Anirban Mukherjee has more than 25 years of experience in operations excellence and technology consulting across the globe, having led transformations in Energy, Engineering, and Automotive majors. Over the last decade, he has focused on Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 solutions that integrate cutting-edge digital into existing operations.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a briefing by ServiceNow regarding their new “AI-Powered Service Operations” that highlighted their service-aware CMDB – adding machine learning to their service mapping capabilities. The upgraded offering has the ability to map entire environments in hours or minutes – not months or weeks. And as a machine learning capability, it is only likely to get smarter – to learn from their customers’ use of the service and begin to recognise what applications, systems, and infrastructure are likely to be supporting each business service.
This heralds a new era in service management – one where the actual business and customer impact of outages is known immediately; where the decision to delay an upgrade or fix to a known problem can be made with a full understanding of the impacts. At one of my previous employers, email went down for about a week. It was finally attributed to an upgrade to network equipment that sat between the email system and the corporate network and the internet. The tech teams were scratching their heads for days as there was no documented link between this piece of hardware and the email system. The impact of the outage was certainly felt by the business – but had it happened at the end of the financial year, it could have impacted perhaps 10-20% of the business bookings as many deals came in at that time.
Being able to understand the link between infrastructure, cloud services, applications, databases, middleware and business processes and services is of huge value to every business – particularly as the percentage of business through digital channels and touchpoints continues to accelerate.
Intellibot is the latest in a string of purchases by ServiceNow that reveals their intention to embed AI and machine learning into offerings. In 2020, they acquired Loom Systems, Passage AI (both January), Sweagle (June), and Element AI (November) in addition to Attivio in 2019. These acquisitions were integrated into the latest version of their Now Platform, code-named Quebec, which was launched earlier this month. As a result, Predictive AIOps and AI Search were newly added to the platform while the low-code tools were expanded upon and became Creator Workflows. This means ServiceNow now offers four primary solutions – IT Workflows, Employee Workflows, Customer Workflows, and Creator Workflows – demonstrating the importance they are placing on low-code and RPA.
ServiceNow was quick to remind the market that although they will be able to offer RPA functionality natively once Intellibot is integrated into their platform, they are still willing to work with competitors. They specifically highlighted that they would continue partnering with UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism, suggesting they plan to use RPA as a complementary technology to their current offerings rather than going head-to-head with the Big Three. Only a month ago, UiPath announced deeper integration with ServiceNow, by expanding automation capabilities for Test Management 2.0 and Agile Development projects.
Expansion in India
The acquisition of Intellibot, based in Hyderabad, is part of ServiceNow’s expansion strategy in India – one of their fastest growing markets. The country is already home to their largest R&D centre outside of the US and they intend to launch a couple of data centres there by March 2022. The company plans to double their local staff levels by 2024, having already tripled the number of employees there in the last two years. The expansion in India means they can increasingly offer services from there to global customers.
“Buyers will find that many of the automation capabilities that they currently purchase separately will increasingly be integrated in their enterprise applications. This will resolve integration challenges and will be more cost-effective.”
The cloud hyperscalers are also likely to play a growing role in the RPA market over the next year. Microsoft and IBM have already entered the market, coming from the angle of office productivity and business process management (BPM), respectively. Google announced just last week that they will work closely with Automation Anywhere to integrate RPA into their cloud offerings, such as Apigee, AppSheet, and AI Platform. More interestingly, they plan to co-develop new solutions, which might for now satisfy Google’s appetite for RPA rather than requiring an acquisition.
Here are some of the trends to watch for RPA, AI and Automation in 2021. Signup for Free to download Ecosystm’s Top 5 AI & Automation Trends Report.
Root cause analysis. Once priority events have been correlated, AIOps identifies a root cause to enable the operations team to focus its efforts on a resolution. This is a task that proves challenging to perform at speed for a human operator considering the complexity of today’s systems.
Proactive response. A range of responses is available with AIOps, from directing issues to the appropriate people, to recommending actions that can be taken by operators directly in a collaboration tool, to rules-based workflows performed automatically, such as spinning up additional AWS EC2 instances.
Learning. By evaluating past failures and successes, AIOps can learn over time which events are likely to become critical and how to respond to them. This brings us closer to the dream of NoOps, where operations are completely automated.
The Impact of COVID-19 on IT Operations
The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study launched this month, asks technology users about how their digital priorities have shifted during the pandemic. Despite pressure to shift to digital delivery, almost 40% of participants reported that their organisations cut headcount in the IT department (Figure 1). Furthermore, over one third had been forced to cut their employees’ salaries. As we have seen in previous crises, IT operations teams are being asked to do more with less and will need automation to bridge the gaps.
As we begin to move into the next phase of the COVID-19 reality and businesses continue to open, we will see many launch digital services that were conceived of during the crisis. One of the greatest challenges that IT departments face will be scalability as digital businesses grow. AIOps will be a go-to tool for IT operations to ensure uptime and improve user experience. It is likely that the next 12-18 months will be a watershed moment for AIOps.
NLP and the Democratisation of Data
Natural Language Processing (NLP) will be the next string in the bow of AIOps. While the ultimate goal of IT operations is to identify and remediate situations before they have an impact on the user, oftentimes it is the service desk that generates the initial barrage of alerts. AIOps equipped with NLP can extract relevant data from user tickets, correlate them with other system events and potentially even suggest a resolution to the user. Here, ChatOps can help to reduce the workload on the service desk and bring relevant events to the attention of the operations team faster. NLP will also help democratise IT operations data within the organisation. As they digitalise, lines of business (LoBs) besides IT will need access to system health and user experience data but business managers may not have the necessary technical skills to extract them. Chatbots that can return these metrics to non-technical users will begin to proliferate.
Most IT departments would have discovered the limitations of their current systems during the upheaval caused by recent lockdowns. Only about 7% of organisations in our study reported that they were well-prepared across all areas of IT, to handle the COVID-19 crisis. For those organisations that have yet to invest in AIOps, we recommend starting now but starting small. Develop a topology map to understand where you have reliable data sources that could be analysed by AIOps. Then select a domain by assessing the present level of observability and automation, IT skills gap, frequency of outages, and business criticality. As you add additional domains and the system learns, the value you realise from AIOps will grow.
The power of collaborative AIOps tools would have been undeniable as the COVID-19 crisis began and IT departments were forced to work in a distributed manner. When evaluating a system, carefully consider how it will integrate into your organisation’s preferred collaboration suite, whether it be the AIOps vendor’s proprietary situation tool or a third-party provider like Slack or Microsoft Teams. The ability for operations teams to collaborate effectively reduces time to resolution.