Ready to Implement AI in Your Service Desk? Read This First.

Digital transformation is sweeping across all aspects of business, and IT service management (ITSM) is no exception. Just as artificial intelligence (AI) brings disruptive change to other operations, it has begun to disrupt how ITSM is done. Service desk managers need to be aware of what AI actually is and what it has to offer.

Getting Our Terminology Right

Though these two terms are often conflated, automation and AI aren’t the same things.

In fact, it’s essential to understand how they are different. With automation, you’re trying to offload technology tasks that are typically done manually and are repetitive and prone to error. Essentially, automation is about following a specific set of instructions, usually set by a person. The technology is bound by the instructions or rules so that it merely "follows orders.”

In contrast, AI-based products and services are designed to imitate human behavior in terms of language, forms, concepts, and abstractions. AI requires a much higher level of complexity and “thinking” in terms of how to replicate a human’s behavior. And experience-based machine learning technology learns new patterns and outcomes to improve, rather than to rely on a person to give it further instructions.

AI and automation can work together with such that the AI technology invokes automated actions. AI-driven automation can bring immense benefits to organizations. IT service desk managers need to be cautious, though, about products and services that are sold as though they are AI when they’re really only automation.

An example is scripted chatbots with pre-programmed logic and flows – this is automation rather than true AI. This kind of automation can be helpful to a degree, but buyers need to be clear about what they’re getting – to avoid confusion and disappointing results.

How AI Partners With ITSM

Some human tasks can be improved on by AI as it continuously learns and reasons. It’s about being able to go beyond human capabilities – at least in terms of completing tasks faster.

Sometimes the concept of AI sounds overly futuristic—conjuring up images of the life-like robots of Ex Machina, for instance—but the reality is that AI is already being implemented into many service management tools. There are many opportunities for AI use in the world of service management and support, including the service desk experience and process and application automation.

ITSM teams can use AI to perform the everyday tasks that can prevent them from tackling bigger, strategic projects that ultimately drive the business forward. Chatbots and/or digital agents are just one example of how AI can free people from repetitive, time-consuming tasks of taking phone calls or engaging with end-users through e-mail conversations to determine details about the issue the end-user is facing. Identifying and determining details of end-user issues requires “intent recognition” and classification. This can then be coupled with automation to resolve user issues in minutes.

AI can also tackle things like classifying tickets and their dispatch to workgroups and to actual agents for faster resolution based on continuous learning of ticket data. And self-service resolution for end-users – whereby they’re provided pertinent knowledge articles to resolve their issues. And operational intelligence for analysts to determine the context of incidents and for providing past incident data and pertinent knowledge articles are also examples of how AI is already being built into ITSM tools.

Laying the Groundwork

It’s crucial to understand both the convergence of and the differences between automation and AI. This helps create insight into how these technologies will best serve your IT service desk needs and the broader organization as a whole.

As with any other endeavor, you need to be clear about the business case. Make sure your organization is not just adopting technology for the “cool” factor or “because we can.” And don’t just look to replicate manual processes, but instead start to evaluate how AI can truly be transformative, applied to long-standing or industry-wide challenges.

Adopting AI technology requires many of the similar precautions that would come up with the uptake of any other new technology solution. For one thing, ensure that your AI adoption does not descend into a disjointed or siloed approach, as so many technology investments have in the past. For another, make sure in advance that the right people and skills are available – from those who can get the most out of AI solutions to those who will use it daily.

Time to Transform

These two precautions will help create a firm foundation for ensuring that your initiative is focused on the desired outcomes of AI adoption rather than the technology itself. AI, especially when coupled with automation, can transform the IT service desk. It has already been built into ITSM tools, and more AI-enabled capabilities are on their way. But beware that some automation solutions are being marketed as AI when that’s not actually the case.

So, perform your due diligence and then implement AI for sound business purposes. When this happens, you stand to leap ahead of your competitors as you offer support capabilities that exceed those of humans and will be of great service to both your customers and your employees.

Akhil Sahai, Ph.D., chief product officer, Symphony SummitAI wrote this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.