Every IT organization strives for excellence by continuously driving down their operating expenses (OPEX) while providing the best-in-class experience to their user base. Several factors affect OPEX, such as increasing IT cases that require more resources to address recurring requests. Having a focused approach to reduce cases can significantly optimize on cost and improve the efficiency of IT Operations teams. One way that Cisco IT is driving down OPEX is by harnessing the power of automation.
By the end of September 2020, the number of service request cases to Management & Finance IT’s (M&F IT) Order Management (OM) Automation team in Cisco had been cut by half and operational costs reduced by one-third. The solution: a self-help Webex bot called ‘OM-BOT’ that the OM Automation team created to assist with service request cases.
OM-BOT helps users answer queries without requiring any IT teams’ intervention. Below are some benefits of implementing OM-BOT:
- Avoided 140 IT cases per month
- Improved Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR): cases get created in the correct queue, reducing the time it takes to resolve cases
- Improved case routing: OM-BOT links user to the correct team to solve their cases
- Enhanced user experience: we meet with users weekly to discuss feedback, most of it positive
From January 2020 to September 2020, we, the OM IT Support Team, were receiving an average of 285 cases per month (see Figure 1). However, in the last six months, we’ve seen an average of 145 cases per month — a reduction of about 48.5 percent, most of which can be attributed to the usage of OM-BOT.
Why did we build OM-BOT?
In early 2020, the OM Automation team realized that our incident case count per quarter was very high. When we investigated, we found that a lot of cases didn’t require IT fixes. Users were seeking IT’s help to fetch data and information from the backend as it was not available in any of the tools or applications they used. We realized that we were spending a significant amount of time and resources in addressing non-technical related requests and we needed to get a little creative to solve this problem. We started exploring ideas on how to tackle it.
How did we build OM-BOT?
Around the same time, Cisco’s BotLite team were showcasing their new DIY No-code Low-code framework and toolkit with a rich GUI to create a bot with minimum technical expertise. BotLite leverages Cisco’s MindMeld and Webex and allows users to have human-like interaction with the bots they create through Natural Language Processing (NLP).
We saw this as a great opportunity to build our own bot to help answer user queries reported in service request cases. Our bot could easily connect to databases, pull the required information, and display it for the users in Webex. We formed a small, agile automation team of 3 members and identified the scenarios that caused the most confusion for users (See Figure 2). We set up a few sessions with the BotLite support team for their initial guidance on building a bot. It was pleasantly surprising to learn how simple and quick it was to create bot scenarios. After 4 sprint cycles, our first OM-Self Assist-BOT (now known as OM-BOT) was ready for our end users.
Did we face any challenges?
Once our bot was ready, our major challenge was end user adoption. Initially, not many users were aware of the bot or how it could help them. We continued to see a spike in request case numbers, and we were still spending a lot of manual effort addressing these requests.
We set up a weekly connect call with the team that was raising about 90 percent of request cases. We started showcasing the bot to them, gave demos on how to interact with the bot, and shared the bot user manual. We discussed the 13 scenarios that we identified and how the bot could solve these scenarios. The team realized the potential of OM-BOT and spread the word within their extended team. The bot was helping them to get the required details quickly and they did not have to spend time creating IT cases. It was a win-win for our teams! We started seeing results from October 2020 onward and service request cases declined.
Another challenge was more technical in nature. We had to connect to two databases (Oracle and MongoDB) to fetch the data, but the BotLite framework only allowed a connection to the Oracle database. Without data from both databases, the information we wanted to provide to users was incomplete.
To fetch the data from both databases, we leveraged the BotLite API feature. Our team built an API to connect to MongoDB. It’s able to fetch data, combine it with the result from the Oracle database, and then display the information in Webex in a human-readable format. If the requested data is large, we can provide the result in a downloadable spreadsheet.
What is the roadmap ahead for the bot?
We regularly collect and implement feedback from our end-users. We receive their enhancement requests, and they also notify us when they encounter issues with the bot.
Some bot usage metrics from 2021 include:
- Over 600 unique users from across the world interacted with OM-BOT
- More than 20,000 messages were sent
- OM-BOT is accurately answering users’ queries, with a 97 percent Hit Rate
In the future, we want to continue driving down opex by providing users with “self-healing” options. By this, we mean, if the bot identifies an issue, it can also guide the user on how to fix the issue with some simple clicks in Webex itself rather than creating IT cases. We want to give this option to users as it will help us in case avoidance and improve the time to resolve such issues for them — which is critical for teams when we are working during time-crunch situations, especially, during our Month-End and Quarter-End periods.
In the past, chatbots were a nice gimmick without any concrete benefit, but today they are an indispensable tool in the corporate world and really help drive down OPEX. Of course, developing and running a chatbot is a lot of work and requires a financial investment, but there are many good reasons to build and implement a bot. Our efforts in creating OM-BOT have not only achieved case and cost reductions, but has also ensured that as the OM IT Support Team, we are now able to provide a best-in-class experience to our users. The bot enables our IT support agents to focus more on addressing critical IT issues while the bot takes care of service requests. I think conversational AI is the way forward, now more than ever, for every IT organization.
Do you have experience using a chat bot to automate tasks? We’d love to hear about it.