OsloMet continually seeks new ways to deliver education. Could the latest cloud AI solutions help improve the student experience, while simultaneously improving back-office efficiency?
To provide first-line IT support, OsloMet is creating an AI chatbot. The organization has plans to explore many more use cases and involve students in developing the technologies.
~2,000IT queries/year will be handled automatically, boosting staff productivity
Enhancesstudents’ experiences via 24/7 IT support and access to leading-edge technology
EstablishesOsloMet as an innovator, differentiating the organization and its graduates
Business challenge story
Walking the walk
The higher education sector, like many others, is abuzz with the concept of “digital transformation.” Organizations are exploring how technology can help them transform the experiences they offer their students, while simultaneously improving internal efficiency. The Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) is determined to lead the way.
Tommy Due-Løvaas, CIO at OsloMet, picks up the story: “Before we can teach our students about the latest technological advancements, we must get comfortable with solutions behind the scenes. Our digital transformation strategy is about leading by example. We want to keep up with innovation, so we can give our students the best preparation for life after study.”
Looking for opportunities to put this ethos into practice, the IT department at OsloMet was a natural place to start. The university college prides itself on delivering high-quality services via a relatively lean IT team, and saw a chance to extend its capabilities by embracing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
“Benchmarking our IT department against organizations of a similar size reveals that ours has about 50 percent of the average headcount,” continues Due-Løvaas. “To keep it this way while raising service levels means finding ways to automate and standardize. Our IT helpdesk receives thousands of queries each year, and the vast majority are the same questions asked over and over again. It was the ideal use case for AI solutions – the only question was where to start.”
Learning the ropes
OsloMet decided to build a chatbot to provide first-line IT support, and began looking for the right technology to help it make its first foray into the world of AI technologies a success.
“When people think of AI computing, they think ‘IBM Watson,’ so it was an obvious choice for us,” says Due-Løvaas. “Looking at analyst reports and client references confirmed that we had made the right decision. And once we saw the wide range of services available online via the IBM Cloud portal, we knew it was a great environment for us to experiment, and left the door open for us to explore other use cases too.”
For the first iteration of the chatbot, OsloMet identified the five most popular IT support questions received by its helpdesk. The organization’s IT team worked with IBM to develop a pilot application using IBM Watson Conversation, based in the IBM Cloud. The solution relies on IBM Cloudant®, a fully managed database as a service offering, to store conversation history and user feedback, which OsloMet can use in the future to improve the chatbot.
Pål Knudsen, Senior Developer at OsloMet, comments: “We were impressed by how easy it was to get started with IBM Cloud solutions. It was very useful to have two IBM consultants supporting the early stages of the project. When we encountered a stumbling block – Watson doesn’t currently speak Norwegian! – they helped us find a workaround that uses English grammar and Norwegian translations, demonstrating their commitment to our success.”
The helpdesk chatbot is just the first of the many applications OsloMet sees for AI technology. Due-Løvaas elaborates: “The use cases are virtually endless, which is very exciting. For example, we want to look at supporting our student counselling services and offering our research students a discovery service. We appreciate having IBM there to help target our efforts!”
Going to the top of the class
By automating a large proportion of the work currently managed by the helpdesk team, the solution will unlock significant efficiencies. Moreover, it will enable OsloMet to offer IT support services out of hours for the first time.
“We estimate that the chatbot will automate responses to 2,000 queries, which will remove a huge burden from our IT team, freeing them up to be more productive,” elaborates Due-Løvaas. “It will also give our students access to 24/7 IT support, raising their satisfaction levels and enhancing services to people in other time zones. Best of all, using IBM AI and scalable Cloud technologies means that we can extend our services in these ways without adding to our headcount.”
Eventually, OsloMet will involve students in the development process. Pål Knudsen adds: “With IBM Cloud solutions, we can offer students valuable learning opportunities. By exposing them to leading-edge technologies, we can increase their appeal to future employers.”
As a result of the project, OsloMet will add to its reputation as an innovative place to work and study, helping to distinguish the organization from other high education institutions.
Due-Løvaas concludes: “Teaming up with IBM to dive into AI technologies helps us demonstrate our dedication to staying innovative. Luckily, the IBM roadmap lines up with our digital transformation strategy, so we know they are the right partner to help us stay ahead of the curve.”
About Oslo Metropolitan University
Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) was granted university status in January 2018. Formerly Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA), it has a student body of approximately 18,000 people and 1,965 employees. OsloMet has four facilities at two campuses, located in Pilestredet and Kjeller, Norway.
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