses have embraced the work-from-home model and recognize that this way of working is likely here to stay for some, if not all, employees. This bears the question: How can we modernize the IT help desk by leveraging automation to improve the employee experience and decrease costs? 

First, let’s break down the primary responsibility of the help desk: to provide real-time assistance to the questions and challenges that arise during the first contact with the employee. Typically, those interactions involve receiving or responding to printing issues, providing permissions and access, resetting passwords, upgrading to new software, recovering data or documents, and addressing email and network account issues or IT security and virus protection services. While seemingly minor, these IT issues can be pretty frustrating for your employees who are already trying to manage a heavy workload and schedule. Keeping your employees happy and motivated, especially in a volatile market, is important and has clear implications for retention and attrition.

Some organizations have deployed help desk software to manage the lifecycle of the ticketing process, provide access to self-service portals to resolve common issues, maintain hardware and software assets of the organization, enforce service-level agreements and administer end-user surveys to improve quality. However, upgrading to newer versions of the software, making additional changes to existing custom-built software or providing end-to-end integration to back-end systems is both costly and time-consuming. While it does require investment up front, intelligent automation (IA) can serve as a more cost-effective solution that integrates with systems in a non-invasive way to gain some quick wins for your business.

Although there is no officially agreed-upon figure for the cost of an IT service ticket, it is generally accepted to be in the range of $20 per ticket. While this may sound negligible on the surface, the indirect impact could be surprisingly significant. For example, we could estimate that a service specialist that is unable to attend to three customers might cost $300 or an IT associate that cannot be productive could cost $100 per hour. These figures look different for each specific organization, but it’s important to keep in mind not just the hourly wage of your IT help desk staff, but also the implications of employees being unable to do their work productively with outstanding technology issues.

Below, we’ll explore a few examples of how IA technologies can help your business.

Cognitive Automation

Almost all organizations provide a support email ID for employees to quickly identify issues rather than wait to speak to a support specialist. In the case of large enterprises, this support mailbox is monitored by personnel whose main job is to categorize and classify these emails based on the content and create a ticket in IT service management systems (like ServiceNow, BMC Helix, Zendesk, Freshworks, etc.) and assign it to the appropriate group. A team of agents typically triages and routes tickets, which can be mundane, unfulfilling and time-consuming. There are two challenges with this approach. First, turnaround time increases because of this manual work, and second, the cost of resolving these issues increases due to the human touch. Cognitive automation, which leverages machine learning or natural language processing technologies, can help you classify and extract key phrases to create support tickets and route them to specific groups. This saves your company time and money, while also focusing your employees on more value-add tasks.

Virtual Agents

With the increase in the number of support tickets, many businesses have been unable to afford to hire enough agents to address this spike. Additionally, longer call wait times for support have significantly hindered the employee experience. No one likes waiting on the phone for a simple IT fix! As a result, many users have voiced their preference for a self-service method, which can be addressed through the use of virtual agents. Identifying high-volume service requests and implementing features that virtual agents can solve could help the service desk team improve its productivity. For example, Azure’s MS bot framework tools, along with luis.ai, IBM’s Watson Assistant or IPSoft’s Amelia, enable you to build, train and deploy conversational interaction into any channel. The bot can execute the back-end work of fulfilling the request, point to a resource or create a service request in the help desk system and provide a ticket reference for future tracking. Using virtual agent tools can help you quickly shorten wait times and as a result, improve the employee experience.

Unattended Automation

Many mundane and repetitive tasks coming through the IT service management system can be monitored and fulfilled by robotic process automation (RPA) bots running in the back end. This—combined with the examples we shared above in cognitive automation and virtual agents—can provide end-to-end automation to some of the tickets, reducing the burden on operations teams. RPA can help with tasks like provisioning more space in cloud storage based on an alert, unlocking user accounts and passwords, providing access to hardware or software systems, enabling VPN access, deleting accounts when offboarding employees and cleaning up virtual machine (VM) disk space. These tasks may otherwise require higher-tiered support specialists to address, which are likely more expensive to hire and harder to find with the competition for talent.

Conclusion

All of the approaches above use IA technologies, but do not limit your organization’s ability to use cloud-based contact center tools that provide omnichannel support along with workforce optimization, call routing and analytics capabilities. Furthermore, these concepts can also be applied to other support functions across the business, such as conversational search, learning and development, finance applications and HR communications, to lower costs and accelerate turnaround times. Using IA technologies, businesses can focus on improving the employee experience and increasing retention, driving results for the bottom line. If you haven’t already started, now is the time for companies to modernize the traditional help desk as we know it.

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