Tag Archives: AI

How using empathy can help build better systems and products

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Following on from my earlier posts about convergence, creativity and customer focus, today’s article looks at another of the themes which were prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.
There was still a hint of summer in the air even as the first of the leaves were changing when I found myself in Westminster attending the conference courtesy of UCISA’s annual personal development bursary for those working in the education sector. Sitting writing this in my festive jumper just days before Christmas, September feels like a long time ago.
Given the time of year, in the words of Charles Dickens “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; … when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely”, it is perhaps apt that today’s subject is empathy. It seemed that the concept of empathy was touched upon explicitly or implicitly in every session I attended at the conference.

Empathy in design thinking

Given that the first stage of design thinking is ‘Empathise’ (see below) and one of the other key areas of focus at the conference was customer experience, it is perhaps not a surprise that empathy was discussed frequently and in some depth in this context.

Design thinking is defined by Gartner as a “multidisciplinary process that builds solutions … in a technically feasible, commercially sustainable and emotionally meaningful way”. Activities undertaken, particularly in this first stage, seek to understand the thoughts, emotions and feelings of a customer or user on their journey with an organisation and its digital touchpoints.
In their Digital Customer Journeys workshop, Andrej Gustin (CREA Plus) & Igor Smirnov (NETICA) presented a useful approach and template for capturing these emotions at various touchpoints of the user’s journey to identify focus areas for improvement. At a very high level, the approach can be summarised as follows:
  1. Identify key touchpoints, then for each touchpoint:
  • Understand current process and user experience
  • Identify current customer emotion/feelings
  • Identify desired customer emotion/feelings and experience
  • Prioritise processes for improvement based on a gap analysis of current to desired customer state.
  1. For prioritised processes, brainstorm improvements.
I was particularly interested in this prioritisation of focus area by customer experience, rather than a traditional quantifiable benefit, which I felt demonstrated a real paradigm shift towards customer and user-centric systems design.

Empathy as a skill of the future

Empathy was also discussed from a social perspective, as we explored the human factor in a digital society, where robots, AI and interactions driven by algorithms are fast becoming a part of our everyday lives.
It is undeniable that many jobs formerly carried out by humans are now carried out partially, if not entirely, by machines. This has been increasingly evident in the manufacturing sector with progressively more elements of manufacturing production lines being automated since the 1970s. Footage of a car manufacturing plant in the early 20th century, compared to a modern-day plant illustrate the transition from a busy factory thriving with human workers, to a rather clinical environment where robotic arms move in an eerily human manner to select and assemble components.
However, this automation is not restricted to the manufacturing sector, which has traditionally been an early adopter of automation technologies. The service industry, a sector perhaps traditionally associated with human-delivered customer service, is also automating roles. When I visit a supermarket, I often choose to use the self-scan tills, interacting with (often quite frustrating) AI rather than a human cashier. Where eight members of staff would have processed transactions and exchanged pleasantries with customers ten years ago, one member of staff can supervise the same number of self-service tills, only intervening when the somewhat rudimentary AI (inevitably) reaches its limitations. When shopping online, I am as likely to consult a chatbot or self-service customer support tool as a member of the customer service team.
Thirty years ago such sophisticated technology belonged to the fantasy world of sci-fi movies. It was unthinkable that real-life technology would progress at such a rate to replace jobs with such a key human element to them. Yet with technological advances and the rate of change at an all-time-high the media, researchers and technological commenters are now speculating about the next tranche of job roles to be replaced by robots in the coming years and decades.
So, should we be concerned that we will one day be replaced by robots, rendered redundant by such seductive promises as “a jetliner pilot who never makes a mistake, never gets tired, never shows up to work with a hangover”*?
Meryl Streep once said “the greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy”. Though significant research is being undertaken to develop synthetic empathy in AI, developing facial expression recognition technology and crunching millions of data points to build increasingly intelligent algorithms and so-called learning capabilities, for now it seems that true empathy remains a uniquely human ability. Shortly before the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, The World Economics Forum released their ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’. In his Day 2 opening keynote speech, the IIBA’s Nick De Voil highlighted the top ten key skills trends for today and projections for 2022. It was notable how many ‘soft’ and ‘human’ workplace skills were listed as those which would endure despite predicted technological advancements. These key skills include emotional intelligence, initiative and social influencing, all of which require empathy. This perhaps implies an expectation that our technological advancements will continue to fail to satisfactorily emulate and replace such human abilities; those intrinsic traits of human nature of relating to others, reading non-verbal cues and making ‘human’ decisions.

