974 videos, 2,159 subscribers, 272,211 video views – all in just 17 months. Those are the key stats around the Avaya Mentor program, our fast-growing set of how-to YouTube videos for Avaya products that my team and I have been producing.
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the semi-annual Technology Services World (TSW) Conference, hosted by theTechnology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on the Avaya Mentor program, which I had also written about last August. This was a conference focused on services transformation and TSIA asked that I talk about how we at Avaya put together this video knowledge base, including challenges we faced. The breakout session was well attended and so I thought I would share this presentation with you here. Below is a YouTube video of me doing the presentation (not at TSW), which I’ve also summarized, along with more success metrics, for those who prefer to read.
As most of you have heard, the best example of using video to share knowledge is the Khan Academy. This non-profit’s website has a free collection of over 4,000 educational YouTube videos, surrounded by curriculum, quizzes, and incentives like points and badges. The topics range from simple addition, which has 1.7 million views, to the French Revolution with 400,000 views.
Khan makes a point of having its contributors avoid a teacher-at-a-whiteboard approach, opting instead for a style that feels like you’re sitting at a table with a tutor, working through the topic on a piece of paper. This better aligns with the many of us for whom learning is a visual experience. Being able to see how to do something taps into something different in the brain than just reading about it. The intuitive simplicity of this approach has allowed the Khan Academy to eclipse MIT’s own online education system with a total of 260 million views.
Another good example is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which helps speed up academic research through online video. When an academic team publishes a research paper, they include instructions so that peers can reproduce their experimental results and thus verify the research. Even to experienced lab researchers, understanding exactly what the authors of the research were trying to convey can be difficult, sometimes delaying the peer review process by months. Jove allows them to more easily include videos to demonstrate the procedure.
By this point, I hope you are asking yourself why you aren’t already using video for your knowledge base. Wouldn’t your employees and customers benefit from your company’s own Khan Academy? At Avaya, we found ourselves facing this question in the fall of 2011.
The President of Services challenged those of us in his extended leadership team to make our organization not just be successful in the market, but to be an organization that the analysts would write about. Put another way, it was no longer good enough to be lean and efficient; we needed to take the lead.
Going All In
My proposal was to put together an Avaya version of Khan Academy. We would use video to expand on the company’s existing knowledge-base-focused-support-model. We limited our scope to basic how-to videos designed to help those that install, maintain, and support Avaya products, be they customers, partners, or Avaya employees. These were to be short how-to videos, not anything that would replace the training that Avaya Learning develops.
Like Khan, we would focus on videos that were more live screen capture than talking heads. Additionally, I proposed that unlike Avaya’s existing knowledge base which is only available to our customers with a maintenance agreement, we would make the vast majority of our videos available for free on YouTube. By doing so, search engines like Google would be aware of this content, making it much easier for an engineer to find the answer to an Avaya-related question.
As we got started, getting buy-in from leadership was obviously important. A big part of that was that my team of engineers would need to reprioritize some of our work in order to make time for generating 800 videos in only 9 months. We had great support from Mike Runda, the leader of Avaya Client Services, who gave us the green light to move forward.
The Gear We Got
We evaluated a number of video production software suites and settled on Camtasia Studio. Camtasia gave us great features like the ability to use templates, splice video and audio in, as well as special editing features to highlight or zoom to certain parts of the screen. These licenses ran ~$150. Adding Camtasia required that we upgrade a number of our engineers’ laptops to meet the minimum specs, an upgrade that everyone was excited to have a good reason for.
We also went with a high-quality $80 USB microphone called the Blue Yeti. All in all, that’s about $230 per engineer. We felt it was important to maintain a common look and feel to these videos, so we built a template for Camtasia with legal and branding-approved intros and outros as well as standardizing on things like transitions. Due to our high quality standards, after reviewing the first handful of videos, Avaya’s branding team gave us carte blanche to publish to YouTube without further oversight.
For topic selection, I was lucky to be starting with an amazing team of subject matter experts. Most had no trouble coming up with topics for videos. For those that did get stuck, the engineer would talk with the support engineers to determine the most common repeat scenarios that they encounter and find a way to use these videos to speed up resolution and/or prevent the tickets from being opened in the first place.
