NetApp turns on Watson-powered Elio virtual support for customers

Elio is a chatbot that provides first level technical support using IBM Watson technology. NetApp has also enhanced their ActiveIQ cloud-based analytics.

Ross Ackerman doing his Elio demo on the show floor

LAS VEGAS – At their INSIGHT 2017 event here, NetApp has announced a pair of cognitive computing advances to make customers’ lives easier with cloud-based analytics. Elio, a NetApp-developed virtual support assistant which leverages IBM Watson technology, is now available to customers. NetApp’s ActiveIQ cloud-based analytics has also been beefed up with the addition of new capabilities.

“Cognitive computing is about our investment in our customers’ experience,” said Brett Roscoe NetApp’s VP of product and solutions marketing. “It’s about how we are using data to make customers have a better experience with us, and represents a big investment in machine learning.”

The Elio part of the announcement has the real star power here. IBM Watson tends to do that.

“We were the first in the industry to use Watson to drive customers’ experience,” Roscoe said. “With Elio, we are adapting capabilities that we were using internally with Solidfire to provide cognitive capabilities for the digital customer experience.”

Ross Ackerman, Director, Digital Support Strategy, NetApp, who has been demoing Elio at a booth on the show floor during the event, also provided a presentation at a media scrum Tuesday.

“Elio is designed as a first responder for technical support,” Ackerman said. “It is something we have been using internally at NetApp for quite some time, and we have now have turned it on for customers. It provides a chat interface, for both desktop and mobile, and guides the customer using years of case history.”

Chat bots have advanced significantly since the days of Microsoft’s notorious Clippy, and have become relatively common as a support tool in IT over the last year, so the presence of Elio in and of itself won’t have much of a ‘gee whiz’ impact on customers. NetApp’s leveraging of Watson is, however, designed to provide some differentiation from other bot support solutions.

“We have trained Elio on years of case history to learn the customer’s language, and also trained it on the best answers,” Ackerman said. “It has been trained on all ONTAP products, and it understands context. For example, if the customer issue is something that involves ONTAP7, Elio can understand that he has nothing specific for that, but that he has something that is relevant for ONTAP8 and ONTAP9. If the customer is satisfied with the recommended fix, they can manually do it themselves, or set it so that it is automatically taken care of.”

Ackerman said that accuracy rates are going up as Elio gets more training and learns from experience, although NetApp is not publicizing what those rates are.

“Elio is meeting expectations on accuracy rates,” he noted. “He is also 4x faster to get the right answer over customers who do not use Elio.”

Elio is intended as a first-level support tool, not as a magic bullet for all technical support issues.

“Elio is focused on high volume, low complexity questions, and is not for really complex stuff,” Ackerman indicated. “He can recognize when something is too complex for him and tell the customer that.”

The other part of the cognitive computing announcement is the enhancement of NetApp’s ActiveIQ  cloud-based analytics.

“With this we are truly using analytics and AI to drive customer experience,” Roscoe said. “It brings our traditional support activities portfolio-wide, using telemetry and machine learning capabilities.”

New features within ActiveIQ include Risk Advisor, Storage Efficiency Advisor, and Interoperability Advisor.

“We have added additional capabilities and launched a full system-wide management solution that provides multi- cloud management through a single pane of glass,” Roscoe indicated. “It uses 36 billion data points gathered daily from over 300,000 NetApp Data Fabric solutions.”

Both Elio and Active IQ are available now at no additional cost to customers with a NetApp Support contract. This covers the whole NetApp portfolio, including NetApp All Flash FAS, FAS, SolidFire, AltaVault, E-Series, EF-Series, StorageGRID, ONTAP Cloud, and ONTAP Select products.