Enliven your help desk operations

FRAMINGHAM (10/16/2003) - Admit it. When you think about the help desk, you think, Boring! The prevailing image is of a Kafkaesque warren of gray cubicles, populated by a crisis-driven, frantically overworked staff who experience endless Dilbert-like encounters. From the end user's angle, dealing with the help desk means being sucked into a death spiral of incomplete trouble tickets.

That's the old, one-dimensional, soulless help desk operation.

But a new technology-led, enlightened and beefed-up help desk system has been adopted by American Airlines Federal Credit Union in Fort Worth, Texas. Instead of the credit union's IT department having to scramble in response to each user crisis, it now uses help desk software to manage user requests and internal projects, says MIS supervisor Jesse Davis. "We've gone from a 2-ft.-by-5-ft. whiteboard to software with user profiles, query functions and easy output to Excel files to spot trends," he says.

Want to know the top five problems of the week to see if you are repeatedly responding to the same one? It's easy to get a graphical representation. Need to add a field for training issues? With the software, it's no problem to create new ones.

The software is HelpStar from Mississauga, Ontario-based Help Desk Technology International Corp. It generates reports that form many of the talking points for the credit union's Monday morning IT meetings.

The system is a boon for both IT managers and end users. For example, when a new branch is in the works (the credit union has 40), IT managers log onto the help desk system to see the schedule of all IT projects associated with the opening.

From the other side, "a loan officer might log on and report a problem with their budget program," says Davis. "The system automatically dispatches the request to the appropriate IT person via e-mail, and the loan officer receives an e-mail acknowledging the work and status."

There's an automatic workflow trail created to keep both the user and IT managers aware of the problem. As a result, everyone knows who is working on what, how many projects each staffer is handling and the general capacity of the help desk operation. More than 75 percent of the requests for help (there are more than 600 a month) now come via e-mail rather than phone.

The flexibility of help desk software is an asset to be exploited. The credit union's IT team of 22 uses HelpStar to help allocate resources and improve department-to-department communications.

Rethink what your help desk software can do, and you just might polish IT's positive profile. And that's far from boring.

Pimm Fox is a freelance writer in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at pimmfox@pacbell.net.

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