Empathy in wellbeing

There was also emphasis on remembering that we and our co-workers are not suit-wearing robots. We are humans, with great potential for creativity, innovation, love and resourcefulness, but we are also subject to emotions, feelings, health problems and complicated personal lives.
Oxford Dictionaries succinctly define empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In his exciting Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts session, National Grid’s Charlie Payne introduced the behaviour/attitude cycle (see below) when explaining the importance of being aware of the impact a person can have on others.

He explained that an individual’s attitude is reflected in their behaviour. This behaviour then influences the attitude of others, which in turn influences their behaviour and so on. Whilst this can be used positively, it all too often can have negative consequences on relationships and communication when the individuals involved are not practising Emotional Intelligence (EI).
With the recent societal drive to remove the stigma often traditionally associated with mental health, it was encouraging to find the subject addressed and discussed openly by a number of speakers at the conference.
Craig Rollason, also of National Grid, in his inspiring The BA Bucket List keynote advocated the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in understanding colleagues and stakeholders and the reasons for their behaviour.
Rollason also presented a challenge/support matrix model which he explained can be used to analyse and grow awareness of an individual’s current work and career state. The model indicates that the best environment for career and personal development would be one where an individual is feeling challenged but supported. Rollason was however careful to note that some individuals may be experiencing high challenge and low support in their personal lives and subsequently may be in need of what Rollason coined ‘the duvet zone’ at work (low challenge and high support).
For me this was a rather unexpected example of empathy in such a professional setting, where sometimes there is an expectation of ‘leave your personal life at the door’ and ‘always be professional’. It was a welcome recognition that in reality, as humans, it is not always possible to switch emotions and personal distractions on and off at will, particularly in the modern world where technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time and space.

Empathy as an holistic practice

In summary, my top empathy takeaways were that whilst we can use empathy as a tool to better understand our customers and users to build better systems and products, we can also use it to understand our colleagues and understand their motivations, beliefs, attitudes and the root causes behind these. This enables us to build stronger working relationships, understand how to better interact and deal with our stakeholders and how to care for our colleagues when they need extra support.
We can also exercise empathy towards ourselves, valuing and appreciating our skills, finding our place in the world, respecting and drawing on our experiences and being proud of these. When practising emotional intelligence, self-awareness is also important as we consider how our behaviour and attitude influences that of others.
So, in the words of William S. Preston and Theodore Logan, this festive season and into the new year, “be excellent to each other” (and “party on dudes”)*. A very happy Christmas to you all and your families.

*Ten points if you get the movie references – and some classic 90s movie recommendations for the holidays!
Coming Soon…
In addition to convergence, creativity, customer focus and empathy, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophising
Watch this space in the New Year for the next installment!
This blog was originally published at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-empathy-rachel-drinkwater.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

From the old to the new in tackling information security

Haydn Tarr
IT Service Development Manager
The University of Chichester
Report provided to colleagues at the University of Chichester’s IT, Library and Customer Service departments

InfoSecurity Europe Conference 2018

Overview

UCISA offer a bursary to attend conferences in fields relevant to HEI support staff. I have always held a strong interest in attending InfoSec Europe and the bursary presented a perfect opportunity to attend this year. InfoSec Europe is an annual conference which holds a strong focus on cyber security technology developments. This report will disseminate my findings from the conference and draw relevance to the University of Chichester.
InfoSec was split into two formats:
My visit to InfoSec Europe focussed on the sessions it offered and discussing these topics with other visitors concerned with cyber security. There were a number of themes which were touched on regularly.

