The elephant in the room.


I watched the new demo of WatsonPaths this morning and was somewhat impressed, although for different reasons. I haven’t been overly impressed with Watson doing customer support (although it is in Beta).

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Watson plans to replace customer support. I reviewed the marketing material some time back. One part of the parts that irked me was “Half of calls typically go unresolved or require escalation“.

So I had a read of the actual report related to the claim. It relates to where the engineers are not considered experienced (duh!). When you look at the figures for experienced support professionals then the figures become more realistic. But it raises an interesting point. That being the underlying price of support.

In order to give good support, you need good support staff. Resources and tools only go so far. Often the best customer support goes beyond just resolving the issue at hand. Some of the best technical support people I work with are not strong technical, but you can easily slot them into different product areas and they still shine vs someone with more technical skill in that space.

To give an example. Imagine you got this support call in.

“Hi, I recently upgraded all users to IBM Notes. One user deleted one of their mail rules but it is still executing. I looked at TN 1088058 but that didn’t solve the issue.”

So looking at that text a junior engineer will take the following from it:

“Hi, I recently upgraded all users to IBM Notes. One user deleted one of their mail rules but it is still executing. I looked at TN 1088058 but that didn’t solve the issue.

Straight away we see they are on Notes 9. As they mention a user deleting their mail rules, it is referring to mail rules in the client and not the server. We can also see that the customer mentions what they looked at to solve the issue.

A normal search engine would not pick up on the “didn’t solve the issue” and would refer the customer back to the tech note they already looked at. NLP on the the other hand would pick up on this (as would a junior engineer). Both would probably dismiss the tech note because of the customers comments.

Compare that to a more senior look at the call.

“Hi, I recently upgraded all users to IBM Notes. One user deleted one of their mail rules but it is still executing. I looked at TN 1088058 but that didn’t solve the issue.

The blue highlighted text tells us the following:

1. The customer has recently upgraded to a new version (Most likely ND9 as they say “IBM Notes”). It is quite normal for a customer to be under a lot of pressure during these times, as they are dealing with a number of factors in the upgrade. As such the customer is more likely to respond negatively to suggestions they wouldn’t normally worry about.

2. “One user”. This would mean that the issue is not as critical. However with the migration happening it’s possible this is one very important user, or again there is stress going on in relation to the migration and they are under pressure to resolve all issues.

3. “Looked at”. So this tells me that the customer has attempted to solve the issue themselves first.  It also tells me that the customer in question may be experienced in troubleshooting, so to be tactful asking obvious questions. (Dell handled this one very well).

4. Tech Note 1088058. It would probably be dismissed as the customer has already said it didn’t solve the issue. But this related underlying technology hasn’t changed in a long time. Every known issue is in that tech note.

Most likely cause is they did not follow the tech note correctly. So tact is required in pointing this out (normally testing ourselves).

Back to the elephant in the room:

“I strongly believe that Watson will replace* my job sometime in the future.”

The Watson support portal sadly is not that (yet). To me it is a more annoying LMGTFY. It doesn’t fully reflect the power of what Watson is.

Once taught correctly Watson can pick up on the nuances like above. It can also draw from a number of sources (source code, customer correspondence, server topologies, etc) to get a clearer and faster picture of where you focus the investigation.

Which is why I enjoyed watching the WatsonPaths demo, as it appears to draw on the strengths of what Watson can do. Here is the video.

* “replace” is probably too strong a word. For the moment “augment”. There may come a day when Watson will take over, but for the now it would allow an experienced engineer to quickly see a breakdown of data in relation to the issue/customer, so as to offer the solution in a less stressful manner.

Using LanguageWare with Lotus Notes

I had meant to finish this a long time ago, but I remembered how annoying it is to do video recording, so I might ramble on a bit (It’s no notes in 9!).

So this demo will give a very brief overview of how you can create a personalised live text/analysis system in XPages using UIMA. It demonstrates using Languageware, which takes a lot of the pain out of working with UIMA. We quickly create a names dictionary of over 5,000 first names, then teach it how to understand a full name.

[edit] I redid the video so it is more watchable now.