CrushBank seeing good results in early post-launch days of IT Help-Desk application built on IBM Watson

CrushBank, which came to ChannelCon a year ago to evangelize their product before it came to market, is finding the job easier this year, with customer references in tow and AI hotter than ever. Interestingly, Canadian MSPs have been particularly receptive.

Evan Leonard, Crushbank’s President,

WASHINGTON D.C. – A year ago, CrushBank came to the CompTIA ChannelCon event here with a company built on a concept that was just moving into production. A year later, they are back, with a product that has now has paying customers, a developing series of integrations with other vendors, and a strategy road map in place to expand Crushbank’s market and go-to-market options.

Crushbank’s President, Evan Leonard, and Chief Technology Officer, David Tan, worked together at the same New York City-area MSP for a quarter of a century. They designed and developed an application to leverage the analytics of IBM Watson to leverage cognitive computing to make Help Desks more effective, and make them more interesting environments that promising employees no longer seek to leave as soon as possible.

“Since we were here a year ago, we finished the development on the Watson platform, included completing the UI, and in January we had our first customers,” Leonard said. “We now have 15 paying customers – and ten others ready to be onboarded including a national MSP and a global printer company.”

“We had to make some changes because IBM made some back-end changes on the platform,” Tan said. “The Retrieve and Rank functionality that they had been using, they decided to End of Life, and they replaced it with Discovery. Long-term, the results will be great, but in the short-term, the timing wasn’t perfect.”

The customer base has a strong bias towards companies that are integrating acquisitions.

“Many customers are definitely mature, and aggressive in acquisition,” Leonard said. ‘We let them sunset older applications.”

Curiously, Canadian MSPs have been very receptive as well, notwithstanding Canadian reputation for being laggards in adopting new technologies.

“65 to 70 per cent of our new clients are Canadian companies,” Leonard noted. “We have a very high proportion of Canadian customers.”

CrushBank got its start when, after IBM opened Watson to a partner ecosystem in 2015, they pitched IBM through a Shark Tank format on utilizing Watson on the Help Desk, which led to their becoming a member of the Watson partner program. Watson’s ability to ask natural language questions means that the way the question is structured won’t impact search – a major departure from past operations. Because Watson also learns from each interaction, it gets smarter, and makes it easier for Help Desks to get better results.

“The APIs are getting more robust,” Tan indicated. “Now, you can not only find answers. but analyze the content. When you get a ticket, Watson can now tell you if the user is angry or frustrated as well, so you can prioritize that way.

David Tan, Chief Technology Officer, CrushBank

“We got very lucky, in terms of coming to market with this at the right time,” Tan said. “AI technology is so much more pervasive than it was a year ago. Microsoft CEO Nadella at Inspire just said that they are embedding AI in everything. That’s what we are doing, so it makes for easier conversations.”

Still, Tan indicated that there can still be a bit of a learning curve even for technical people to understand the impact of the change.

“There has to be a fundamental understanding of what this is and how it works,” Tan said. “There is a tendency in this industry to wait for Service Pack 2 if there is an issue. With Artificial Intelligence  and Machine Learning, you can’t wait for Service Pack 2. You are Service Pack 2. Even for technical people, this works differently than the technologies they are used to. They have to realize that the more you use it, the more you get from it.”

As MSPs, Leonard and Tan initially turned to the MSP channel to take the product to market first.

“We started in a channel which we knew and where we have credibility, as both Dave and myself grew up for the last 25 years as MSPs,” Leonard said. For MSPs, CrushBank now has integrations with ComnectWise, Autotask, ServiceNow, ITGlue, Confluence, and Remedy that are live today, and they are finalizing others with Kaseya, BMS and Zendesk.

“ServiceNow in particular is moving us into the enterprise market,” Tan said. “Most of their customers are Fortune 1000. We managed to build the ServiceNow integration faster than we had planned.”

The plan is to extend the go-to-market beyond the MSP channel.

“We are now looking at other channels as well, including OEMs,” Leonard indicated. “The printer copier company we are working with provides their own content using our engine, to provide support for many SKUs and thousands of end users.

“There’s a natural progression in terms of how we go to market,” Leonard added. “As IBM enhances Watson more, and we get access to more IBM APIs, that makes Watson more attractive and opens up more markets to us.”

The roadmap ahead will include enhancing the user experience, and provide more ‘on the fly’ analytics.

“We will also make the system more proactive,” Tan said. “In October, we will launch our next module, which will see tickets assigned present precedents, configurations, and external documents that might be helpful first – effectively presenting answers before it starts working on the tickets. The answers will come back with a confidence level. This is more useful for an IT person, rather than an end user.”

Finally, Leonard noted that because of the advances in both AI broadly and the company specifically, their job at ChannelCon this year is easier than last.

“We can now share experiences of current clients,” he said. “That helps to change the conversation around how IT support is managed, and how we change the process of IT support for tomorrow.”