Wednesday, 20 February 2019 15:08

Soapbox adds intelligence to service desks

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Soapbox.ai vice-president of product marketing Paul Heath (left) and CEO Dion Williams Soapbox.ai vice-president of product marketing Paul Heath (left) and CEO Dion Williams

Melbourne-based Soapbox.ai is applying AI to improve ITSM and other service desks.

Soapbox.ai's founders are industry veterans, with particular experience in ITSM, chief executive Dion Williams told iTWire, and they were the team that introduced ServiceNow to Australia in 2007.

More recently, they realised that ITSM still largely depends on people doing repetitive tasks, so they sought to apply technology that could observe how experts work and then use that to augment less able individuals. This idea became Soapbox.ai.

The company has just launched a new version of the Soapbox platform with out-the-box support for both IT service desk and HR request management.

Vice-president of product marketing Paul Heath explained that traditional systems for handling IT and HR requests have only been scalable by adding more people, and the quality of service delivered in any instance depended on the individual handling the case.

Furthermore, there tends to be a high turnover rate in support centres because workers get tired of handling mostly routine requests with just a few more challenging issues. But churning through staff means experience is lost, and it takes time and money to get new hires up to speed.

But Soapbox can "level the playing field" by automating the most common requests and helping support staff by presenting them with the most likely resolutions for the issues that they do handle.

It combines a system of record (in IT terms, for configuration management, request management, incident management, etc; case management for HR; plus the ability to support other areas such as facilities management with drag-and-drop ease), a system of intelligence (which learns from interactions to determine how to route a request and what the likely responses), and a system of engagement (providing access to the information and knowledge via various channels such as email, Slack or Teams).

A key feature is intelligent search, using natural language rather than merely keywords, said Heath. It understands intent and context to identify the most relevant knowledge whether it is stored within Soapbox or in an external system such as SharePoint.

Soapbox's virtual agent Sofi (it can be renamed) can be made available via multiple channels, primarily to provide self-service for high volume requests. Heath stressed that Sophie is more than a simple chatbot, because it is able to search for relevant information if it doesn't already know the answer to a question, and it can follow processes to gather information from the caller and then hand over to an appropriate human.

Sophie can also trigger predefined actions, such as resetting passwords.

Soapbox

The Soapbox platform observes and learns from how agents use the system, he explained. It tracks the interactions between agents and customers, learning from the actions that are taken and the order they are applied. If a new issue arises, Soapbox initially sits in the background, watching what the agent does. From the fourth occurrence, it starts suggesting actions that have previously been successful.

Thus "agents are driving the improvement of the system," said Heath.

One downside is that if inexperienced agents keep picking a suggestion that in fact is not the best of the options presented, that recommendation will be reinforced. While this is offset by the system favouring the measure taken immediately before the issue is closed, there is still a need to apply people and process, for example by having experienced staff review Soapbox's recommendations.

The company says its research has found that intelligent process augmentation and automation can improve service desk productivity by 43%, increase first call resolution by 26% and reduce operating costs by 31%.

"We’ve developed Soapbox targeting any employee that provides a support function to the business," said Heath.

"They typically still use email to manage internal work requests like HR and facilities or have implemented products from Zendesk, Freshservice, Ivanti, ServiceNow and BMC. Other organisations may also have business processes they wish to digitise as part of their digital transformation program but are unable to leverage existing tools and platforms due to cost."

A key part of Soapbox.ai's strategy is to support integration with these other products so that the Soapbox platform can augment them with its intelligence, he told iTWire. Customers may subsequently choose to migrate completely to the Soapbox platform.

The company currently provides out-of-the-box integration with ServiceNow, but customers can do their own integration with other systems. Additional prebuilt integrations may appear in future releases.

Melbourne-based Soapbox.ai is pursuing overseas markets though its sales office in Ireland. The Soapbox platform runs on AWS, so the company has the option of using data centres in the EU and the US, among other locations.

"The market reaction so far has been very positive," said Williams, adding that "AWS provides the scale to drive an international business fairly easily."

The Soapbox platform is aimed at medium to large organisations – those with at least 15 IT staff are usually big enough to need a support desk – but not large enterprises, Williams told iTWire. That equates to between 750 and 1000 employees, he suggested.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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