Theme 1: Cyber security prevention and training

There are varying techniques used for protecting company data from cyber-attacks. I found at the conference that commercial organisations have mainly focussed on preventative measures, e.g. firewalls, email protection, blocking users, etc. These measures do help to mitigate the risk of data breach and infection, but paradoxically reduces this workforce’s awareness of the type of threats and techniques used by attackers to exfiltrate sensitive data.
Organisations are now becoming increasingly aware that this is no longer enough, and the focus is now on training and building awareness amongst the workforce in a bid to reduce the likelihood of a data breach by exposing potential threats to staff. A general message surfaced from the seminars I attended, which was that the workforce can be the biggest asset in preventing cyber-attacks. Some organisations harness this by raising awareness and sustaining a culture where staff are encouraged to report breaches. From the opposite end of this view, other antiquated strategies are in place to prevent the workforce from even coming into contact with potential viruses and untrusted emails in the first place.
A personal takeaway is that a balance needs to be struck between the two, in which I personally feel that the University has an advantage. I observed in other organisations that training initiatives tend to be a temporary notion. Both prevention and training are a continuous development, which will adapt with emerging security vulnerabilities.

Theme 2: Blockchain

Many tech vendors in attendance at InfoSec Europe are associating themselves with Blockchain, and building this into their research and development plans for future protection technologies. In recent months we have witnessed the rise and fall in media coverage (and value!) of Bitcoin. Blockchain, which Bitcoin transactions operate upon, is a transferrable technology which can be adapted to other types of digital transactions in making them more secure.
One technology I found interesting and could offer some value in the future was the use of Blockchain to provide an improved assurance of personal identity. By using Blockchain as a way of decentralising identity, more control can be put into the hands of the individual in how they share their information with other individuals and organisations. These parties can then have more confidence that the holder of this identity, is who they say they are. This could also offer the individual complete power in what specific information that they share throughout various online services, institutions, government portals, etc.

Theme 3: The old tricks still work

Traditional exploitation techniques such as email phishing, SQL Injection and other attacks have been used for almost two decades and are continuing to grow in adoption by adversaries. The rise of IoT (Internet of Things) is partially to blame for this as the surface area of potential vulnerabilities continues to grow. These vulnerabilities could be considered as older consumer electronics, connected to the internet but using old software and firmware, are unlikely to be updated. This becomes particularly problematic in the critical infrastructure industry where I witnessed a live hack on a maritime GPS navigation system. Bringing this back to the local environment, the necessity to maintain a patching programme across the University estate with a growing number of connected devices, has never been more critical.

The University is protected in every area on the network by various prevention solutions. Despite these, there is still a risk of infection or data loss due to persistent attacks which could circumnavigate these techniques such as email phishing or social engineering. These methods are still the oldest trick in the book, and at the University with a growing number of staff, this problem continues and is generally acknowledged throughout commercial and other organisations.

Theme 4: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

These terminologies are often used to describe the next generation of learning ability in computer software. We are yet to reach the state where artificial intelligence achieves its true meaning. Machine learning, however has a big part to play in some of the advances in cyber security. Vast amounts of logging data is collected on a daily basis at the University and throughout other organisations. This logging data can be used for troubleshooting isolated technical issues and security events. Cyber security vendors are beginning to respond to this accumulation of logging data positively, by investing in machine learning R&D. Future developments could enable security technologies to learn behaviours and trends from the accumulation of collected logging data. This could help an organisation’s security posture to evolve in a more effective way to prevent and mitigate cyber-attacks. Vendors are advising that the sheer volume of data that is collected now, can be useful in the future – however, everyone needs to be mindful of GDPR.
Interviews with the keynote speakers from the conference are available along with presentations from the event.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Identifying common points of failure in technology implementation

