What do you do when you’re asked to expand your global IT service desk without drastically expanding your budget, resources or IT footprint?
This probably sounds like a familiar scenario to many of my IT colleagues grappling with raising customer service and experience while balancing budgetary and personnel issues. What’s more, with technology accelerating at such a rapid pace, keeping up with the latest innovations and determining what they mean for your business present their own challenges. In our case at InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), innovative technology — specifically AI and virtual assistants working with vendor IPsoft — turned out to be the answer to the question of how we could expand support without expanding much else.
My service staff delivers IT support to 30,000 corporate IHG employees and associates at 6,000 properties around the world. Those employees are our customers, and when I joined IHG in 2015, my task was to streamline and improve the delivery of IT and applications support, and elevate the internal customer experience. It was a daunting task given our global hardware and software footprint, which includes more than 350 different applications that touch every part of our business — from booking to check-in to back-office corporate systems.
At the time, IHG’s IT support team was struggling to keep up with tens of thousands of annual support tickets and had maxed out its capacity dealing with multiple support systems that were not integrated with our case management tool. It was an unsustainable situation that had the potential to spiral out of control quickly, with real consequences. How well we serve our employees’ IT needs directly impacts their ability to do their jobs — namely, providing the thousands of IHG guests with world-class service, lodging and hospitality — and ultimately IHG’s reputation and bottom line.
Meeting those challenges and our capacity demands quickly lead us to consider artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistants. The initial goal was to provide a single point-of-contact for our case management tool. However, in order to effectively address our capacity and expansion requirements, we also needed technology that could be integrated with other tools, engage our end users, had a high ease-of-use, and an ability to adapt over time.
We initially looked at chatbot technology, but quickly realized those solutions would not help us achieve our IT service desk objectives. Chatbots are a bi-directional technology — one input, one output — that are only as good as they are programmed to be. We found them to be static and impersonal, lacking the ability to react “in the moment” to end-users’ needs and wants. In addition, given our resource limitations, we needed a technology that could continuously learn our processes, while feeding back to our team information that could be used to improve the end-user experience with each interaction and support engagement.
Our search eventually brought us to IPsoft and Amelia, the company’s cognitive virtual agent. Amelia’s natural language, integration and self-learning capabilities were perfectly suited to our needs and aligned with how we wanted IHG service and support to evolve. We piloted Amelia with our reservation engine and property management system, two systems that are critical for each IHG property.
Through Amelia, IHG centralized incoming IT support requests through our case management tool, providing a personal, conversational support experience for our end users that has accelerated call resolution times in some tasks, reducing contact time by more than four minutes per interaction. Amelia’s ability to learn and adapt (she’s learned 50-plus processes with more to come) has allowed her to answer higher-volume end-user IT queries, taking the pressure off of our human support personnel who are now free to focus on higher-value issues and tasks.
Amelia is achieving greater than 85% accuracy on received queries for many of our tasks, and we have high expectations as she continues to integrate with other tools and learn new processes. This translates into real financial savings and improved customer experience on a mass scale.
I’m proud to say that our hard work has not gone unnoticed. IHG was recently named the winner of the Most Creative Solution category for the 2017 TAG Excalibur and Product Launch of the Year Awards, which recognize organizations throughout the Georgia region for their ability to successfully implement business technology to solve complex challenges affecting their day-to-day operations.
As we continue to grow our business at IHG, AI and virtual assistants are helping to shape our vision for continuous improvement to our global IT service desk. Expanding IT support capacity without expanding resources or budget will remain a challenge, but innovative technologies make discovering a way forward easier to find.
Scot Whigham is the Director of Global IT Services and Support for Intercontinental Hotel Group. He has worked in IT Operations since 1998 managing IT Service Desk Support, Network/Telecommunications, database administration, software development, and data center operations. His current focus is on technology organizational strategy, digital workforce technology, and operational excellence through data analytics.