How AI Can Help Stretched and Overworked IT Teams

overworked IT worker

“The application isn’t functioning correctly, so it must be the network that’s down.” 

This is often the language used for any technology complaint or trouble ticket that a retail IT team receives. The ability to quickly diagnose where the problem lies is key to getting the problem repaired. But there are just so many possibilities: could the issue be caused by an external routing issue? Has something internal happened to the network fabric? Was there a security breach? Could it be low bandwidth or even bad cabling? Is it just in one store or across all franchises? 

It can be a major headache to sort through all the possible areas of failure to find the root cause of the problem. Unless luck is on their side, a retailer’s IT team can spend hours to days searching for a problem so it can be isolated and repaired. More often than not, teams need to work down a checklist of potential problems, causes and solutions - trial-and-error style - until the culprit is determined and the repair begins.

During this search, thousands of other, more important problems could arise that could or should pull the IT team away from solving this problem. The more time spent uncovering an issue, the less time can be spent on other IT issues, critical or mundane.

This is where artificial intelligence (AI) can come in. With AI on an IT team’s side, problems can be uncovered faster, speeding time-to-repair. In addition, with AI being used to identify and solve network problems, the IT department can focus their attention and valuable time to supporting business outcomes instead of just troubleshooting issues.

The State of Retail IT

Most IT teams are understaffed, regardless of vertical industry. In the retail industry, however, the extent of this understaffing is quite obvious, depending on the size of the company. IT team members often have to “wear many hats,” as they end up being responsible for the deployment and maintenance of everything technology-related in a retail setting. This can include executive operational technology and systems, from basic email and browsing, to marketing, payroll, billing, finance and procurement systems.

In addition to the back office, the same IT team is often responsible for in-store systems as well, such as point-of-sale devices like registers, price scanners and in-store guest Wi-Fi. The overall company network that connects all of these together is also, naturally, under their purview.

Now imagine something goes wrong in one of these systems. If it’s a problem that requires investigation in order to isolate and solve, those other responsibilities may suffer while the trial-and-error process takes place. Or the opposite happens, where the tougher issue to solve gets tabled in order to take care of newer, quicker to solve issues. Just think of how far down the troubleshooting checklist a problem like a “bad cable” is. Either way, there’s some work being left on the table - work that either affects employee productivity or the customer experience.

With the current labor crunch and difficulty that companies are having in hiring new talent - especially in the IT field - any understaffing becomes even more exposed when there is a problem that needs to be repaired. 

AI to the Rescue

AI can fill in as the missing IT team member that a retailer hasn’t been able to hire. That said, applying AI to networks and systems won’t replace team members, but it can augment their capabilities and enable them to do more. It’s really a tool for improving efficiency and effectiveness. 

With the addition of AI, there are three advantages to be realized. First, those hard-to-identify problems can become a bit easier to locate. AI can baseline network operations and understand when something goes wrong. The AI can lead the IT team member to exactly what the problem is, on the first try, avoiding a lengthy trial-and-error process. This allows the IT team to immediately get started with the repair, instead of wasting time on discovery. Ultimately, time-to-repair is shortened, and the employee and customer experience is restored.

As a part of understanding the network, the AI technology can also make the entire process more proactive. The AI can sense an anomaly - a slowdown in traffic, dropped packets, a breakdown in signal strength, etc. - and alert the IT team to the issue immediately. This can flip the typical situation, as the IT team can often solve an issue before employees even notice the problem.

Secondly, AI can help to automate some of the more repeatable, mundane tasks that IT teams have to do everyday - tasks such as provisioning new equipment, network routing for speed or importance, configuring new devices, or simply reviewing security alerts and eliminating false positives to bring the more important ones to the surface. Automating lesser tasks frees up time for an understaffed and overworked team to spend their valuable time on more critical tasks - the kind that contribute to the company’s bottom line.

Last but not least, AI can help to guide the actual repairs. In most cases, the IT team will know what to fix once the problem is uncovered. But what if it’s a problem they’ve never encountered before? What if it’s actually more complex than they thought? What if the team member is inexperienced due to the difficulty in hiring new talent? AI can help provide the answer. AI can not only recognize the issue, but guide the team step-by-step to fix it and/or connect them with information sources that can speed the repair process.

Todd Nicholson Headshot
Todd Nicholson is Product Marketing Director, Juniper Networks

The Future of Retail IT

There are so many possibilities when it comes to the application of new technologies to the retail industry, from in-store promotions and expanded engagement with consumers to optimizing the omnichannel experience. In order to continue down the path of innovation, however, retail IT teams need assistance to focus their time and be sure the employee and customer experiences remain positive for the brand. The application of AI - and the improvements in efficiency and effectiveness it brings - is the foundation for these new experiences to be built upon.

– Todd Nicholson, Product Marketing Director, Juniper Networks

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