This is the SECOND blog in our series that unravels the mystery behind the question What is AITSM and Why Do CIOs Need to Face It? In our first blog post, we explained how AI Enables the Transformation of ITSM in 2021 and Beyond, while this article examines why companies are investing so much money in Conversational UI and Virtual Agents, as the influx of billions of dollars is fueling dramatic advances in predictive analytics and deep learning. In our third and final article, we will explain how AI-Based Sentiment Analysis Improves Customer Experience, as companies are accelerating the ability for algorithms to infer preferences from what customers post via various communication channels.
Gartner predicts that “By 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms on a daily basis.”1
This prediction stems from that fact that most of today’s knowledge workers grew up using technology, mobile apps, and social media platforms. And the number is only expected to grow as Millennials (i.e., those born between 1980 and 1995) continue to dominate today’s workplace. Millennials are the first ones that Baby Boomer’s call upon when they run into computer and Internet problems, so you should not be surprised when your company invests more money in devices and technologies that Millennials favor. Since chatbots and virtual assistants cater to Millennials’ need for instant gratification, AI-powered software that feeds these employees relevant information on-demand is being adopted by companies of all types and sizes.
In July of 2020, Verizon announced their partnership with Google Cloud to use artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver more intuitive customer support through natural-language recognition, faster processing, and real-time customer service2. By leveraging the natural language recognition capabilities of their IT Service Management (ITSM) system, Verizon helps customers quickly find answers to a wide variety of requests ranging from simple “how do I pay my bill” type questions all the way up to troubleshooting (and fixing) their own Internet problems. Similarly, customer service agents now have real-time access to digital assistants that can search Verizon’s knowledge base for relevant articles and recommend personalized responses—all through a natural conversational experience.
What is Conversational UI?
A Conversational User Interface (UI) gives users the privilege of interacting with your company’s computers (i.e., telling your systems what to do) on human terms. While the history of conversation user interfaces is as old as modern computers, the technology has evolved a great deal since ELIZA—an early natural language processing computer system—was developed between 1964 and 1966 at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The program simulated conversation by using a “pattern matching” and substitution methodology, which gave users the illusion that ELIZA was capable of thinking—when, in fact, it had no intelligent framework for contextualizing events.
Today’s Conversational UIs represents a huge paradigm shift from the earlier communications achieved either by entering syntax-specific commands or clicking through a predetermined series of icons on a company’s website in search of the correct answer. Conversational UIs provide a “social” way for customers to contact and interact with your company’s ITSM system to request information and/or get help with products and services.
How Are Conversation User Interfaces Helping Businesses?
Conversational UIs are available in two varieties: voice assistants that allows customers to speak words and chatbots that allow customers to type text. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, and Samsung Bixby are the key players in today’s personal voice assistant market.
On the business side, SunView Software’s Willow AI™ provides companies with the best of both types of Conversational UIs. Our “Chatbot” model allows your IT staff to create, deploy, and manage customized chatbots for departments like Human Resources, Facilities, and Finance. These chatbots can pull results from custom configured sources such as department-specific FAQ documents and knowledge base repositories. Our “Smart Voice” technology helps speed up response and resolution times by transcribing voicemails, automatically creating tickets, and flagging them for priority or escalation based on a computer analysis of the caller’s original message. The Smart Voice view displays the message content, user sentiment, and other key data to help you quickly identify and address high priority issues.
Conversational UIs are helping companies connect with consumers in a simple and intuitive way. This tool is becoming increasingly popular in customer service, mainly because it helps companies enhance their user experience and drive revenue. Kayak—a popular travel search engine—is just one example of a company that recognizes the benefits of conversational UI. With its Amazon integration, Kayak users can ask Alexa to search for flights and rental cars, track arrivals and departures, and discover how far people can travel on a given budget. Although voice shopping is still a niche market, Kayak is working hard to change that position by guiding customers to use their conversational UI to book hotels, flights, activities, and perform other tasks that involve travel.
Consider 1–800-Flowers, as another example. They encourage customers to talk with a chatbot, which utilizes the natural-language ordering mechanism in Facebook Messenger, to order flowers. Soon after 1-800-Flowers finished implementing their Facebook chatbot, executives were pleasantly surprised when they discovered that 70% of their Messenger orders came from new customers3.
