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Tracking gets on track

Problem-resolution software is helping the U.S. government handle communications more efficiently - and efficient public servants are happier public servants, at least in two cases.

The first case involved the Human Resources Service Center (HRSC) of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. It was having serious problems tracking technical issues or responding to requests efficiently.

The center supports more than 6,000 civilian workers, providing a range of human resources, including processing records, files, life and health insurance, and handling security issues such as background checks. It interacts with a large customer base spread over a wide geographical area with multiple help centers.

The staff was using a cumbersome, ineffective in-house tracking system that could not provide basic information such as who was working on a particular task. It also could not track trouble tickets or provide status reports on staff activities.

HRSC wanted something that would tie in all the areas of its help desk, such as requisitions, call tracking and call types, and electronic notification. The software system had to be easy to use and easy to implement. All authorized users had to be able to access the system, generate status reports, and send work orders through the internal e-mail system.

After evaluating three solutions, HRSC chose SupportMagic, from Magic Solutions. It enables help desk managers to control all aspects of system management, allowing them to customize data entry and queries, track staff availability, monitor activity and performance, and create specialized reports.

'We could program it to alert us for certain processes or status reports,' says Sara Shoerlucke, a program specialist at HRSC. 'The alert system worked electronically through our e-mail as well.' She says the product made 'tracking and pulling information very easy. The other systems were cumbersome in comparison.'

SupportMagic uses embedded artificial intelligence and its own full-text search engine, Statistical Information Retrieval, to identify problems and recommend solutions.

'Anyone on the network can use natural query language to resolve their questions on typical tasks,' says Forrest Morrison, technical manager for the HRSC. 'The system empowers users and enables the technical support staff to answer only those questions that are escalated after other solutions are tried.'

Morrison says the knowledge base allows support workers to access past solutions as well as hardware and software information, including maintenance history. A work order feature allows HRSC to plan and track the use of resources for larger projects.

The system was configured and up and running in a matter of days. Right away, HRSC support employees were able to track and respond to questions quickly. There were a lot of questions, because Windows 95 had just been installed.

HRSC is making the most use of the problem resolution, configuration and inventory modules right now, according to Shoerlucke.


Problem-resolution software also helped solve a communications problem for a company operating in another branch of government: the U.S. Congress.

InterAmerica Technologies, a 26-year-old firm specializing in government contracts and information/inquiry fulfillment, provides correspondence and workflow management for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Mounting problems made it Clear that InterAmerica's old, ineffective, proprietary in-house help-desk system needed to be updated.

'We couldn't modify it, couldn't get information such as who went on a call or what they did. It had minimum reporting functions,' says Mike Balk, director of technical services for InterAmerica. 'We didn't have accurate information, couldn't even tell a client if we had someone working on the problem or not. We were unable to effectively retrieve information about calls, such as when it was logged, when we said it would be resolved, and when equipment or a system was scheduled to be serviced.'

Without the proper tracking information, dealing with clients became increasingly difficult. InterAmerica was unable to provide up-to-date status and information.

'This was frustrating, because when a (client) office screams, they scream loudly,' says Balk. 'I have even been reminded that members of Congress are 'the most important people in the world.'

In the last two years, the number of hardware and software support employees increased 600%, from five to 30, driving up costs and complexity.

'We were handling Novell and DOS, now we've added Windows NT and Windows 95,' says Balk. 'The support environment is getting increasingly more complex as more platforms and more users are added, and all have to work together.'

Beyond the basics, InterAmerica wanted its help-desk solution to be client/server based. It would serve the 90-plus nodes on its Windows NT network spread across the company's offices in McLean, Va., and the two downtown Washington, D.C., offices.

Balk also turned to SupportMagic to meet these requirements as well as facilitate cross-platform support. 'The product can be used for personnel tracking, purchasing ... anyone with a database could use it,' he says.

Balk says billing is easier now because problems are identified and tracked and can be referenced against clients.

Some extras that appealed to InterAmerica were added tables and inventory tracking. InterAmerica uses the different modules to track internal and external inventory and the company's internal library. Balk created the library by using SupportMagic's front end and adding fields to create a completely new module.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 1997
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