Problem resolution technology offers better IT support
(IDG) -- It is an old problem that is getting worse. As information technology infiltrates every possible corner of business, IT managers are struggling to support users with increasingly disparate levels of technological literacy.
In response to this issue, a new market for problem resolution software and services is rapidly arising, and it is reaching out to the Web.
This new breed of software tools helps companies develop technical support systems that use natural-language query interfaces and expert system engines to solve technical support problems. Help desk support staff or end-users can type in simple statements, such as, "My printer won't work," and the system will lead them through questions and answers until it identifies a matching problem and a solution in its database.
Companies such as Primus, Inference, Servicesoft, Motive Communications, ServiceWare and InFact Technologies offer dedicated tools for building knowledge bases, databases of technical problems and answers.
Now ServiceWare is taking the knowledge tool notion one step further. This week the company plans to announce the acquisition of The Molloy Group. Molloy's Knowledge Bridge software uses fuzzy logic, neural networks, text parsing, and other techniques to automatically "learn" new answers as support personnel help users solve problems.
ServiceWare also has its own knowledge bases, called Knowledge-Paks, which include problem and solution pairs developed and tested by its technical staff. And by late fall, the vendor plans to launch a technical support Web portal called RightAnswers.com. The portal will aggregate licensed support databases from Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, SAP, and other large software vendors.
"The Web is the fastest-growing conduit for support, and certainly knowledge-based tools such as those from ServiceWare and Molloy are what's enabling that to happen," said Chris Hoffman, a director at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.
Help desk personnel and Web self-help users can use the portals alongside custom-built knowledge bases to answer technical support questions more efficiently.
And as the trend for problem resolution software grows, it is winning fans.
Skip Grover, an IT manager at the State of Washington's Department of Social and Health Service, in Olympia, runs an organization that supports 18,000 people using 400 products. Approximately one-third now seek answers from ServiceWare Knowledge-Paks, available on an intranet, before calling the help desk.
"This doesn't mean they can always find what they need, and in addition, some users prefer a live human being," Grover said. "But by and large ... it saves them time, since now they don't have to hunt around for somebody in their office to help them."
At Texas Instruments, in Plano, Texas, Surku Snnadurai, vice president of information technology, said the $600,000 cost of installing ServiceWare's system helped him to meet the firm's service-level agreements for IT support without increasing the support staff. Roughly 200,000 company users from around the world call the support desk, which runs with 22 staff members working around the clock.
But one analyst warned that companies should not bother with these tools unless they are willing to take the time to properly manage and maintain them.
"If they're not maintained and managed, they can be a cost sink. You don't just plug it in, you've got to manage and maintain it," said Ray Paquet, an analyst at the Gartner Group, in Stamford, Conn.
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