Conversational UIs can help your IT department:
- Answer routine incident and service requests when your Tier 1 IT support cannot keep up with unexpected surges, while more complicated Tier 2 and Tier 3 queries are addressed by live agents.
- Categorize tickets based on issue type and assign those tickets to a live agent if they cannot be resolved by the chatbot itself.
- Resolve password reset requests by seamlessly connecting to the backend to set up a temporary password for the user, without requiring manual intervention.
- Fulfill access and provisioning requests by routing approvals to/from the managers that are responsible for the respective systems and applications.
- Generate reports and broadcast messages to keep live agents informed about major incidents.
- Automate workflows and get instant approvals by notifying all the required approvers.
- Allocate the resources needed for onboarding/offboarding employees.
- Answer tech support and end-user questions by seamlessly integrating with the knowledge bases of your organization, including information contained within FAQs, websites, and wikis.
Which is Better, a Chatbot or Virtual Assistant?
If this sounds like a trick question, you are right—it is! Neither one is better than the other because they perform different functions. There is a significant difference between chatbots and virtual assistants, which IT professionals need to clearly understand before attempting to implement either one (or both) of them in an organization. Chatbots and virtual assistants are both ‘intelligent’ applications of AI, but chatbots are used to find and deliver information, while virtual assistants are designed to help you perform business tasks.
A chatbot is a software application used to conduct an online chat conversation via text or text-to-speech to answer a specific question (query for information), but it lacks the ability to perform tasks. Suppose, for example, you tell a chatbot to remind you to email your agenda to all participants ten minutes before your two o’clock meeting. The chatbot will get stuck trying to clarify your question and understand what information you want it to find.
Virtual assistants, on the other hand, are like personal human helpers because they can capture notes during meetings, remind you of upcoming appointments, and even read your emails to you out loud. Virtual assistants can also help you control and manage your smart phone, find directions to the airport, check the status of your flight, and perform many other tasks—all via voice commands.
Which is More Important in 2021—Return on Investment (ROI) or Time to Value (TTV)?
Return on Investment (ROI) is one of the most widely used and universally accepted measures of financial performance in the business world. Most companies, business units, and departments calculate ROI on a regular basis and use this metric as the foundation for making intelligent decisions. Unfortunately, very few IT departments were ever able to properly leverage this metric because calculating the ROI of IT services is notoriously challenging and the result has some significant drawbacks.
The standard ROI formula (shown above) does not indicate the Time to Value (TTV), nor does it include the Time Value of Money (TVM) in its calculation. Consequently, the standard ROI formula does not provide CIOs with sufficient information to assess software investment requests that need to occur immediately against risk-adjusted and discounted benefits.
According to John-David Lovelock, distinguished Research Vice President at Gartner, “CIOs have a balancing act to perform in 2021—saving cash and expanding IT.” In a statement, Lovelock continued to explain, “With the economy returning to a level of certainty, companies are investing in IT in a manner consistent with their expectations for growth, not their current revenue levels. Digital business, led by projects with a short Time to Value, will get more money and board level attention going into 2021.”4
Time to Value (TTV) is the amount of time between when a company takes an action (i.e., implements an AITSM solution) and when they see the value of that action (i.e., uses that solution in a meaningful way). In other words, TTV is the time it takes for your company to realize that you made the right decision in procuring and implementing an AITSM solution. TTV is the point at which your employees and customers begin to see the most basic amount of value from your AITSM implementation, but they have yet to fully utilize your solution or realize how much it can really do for them.
Every company’s TTV is different, depending on its level of IT maturity and goals. Some software solutions, like ChangeGear IT Service Manager powered by SunView Willow AI™, are designed to improve the day-to-day operations of a business almost immediately after implementation, so their TTV will be near zero. Other business solutions, like accounting software, might not show their true value until the end of the fiscal year or until tax season rolls around. SunView Software’s Account Managers and Professional Services Team have innovative ways to streamline your onboarding experience and help your company reach the point of real value faster than you might expect.
While the years before COVID-19 may have emphasized ROI as a crucial metric for measuring business performance, things have changed dramatically in 2021 as TTV is becoming the “new standard” that executives use when deciding to approve or reject IT projects. When you weight your options and understand all the benefits that ChangeGear has to offer in terms of artificial intelligence and fast Time to Value, SunView Software clearly stands out as the top choice for your AITSM solution.