As word got out about our videos, we also started receiving requests from internal and external users. We set a limit of 15 minutes for all the videos and encouraged them to be under the 5 minute mark. The length would really depend on the topic, and I would challenge the author of anything over 10 minutes to see if they could break it into more than one smaller video. To give you a feel for our topics, here are six that show off the variety covering hardware, software, different product portfolios, even our own customer-facing tools.
- Setting up the iLO3 Interface on the HP DL360 G7
- How to Setup Avaya Aura Session Manager
- How to reset the System Manager Web Admin Password
- Administering a SIP Trunk in Avaya Aura CM
- How to log in and run reports using the Avaya CMS Supervisor Web feature
- Avaya SAL and the Egress-based Connectivity Model
As the lead for this effort, the most time-consuming part for me was the review and approval process. It was very important to me that we has a very high quality product and thus I personally reviewed each and every one, sending back to the author a list of changes that I wanted to see. The bar was set high and a single review could easily take me half an hour.
To help reduce the number of errors, I would frequently share an updated list of common problems I was encountering. This was important as some had a harder time with the learning curve than others, encountering more than 20 issues per submittal, and multiple submittals of the same video. It is worth noting though that while everyone got much better at it with time; some were submitting perfect videos on day 1 while others never quite got there. Some of my engineers were frustrated with me as they felt the bar was set too high for quality. If I heard any extra noise in the background, or if a transition wasn’t crisp, I’d send it back.
But our users noticed that quality and complimented us on it. I feel it was important to our success. After three months, I delegated the approval process to one of my top engineers, Bhavya Reddy. She was one of the best at producing error-free videos and thus I knew she could maintain our quality. Here’s her video on setting up Avaya Aura Session Manager, which has garnered more than 6,200 views.
After six more months, Bhavya transitioned this role to the company’s formal knowledge management team where it could be better integrated into the other KM processes. This is important as we made sure we always dual-published all YouTube videos to the standard knowledge base by embedding the YouTube video in an article. This helped us ensure that our users could trust that a search ofhttp://support.avaya.com would return everything. The videos that were deemed proprietary were uploaded to an internal server instead of YouTube and published as internal-only articles in the existing knowledgebase.
Getting the Word Out
Building a knowledge base, or any tools, is pointless if you can’t get user adoption. I felt it important to delay the initial announcement until we had the first 100 videos published. I was concerned if someone came to the site and only saw 5 videos, they might never return.
So once we reached 100 videos, I had the President of Services announce the program internally, followed by similar announcements in external communications to our partners and customers. To reinforce this in a more detailed way, I blogged about it on our corporate site wrote as well as created a Twitter account for Avaya Mentor, allowing people to receive tweets when new videos are uploaded.
At last year’s Avaya’s User’s Conference in Boston, myself and others passed out materials to all the customers and partners we met with, be it at the conference center itself, or in a bar later in the evening. The IAUGgroup was actually so impressed with the program that they helped with advertising on all the plasma screens throughout the conference center. We’ve also partnered with the product documentation teams to include references to our program directly in the product documentation.
With 16 months now under our belt, I thought I would share with you some of the measurable success we have had with the program. As I mentioned earlier, we have published nearly 1,000 videos on YouTube which have been watched more than 270,000 times.
While the U.S. provides our largest set of viewers, I’m happy to say that we are in 196 distinct geographies. What our support folks are most excited about is that we’re at 1,100 hours of video viewing per month which equates to about 10 full-time equivalents of people, which we figure equates to at least 3 FTE of labor avoidance.
But perhaps the most interesting metric is that we are seeing significantly more views per article than Avaya’s text-based articles. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given that we used some of the company’s most knowledgeable resources and posted our content publicly. However, I still think it is clear that video-enabled content is that much more compelling than text alone.
Three Unexpected Benefits
There are many surprising results from the Avaya Mentor project. The most exciting one for me as a manager was the impact to my employees. At first, I had some resistance from some of my engineers. They were not yet convinced of the value of these videos and combined with the steep learning curve and high quality expectations, some folks just weren’t interested. However, after the good press started, with people directly contacting these authors thanking them for their videos, they came around to its value.