Mia Campbell
IT Support Services
Leeds Beckett University

The Service Desk and IT Support Show, June 2018

Attending SITS18 in June, courtesy of a UCISA bursary, has helped me learn about the most common points of failure in an implementation programme. These include:
  • Ineffective coaching program
  • Management not taking ownership
  • No workflow or content standard
  • Wrong metrics
  • Seeing it as just a project.
From one of the SITS sessions, I learnt that Eptica had compiled some interesting stats together this year from customers which are useful to be aware of:
91% of customers report that they become frustrated if they are not able to find answers they are looking for online quickly
75% of customers report incidents where agents haven’t had the right or sufficient information to be able to answer their question
70% say that they often experience inconsistent answers between channels
94% of customers say a high-quality response makes them loyal.
By looking at these statistics, it looks as if communication is the key factor which makes and breaks a successful service.

The role of AI

We must adapt to change and the change in how early/what technology people are introduced to. There were a number of different sessions which looked at AI over the course of the conference including: ‘The role of AI and the automation in the rebirth of IT’ and ‘What AI will mean for ITSM and you’. AI is now a key component in many households, which the newest generations are now experiencing at a very early stage. However, there is still an audience that has not had the same experience and may struggle to adjust. One of the speakers stated that in 2011 it had been predicted that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of its relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human. It is quite noticeable today that it is in fact quite close to that already. So with AI, how can it be harnessed as a tool to make an efficient service for the customer?

The importance of individuals

This follows a point on performance of individuals. Although we are human and not robots we should have a uniform/quite identical approach and knowledge database when assisting a customer so that we can provide an effective and positive service. We can all be guilty of cherry picking who we want to deal with to get the satisfaction we need, but all involved should be able to provide that; behaviour and knowledge are very important factors in providing good customer experience. ‘Shift left’ is a great example of this as it reduces the time a customer has to spare to receive a resolution, but also helps the person/people providing the support to be more efficient and productive in their work. This may possibly save time from unnecessary escalation and provide more time on tasks that may require additional focus.
Other points noted regarding what makes a service/tool run well are as follows:
Consolidation, Compliance, Security, Adoption, Optimisation, Integration, Mobilisation, Collaboration, Collaboration, Efficiency, Productivity.
To elaborate on a couple, Adoption is a key element on both user and support side. The service/tool needs to be adopted as smoothly as possible to enable the service overall to be at its constant prime, so that it can resume or start as expected to complete its duties. Mobilisation is also another factor which relates to availability. In order to achieve the optimal service for a customer, such as online remote support, mobility plays an important part providing support no matter where the customer is.

I met with Sally Bogg for a short while on the first day who is the head of our end services at Leeds Beckett and was also talking at SITS on career development for women in IT.  We attended a keynote session on Women in Technology lead by Dr Sue Black OBE. It was quite inspiring and Dr Black had some amazing stories which she kindly shared with us all.

Conclusion

Although my role is not a managerial one and I cannot make decisions regarding the take-up of tools, it was a pleasure to learn about them. It has been a great experience to take this information back for research purposes and also to document in these blogs how we can improve our attitude and processes. I also spoke to the vendors about how colleagues and I have utilised these tools. The vendors were glad to receive feedback at the event which they could take back to improve their provision to us all.
I spoke to many individuals at this event and it has not only been beneficial for my role but also for my own confidence. Thank you very much to UCISA for the opportunity to attend this event – it is one that I’ll keep with me.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Learning about the importance of customer feedback at SITS18

Mia Campbell
IT Support Services
Leeds Beckett University

The Service Desk and IT Support Show, June 2018

The seminars at SITS2018, which I was able to attend courtesy of a UCISA bursary, consisted of hour long talks. I have condensed here and in my next blog, information that was mentioned in the talks, which I believe may be helpful to colleagues.

