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Zero Touch Operations: How we’re using AI to enable IT systems/process automation

Dr Jindong Hou
Lead Research and Innovation Architect

 “What if we could use our data to auto-resolve our problems?”

That’s the question we asked ourselves in 2020, when our Vodafone Cloud Infrastructure (VCI) team set out to form an AI community across Vodafone. The goal was to break silos by applying machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) techniques to solve real-world problems together.

Motivated to improve ops efficiency, we embarked on our AIOps Zero Touch Operation project, an innovation which has seen us move to using AI for IT system/process automation across Vodafone.

Our Vodafone Incident IT Ticket Resolution system, Remedy, is a great example of what we’ve achieved. Traditionally it’s been a manual and time-consuming system, but we’ve now developed an AI Decision Engine using NLP. This can predict resolution of any incident raised in Remedy and then trigger an existing automation to solve and close it without human involvement. We developed it using open-source software and existing platforms within Vodafone, and the first use case for VCI – Big Data Platform Services went live in March ’21.

I’m really proud of what we’ve done here. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without amazing cross-functional collaboration across multiple domains. We’ve tapped into some truly outstanding talent working for Vodafone and the results speak for themselves. It also goes without saying that Vodafone management has been instrumental in facilitating it all. They gave us full flexibility and encouraged our teams to explore various technical options to tackle the problem.

Here’s more about the journey from some of the fantastic developers of Zero Touch Operations.

Amy Stoner
MLOps Data Platform Product Owner

When we started out, we knew what our end goal was but we weren’t sure how to get there.  Management had asked us the question: “Can we use AI/ML to make troubleshooting decisions like a human, and then automate the actions the support person might take?” All we knew was that we were determined to make it happen.

The whole journey to Zero Touch Operations was not only developing the product, but developing the team’s skills along the way. We learnt all about different AI and ML models, automation operations, and how to integrate with existing systems. The biggest challenge? Producing valuable outcomes with ML. We didn’t yet have the experience with these types of models and it seems like there is a lot to navigate. But once you get going, the easier it is and the more comfortable you get and you can start to produce more/better outcomes – and now we have a great end product, used by multiple customers and constantly expanding.

It was a really rewarding and enjoyable experience, made better by the use of Agile methodologies, management buy-in and enough time/flexibility to develop. Additionally, the collaboration and knowledge-sharing was incredible. The multitude of different ideas and ways to look at the tasks really helped us to develop a better product.

Neil Hickton-Collins
Lead MLOps Data Platform Engineer

We are in a very interesting position where we can be innovation-focused in our day-to-day development work here in VCI MLOps. We nurture the ‘learn and fail fast’ mantra, knowing that every step we take is an opportunity to grow and improve ourselves and our tools.

Here we took the approach to extend our collaboration much wider than we had in previous developments. The exciting and most rewarding part of this project was that everyone involved brought the desire to achieve something new, real and tangible. We excelled as a team in moving things forward together – we had a common goal and we all knew that making Zero Touch Operations possible would be a real step forward for operations in Vodafone. Success was within our grasp and with a little effort we were able to bring about ground-breaking methods that have since helped many teams and services.

I think the best thing about the way we collaborate is down to how open and inclusive the team is. We ensure we keep connected and take the time to have social calls together so that we build strong relationships. Development sprints can be all-consuming, and it is important to take some time to re-energise together. It helps you see things more holistically, as well as to grow as a team.

Christoph Lenz
Machine Intelligence & Automation Manager

I am responsible for TrueSight Orchestration (TSO), which is a BMC tool used to orchestrate processes. Within this project I facilitated the necessary processes to read and update data in oneITSM (another BMC tool, often called Remedy).

We ran the project in a very ‘agile’ manner which meant all demands could be specified and revised as needed very fast. This allowed us to provide the needed TSO processes in a short timeframe.

Originally the plan was just to provide some incident ticket data as examples via TSO’s Rest API interface. Then we added some small processes to add work information into oneITSM or to reassign the ticket to another group. Due to the success of these, we created a process to read all incident tickets created within the last five minutes. Despite initially assuming that TSO would not be able to manage such high volumes, we progressively discovered that in fact, it could!

Overall, the teamwork on this project made it a really easy and smooth one to be a part of. Everyone was always available at short notice to clarify things and I’m very proud to see the end result in action now at Vodafone.”

Want to be part of designing the future? Check out career opportunities with Vodafone here.

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