I also saw increase in their self-confidence, which is typical after demonstrating how-to do something to others. Having those people publicly thank you helps a ton, too. Our most popular video is actually about setting up an interface on an HP server – it has gotten more than 19,000 views! This video was created because many of our applications are sold with this server and this configuration is important. What we didn’t expect is that non-Avaya people would find it valuable to their usage of the same HP servers. I’ve found our video embedded in a variety of websites out there, having nothing to do with Avaya.
The last surprise was discovering that a business partner pirated a few of our videos and re-uploaded them to YouTube and other sites, touting them as their own. This is something Avaya typically doesn’t care about as our videos tend to be marketing-based. The upside of this is that the message is getting out to more and more people. What makes me nervous is that if we find a problem with a video and need to take it down and re-release it, this partner likely won’t see that and bad information will continue to float around.
We’ve received great feedback from our users of the program. We get these comments on YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Sometimes we get suggestions for new videos to create, product support questions, or just encouraging statements like the ones shown here. As mentioned previously, feedback like this is very encouraging to our engineers.
I want to thank my team who helped make this program a success. We dedicated at least a third of our time for nine months building this program up and it was no small feat. I’m proud to say that Avaya has recognized all of them with well-deserved awards.
In my previous blog post, I talked about how increasingly valuable having The Knack is in technology support organizations. This troubleshooting ability is becoming increasingly necessary as IT environments evolve into more complex and integrated systems. Mike Runda, Avaya Senior Vice President and President of Avaya Client Services, touched on this in a recent white paper on challenging the status quo:
“As technologies become more complex, problems are more likely to be system-wide rather than in a single component. They can emerge from the network, an application, an end user or a configuration file–and from any vendor’s product.”
As Mike says above, technology ecosystems are complex and require a troubleshooting skill-set to match. Those already operating with The Knack are in a good place to seek out the root causes in such environments.
So how do we foster an environment that encourages feeds, and rewards this mentality?
Interview for The Knack
When I interview candidates for a technical support related position, I am more interested in how well they troubleshoot a general problem versus how much they know about any one specific technology. One of my go-to interview questions is a role-playing scenario where they are a wireless router support engineer and I call them, as a customer, because I can’t get my laptop to connect to ESPN for the latest scores. As the candidate role-plays with me, I’m paying attention to how they approach the problem. I expect them to get clarity on my problem, not assuming anything. Next is the (perhaps stereotypical) question: “Do you have a wireless router and is it turned on?” What I’m really looking for is if they have a systematic approach to narrowing down the root cause? Or do they simply guess at the solution based on common problems?
Some hiring managers use less technical and more analytic questions like: Estimate the number of dry cleaners needed in Pittsburgh. Questions like this don’t have a right or wrong answer, but look to evaluate how the applicant applies logic to a problem. (For example, I’ll assume there are 2 million people in Pittsburgh. Half are over the age of 18. Given the focus on manufacturing, I’ll assume only 10% regularly wear clothes that need dry cleaning. If we assume each store can handle 500 customers, then 200 stores in Pittsburgh.)
The way I look at it, it is much easier to teach someone a specific technology or product if they already know how to troubleshoot. The Knack, on the other hand, is quite difficult, if not impossible, to train someone on. Given the economic climate, most of you are probably not staffing up teams by hiring off the street, so encouraging better troubleshooting in your existing engineers is more realistic.
Nurture and Encourage The Knack
At Avaya, we have found that having a diagnostic framework in place helps focus and remind our engineers to not get ahead of themselves when looking at a customer issue. While those with The Knack, may have this embedded in their DNA, the framework does act as a reminder for them and a guide for others. The Avaya Diagnostic Methodology looks like this:
- Problem Clarification: Move from the stated problem to a focused, specific clarification of the exact problem.
- Problem Analysis: Move from knowing the problem to knowing the cause
- Problem Resolution: Move from the cause to a confirmed resolution of the problem.
- Knowledge Management: Search the knowledge-base for an existing article on this issue. Modify the knowledge database based on your findings.
At times, we’ve also sponsored internal competitive events based on real and hypothetical technical problems to see how well teams of engineers can work together to solve complex issues. The conclusion of such an event should not only celebrate the winning team, but also having them publicly share their approach with the larger group so that everyone learns.