Key points included learning that:
A vision for a project should be: Direct, clear, brief, achievable, believable
The mission for a project should include: What, how, from whom, why
In order to understand requirements, it is important to look at: processes, strategy, functionality, output, future
Future requirements for IT services are likely to include: Shift left testing, self-service/help/healing, AI/chatbots, business relationship management, predictive analytics
Effective research should include: Engaging with experts, engaging with community, demo, SDI intelligence, seminars, software showcase
The following inputs provide opportunities to improve: Customer satisfaction surveys, complaints/compliments and suggestions, management reports, major incident and quality reviews, cross-functional meetings, corridor conversations, social media.
These foundations should help create and sustain success if applied correctly and should continue to be focused on even after the initial launch date. For instance, if maintained, regular performance reviews will help improve services. Another factor that is sometimes overlooked, is when a small and quick addition or change is made. These play a big part in improvement and promotion of the tool.
Other areas that are important to consider include the fact that customers do not necessary want a silent switch out and may like to be informed of improvements being made to the system they use. It is important to advertise the product/tool that is being put in place, inform users why there is an improvement but also underline how it should not be problematic for the users to get the service they require. Customer experience is a huge factor in whether something fails and this should be constantly monitored.
Pictured here is a cycle of processes that I was shown at the conference, which I believe are important from the presentation by Matt Greening, ‘The Naked Service Desk’. It is a good way to further understand satisfaction levels. Correspondingly, another speaker that day underlined that ‘user experience drives improvement’ so keeping, observing and collating this useful data, can help lead to improvements.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

 

Is Jill Watson after your job?

She began work as a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech in January 2016, helping students on a masters level artificial intelligence course. At first, she needed help from her colleagues but she soon learnt and it wasn’t long before she was providing support to all students without assistance. Human assistance that is. “Jill” was the creation of course leader Ashok Goel – an artificial intelligence tutor developed using IBM’s Watson platform.

The course was entirely online and questions were submitted via an online forum. Initially the AI derived answers weren’t so good so the human tutors responded. But as time went on “Jill”’s answers improved so the tutors took the answers and posted them to the forum. Within a short space of time, the answers were near perfect and the AI instance was responding directly to the students. The students were not aware that they weren’t dealing with a real person – but then, do they really care if they are getting good advice?

This isn’t the only form of AI that I have seen applied in the education environment. At EDUCAUSE last year, I saw a demonstration of an AI based chat bot that guided an applicant through the process of identifying a suitable course at university and ultimately the application process itself. I was driving the questions, playing the role of the applicant – the responses were reassuring and at the end of the process, I felt satisfied that I had been given good advice.

In both instances, the AI instance will have had to learn from real life examples to build up its knowledge bank in order to make informed decisions. In the case of Jill Watson, that learning took little time; with the AI applications assistance there was more initial programming which was underpinned by some clear rules and expectations. But given that in both examples, the AI instance learnt from patterns of behaviour exhibited by real people, is there scope for using artificial intelligence at the service desk?

The answer has to be yes. The service desk system has a wealth of information about problems and their solutions that can be drawn upon and used to address submitted problems. There are many repetitive questions that get asked of a service desk which could easily be handled by an AI instance. Many service desks have identified these – password resets being an obvious example – and have sought to reduce the impact of these through FAQ sections and similar channels. But how effective are these mechanisms? Do they help deliver a one stop shop?

Could AI further aid service desk staff? It could – dealing with repetitive queries is one thing but artificial intelligence could be deployed to recognise similar questions from the bank of queries in the service management system and identify solutions. The service desk staff would then be able to give a quicker response rather than having to re-learn how to deal with a problem or seek out the expert that dealt with it last time around. Alternatively, the AI system might identify the person with the most expertise and route the query accordingly.

AI is far quicker at identifying patterns than people. As a result an artificial intelligence based system would give an earlier indication of an incident or bug and so help the service desk respond more quickly (perhaps before some realised there was a problem).

So where will that leave the service desk? Will the use of AI allow service desk staff to focus on the really meaty problems that are more satisfying to solve or will it give staff the opportunity to focus on new areas? Alternatively, will it lead to a deskilling of staff, an unrewarding role reduced to passing on solutions that are drawn down from a vast body of previous experience? Is Jill Watson going to take your job?