Aug 01 2012

How Consolidating Help Desks Provides a Look at the Big Picture

Agencies turn to enterprise service desks to cut costs and extend hours.

The clock never stops at the U.S. Coast Guard, and neither do the agency’s technical support needs.

“If a help desk ticket isn’t resolved by 5 p.m., when one technician goes home for the day, we need the ability to hand it off to the next shift,” explains Rear Admiral Robert Day, the Coast Guard CIO.

That flexibility is among the reasons that many agencies, such as the Coast Guard, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Interior Department, are consolidating disparate help desks into unified support centers, commonly referred to as enterprise serv­ice desks.

Every ESD initiative requires planning, goal-setting and metrics for measuring progress, but industry experts emphasize that one size does not fit all. “Because all organizations are unique, best in class is determined by the end users of the serv­ice,” explains Jeffrey Brooks, a research director at Gartner.

For the Coast Guard and the NRC, a successful ESD starts with embracing the methodology prescribed by the IT Infrastructure Library. ITIL provides procedures and metrics that help organizations realign traditional IT processes, such as technical support, into service-driven functions.

The Coast Guard’s new ITIL-enabled service desk, located in St. Louis, consolidates nine regional help desks that were open during business hours only into a responsive, continuously operating facility serving all 48,000 agency employees.

“ITIL gave us the framework to revamp our processes to give our customers a consistent, streamlined experience,” Day says.

“Before,” he continues, “our regional desks tended to take on different flavors and processes. Today, users get the same experience whether they’re in Alaska or Maryland by calling one number: (855) CG-FIX IT.”

The Right Technology

The Coast Guard’s service desk relies on several critical IT tools to fulfill its mission, including BMC’s Remedy software and an Avaya Voice over IP telephone system.

Because ITIL-based Remedy tracks every Coast Guard IT asset, trouble tickets can be prepopulated with information about a specific device. Having such detailed information at a technician’s fingertips improves the quality of outcomes and reduces the duration of phone calls.

“To date, our numbers are right where we want them,” Day says.

Remedy’s automated workflows not only route tickets to the technician with the appropriate expertise but also ensure that tickets continue to receive attention until they’re resolved. Consequently, tickets close faster, driving down costs while improving employees’ productivity by getting them back to work sooner.

Additionally, using a VoIP phone system has improved the service desk’s resiliency. “Now, we have disaster recovery capabilities to immediately failover to our employees in our Alameda, Calif., or Portsmouth, Va., facilities,” Day says.


The percentage of organizations that have already adopted, or actively plan to adopt, ITIL practices

SOURCE: Gartner

The Coast Guard didn’t have to wait long to reap major benefits after moving to an ESD. “Within three months of officially opening last October, there were fewer trouble tickets — by half — than the two largest regional centers had open at any given time before,” reports Day. “And, we’re saving about $3 million annually on technical support costs.”

Managing Assets

The 4,000-employee NRC, which plans to consolidate five separate centers into one facility located at its Rockville, Md., headquarters, also is implementing ITIL practices and BMC’s Remedy software.

The agency deployed Remedy in January, so the NRC is still learning the most effective ways to leverage the tool. But the rewards are already adding up. “Establishing an asset configuration management database in Remedy gives us capabilities to see, track and report on trends we didn’t have before,” says Thomas Rich, acting deputy director for the office of information services at the NRC.

“This allows us to determine the root causes of issues,” he continues. “Whether it’s a device, a type of device, a server or an application, we can fix root causes rather than just trouble­shooting particular incidents.”

Improved security is another significant benefit. “With the centralized asset database, we know how all of our devices were hardened, what patches have been applied, and so forth,” Rich says. “It will give us a better security posture.”

The NRC is also delivering a more consistent support experience, which Rich foresees evolving to include a variety of self-service offerings. “With digital natives coming into the workforce, we see opportunities to develop the right type and amount of self-service options for our users,” he says.

Additionally, as the service desk matures, Rich looks forward to better meeting the individual technology needs of his agency’s highly mobile workforce.

“We’re gaining a better understanding of each customer’s unique environment,” Rich says. “This will enable us to purchase the right tools — whether it’s tablets, smartphones or other devices — to get business done.”

A Transformation Gateway

The Interior Department — where 71,000 employees currently receive technical support from 53 help desks spread across the U.S. and its territories — is also moving toward an enterprise service desk.

Establishing a consolidated enterprise service desk is a significant component of Interior’s overall IT transformation initiative. The transformation effort seeks to morph the department’s disparate IT functions into a unified, customer-­oriented service delivery organization, which includes technical support.

Like other agencies, Interior is interested in replacing its existing mixture of bureau-supported help desk ticketing systems with an organizationwide solution.

While the department is still in the investigative phase on the technology front, the desired outcome is clear.

“The Enterprise Service Desk is envisioned to be a gateway to DOI’s IT Transformation services,” the department states in a request for information released earlier this year. “Whether the customer is asking questions about messaging, office automation, resource acquisition, or problem resolution, the Enterprise Service Desk will be the customer’s solution advocate.”

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