Automate Everything You Can
To help your engineers focus on the art of troubleshooting, remove as much repetitive work from the process as you can. As Mike Runda said in the white paper mentioned above, at Avaya “our support vision is to have humans work on only new problems; let automation and advanced systems resolve existing problems when they occur.” To that end, the organization that I lead partners with others in the business to identify areas that can be automated and then use tools to remove that burden from our employees. Some examples are:
- EXPERT Systems: Our automated system that responds to product alarms and programmatically resolves the majority of them without any human interaction
- HealthCheck: A collection of product-specific tools that look at the product’s configuration, comparing it to best practices, and quickly highlighting potential problems
- OIS Advanced: New technology that provides Avaya (and our clients) real-time and historical performance of the client’s network, allowing us to correlate solution problems with network problems and disturbances to isolate the network as the cause of the solution problem.
I encourage you to look around your company’s IT and support teams and see if you can identify those with The Knack. When you do, think about ways in which you can better utilize their skills and perhaps select them to be mentors. These talented engineers may be what make the difference in your organization’s ability to adapt to the growing complexity.
How does your organization filter for and encourage The Knack in your organization?
The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.
In a product support organization, your people are, without a doubt, your most critical resources. While you can use knowledge bases and tools to prevent re-discovery, new problems will always arise and you need engineers who can quickly get to a resolution. The skill I value the most in engineers is their ability to troubleshoot. By that I do not mean their ability to recall from memory what an Error 529 is on a specific product (that’s what knowledge bases are for); rather I’m referring to their ability to look at a technical problem, narrow down possible root causes, and logically find the solution. At first glance this may be confused with basic critical thinking, but it is something beyond critical thinking; it’s The Knack.
There is no better way for me to convey the concept of The Knack then to play the following embedded Dilbert cartoon. If you’re short on time, just watch the first two minutes. (The rest of this episode can be found here and here.)
Like most humor, the writers of that comic took a truth and moved it to an extreme for a laugh. I’ve yet to meet an engineer that could sense a battery going bad in a TV remote, but I have met many that can stare at a problem and solve it without any direct experience. For many people, changing the time on a car radio can be irritatingly complex without the manual for reference. An engineer with The Knack, howeverunderstands the design limitations of the user interface of the clock, has used one before, and can surmise the proper steps in almost any car.
Several years ago, I was involved with a critical outage of a web-based application experiencing a timeout issue. An engineer was brought into the escalation that had no experience with this solution at all. He asked a series of questions to get a mental image of the architecture similar to the one below:
He reasoned (correctly so), that if we submitted a unique series of letters at the website, searched the logs on each server for that phrase, and noted the timestamps of the relevant log messages, we could determine which component was adding the delay and tripping the timeout. Once identified, we could get the relevant expert on the phone and get the system back up within minutes. This engineer didn’t get caught up in the reality that he didn’t know how this solution was written nor the underlying technologies well enough to troubleshoot any of them in great detail. Instead, just like with the clock, he combined solid critical thinking with a working knowledge of web architecture to quickly narrow down the possibilities.
While this diagnostic skill has always been respected, it is getting more and more valuable as technology evolves and become more intricate. While new solutions bring improved value to users, the underlying technology that makes those products work is becoming more complex to troubleshoot.
Ten years ago, enterprise phone systems were analog and digital. The phones had their own wiring that connected them directly to the PBX, creating a contained environment where all diagnostic information was in one place. With modern SIP solutions, the phones have evolved to be multi-functional, offering complex features including presence and video. To make this possible, the infrastructure has become distributed, making the diagnostic work distributed as well. To trace a single SIP call requires diagnostic information from several servers and endpoints. The Knack – this art of troubleshooting – is needed now more than ever.
At Avaya, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with not only individuals, but entire teams of engineers blessed with The Knack. Watching one of them attack a problem is like seeing an artist paint. They use the same paintbrushes and paints as others, but the way they wield them makes them true artists. Having one of these engineers working a support issue can mean the difference between resolution times measured in hours versus weeks. While we have amazing automated tools and knowledge bases (ex. Avaya Mentor), it is these talented engineers who bring the most value to an Avaya maintenance contract.
In my next post, I’ll write about how to identify engineers with The Knack as well as how to nurture this skill within your organization. Until then, remember that with great power comes great responsibility, and in this case, often social ineptitude.