Why AI-enabled virtual assistants cannot yet outperform IT self-service portals

AI is frequently being employed in IT service desk tools, but here's why you shouldn't overestimate its effectiveness

12Dec

Loaded with self-help articles and web forms, self-service portals often fail to kindle the same excitement in end users as talking directly to IT service desk teams. For many end users, the resources available in self-service portals simply do not speak their language. As a result, self-service portal adoption is an ongoing challenge for IT service desk teams.

While IT self-service portals are struggling to keep up with end users' expectations, it seems like every software vendor is working on some form of artificial intelligence (AI). AI not only simplifies our interactions with machines and software, but it also changes the way some of us perform everyday tasks.

For example, a virtual assistant like Alexa can help a user book a cab, find their misplaced phone, and so on using a simple voice command. PWC's 2018 Global Consumer Insights Survey reveals that around 42% of respondents have already purchased or plan to purchase an AI-enabled device like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.

On the other hand, those same users that are benefitting from virtual assistants at home have to fill in a form – probably filled with tech jargon – just to request something as simple as software for work. It seems the gap between the use of the latest technologies in consumer products and the application of cutting-edge solutions in business environments is widening every day.

So, should IT service desk teams jump on the AI bandwagon and implement AI-powered virtual assistants to replace self-service portals?


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Gartner says no, primarily because of the current state of AI in IT service desk tools. Most chatbots and virtual assistants that claim to be AI-powered are still in the early stages of development and usually help end users by pulling information or pre-recorded solutions from knowledge bases to fix common issues.

Some chatbots can help users perform activities, such as updating notes in requests and approving requests, through the chat interface using conversational messages rather than slash commands. Even so, very few AI-powered virtual assistants are powerful enough to perform actions on behalf of end users, e.g., submitting a ticket. Likewise, only a handful of virtual assistants can complete tasks that end users do not have permission to do on their own, such as resetting passwords or deploying requested software. These limitations show that chatbots and AI-powered virtual assistants are not quite ready to replace self-service portals completely.

So, should your organization avoid implementing chatbots and virtual IT support agents? Not necessarily. Think of chatbots and AI-powered virtual support agents as an additional channel of IT support rather than a replacement for existing channels. For example, technicians can use chatbots with natural language processing capabilities to add notes or information to specific tickets without having to access their service desk or type in lengthy commands.

Self-service portals form the foundation for any AI-powered virtual IT support agent. These virtual IT support agents need a sturdy knowledge base and a well-documented history of requests to learn from - without which they deliver no value to end users.

It is important that service desk teams:

  • Continue building a sturdy self-service portal.
  • Document solutions for repeat incidents and maintain a comprehensive FAQ section.
  • Create a knowledge base exclusively for technicians, with solutions for complex IT issues.
  • Publish request templates to help end users log their issues and service requests.
  • Maintain a repository of all historic requests with proper information, including category and priority.

It is safe to say that self-service portals are not going anywhere, even after AI technologies are implemented to their maximum potential in our ITSM tools. After all, a well-built self-service portal is vital for implementing any AI-powered virtual IT support agent in the future, so don't give up on your self-service portal just yet.

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