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How Automation is Transforming Field Service Support
John Manasso, General Manager, IBM Technology Support Services, North America
With intriguing new startups emerging so frequently to grab their piece of the pie from industry veterans, the pace of change is sometimes difficult to keep up with. Technology today is virtualized and easily accessible; it can be duplicated, tweaked, and improved upon with lightning speed. This increases competition and puts pressure on major players to simplify their IT processes and reduce the cost of doing business to stay ahead of the game.
Some companies prefer public cloud solutions from a single vendor, while others choose hybrid cloud or multi-vendor options to keep some assets on-premises. A growing number of mobile devices are being connected to networks worldwide, and analytics tools are mining and interpreting vast amounts of data from devices, servers, social media, and more. All these systems need to be integrated and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with zero downtime.
To achieve these demands, and transform the capabilities of the field workforce, automation must be at the heart of these efforts. The implications of cloud adoption, ubiquitous mobile devices and networks, and the new personalization of that technology for end-users, demand that automation take on greater responsibility in delivering “always-on” availability.
From a business perspective, C-suite executives and key stakeholders are increasingly recognizing IT efficiency and data insights driven by automation as opportunities for growth. In other words, organizations can no longer be content to simply match the level of support to the pace of change without further action. Automation allows businesses to make this happen. Field service support now has a responsibility to help enable a business environment that sparks new ideas and innovations.
Automation brings with it new techniques that change the way IT professionals support both major disruptions and smaller technical hurdles.
Automation brings with it new techniques that change the way IT professionals support both major disruptions and smaller technical hurdles
First and foremost, field service driven by automation can be proactive rather than reactive. In reality, much of the work done in field service today does not happen in the field itself. When a problem appears, automated systems are designed to recognize risks before they happen and take steps to resolve issues before they inflict any damage. Rather than working on a case-by-case basis, automation also allows IT professionals to isolate an incident and identify its root cause to eliminate repetitive or routine problems long term. Automating key processes that used to take up valuable time for experts on the ground allows them to focus their skills and attention on higher value assignments day-to-day.
Cognitive systems and augmented reality can also improve support by enabling virtual resolution, on-demand parts availability, and delivery with on-site expertise. Organizations no longer have to send an agent into the field to resolve most IT issues. Using technology support services powered by cognitive computing, employees on-site can interact with virtual assistants to find the appropriate solution to their issue.
In the cases where human intervention is required, cognitive agents are also designed to assist IT experts and sift through a wealth of data quickly to retrieve best practices from similar prior incidents. Similarly, when a piece of equipment is defective or near the end of its life cycle, automation can identify that defect and notify the appropriate experts to ensure a new part is shipped to that location before an incident occurs.
Augmented reality is also poised to play a key role in the way humans and technology interacts out in the field. In the very near future, a field engineer who submitted an IT support ticket would be able to download an application on their mobile phone and hold it up in front of the flawed hardware or software. A human agent or cognitive program could then view this live, examine the problem, and then help provide the corrective action virtually in real-time, saving companies time and money in the process.
So far at IBM, we have seen a nearly 40 percent reduction in problem determination time and more accurate answers using the cognitive computing power of Watson. We are also employing dynamic automation to address repetitive and routine incidents, such as fixing a file system that is full or handling increased storage usage. Our Service Monitor Virtual Agent is automating over 70 percent of the service requests generated by our client's IBM Storage and Server products. This significantly improves our responsiveness, and decreases system down time.
Failure of just one server, storage, or network device in an organization’s integrated IT environment can bring an entire business to a halt. Adopting hybrid cloud platforms or heterogeneous infrastructure requires IT staff to employ smarter, more sophisticated support services that understand and simplify processes to achieve the right results faster.
Field service has seen a significant shift in end users’ expectations and in the way goods and services are delivered and maintained. The continued wave of advanced technology like automation, cognitive computing, and augmented reality, has raised some questions about the future of work in these areas, but we always view it as a collaboration of man and machine.
Organizations that design and deliver it in this way will give their field workforces unprecedented opportunity to do their job with more confidence and capability than ever before.