August 21, 2014

Cyber Airmen create virtual help desk

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) — The Air Force Enterprise Service Desk is going virtual, and Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland will be the first to see it as it rolls out across the Air Force, starting the end of August.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has challenged every Airman to constantly look for smarter ways to do business. The personnel of the 67th Cyberspace Wing at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas, are meeting that challenge with their implementation of innovative processes targeting Air Force-wide network customer service, including the new virtual Enterprise Service Desk (vESD).

Users who experienced account or network problems over the last few years have called a central customer service hub. With a customer base of over 650,000 people, the ESD’s automated phone system had been significantly overburdened, which led to a cascade of inefficiencies. Not immune to the fiscal challenges so familiar across the Air Force, the 67th CW advanced on a new approach to customer service, necessary to solve this complex problem.

“At times, the average call wait time can approach 27 minutes,” said Col. Chad Raduege, commander of the 690th Cyberspace Operations Group, in an interview in March 2014. “That’s a 27-minute wait to tell an ESD technician that you have a problem. With the current backlog, our return to service may take up to seven days. That’s unacceptable.”

That waiting caller wasn’t alone; at any given time there were as many as 175 callers waiting in the queue, according to Lt. Col. Mark Reith, 690th Network Support Squadron commander, the unit whose primary mission is to maintain and operate the ESD. Despite a contingent of technicians dedicated to taking telephone requests around the clock, a logjam of 13,000 requests formed, and was growing by approximately 1,500 per week.

Removing the middleman

The vESD being rolled out next week is a client-based application that allows the user to solve common issues and self-initiate trouble tickets for e-mail, desktop, laptop, mobile devices and will eventually include network, software, hardware and other user account capabilities. The application allows for status checks of any current incident requests, feedback submission and provides further contact information for more help.

“Automation allows our users to update more information on their own, and even solve common problems at their desktop,” Craig Biddington, senior communications officer for the 366th Communications Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, said. “Now our technicians see fewer tickets, allowing us to recapitalize resources toward more critical tasks.”

“Generally, we can break the ESD’s tasks into two categories: account requests and incidents,” said Reith. “The more we automate the thousands of daily requests, the more manpower we can redirect to incidents, and that means getting users back up and running far more quickly than ever before.”

The application was beta tested by JBSA – Lackland members on May 16, and suggestions and comments from that test have been implemented in this first production version. The roll out starts the second week of August.

Automating the ESD system through the creation of the vESD will allow users to troubleshoot and solve common issues with a few clicks, ESD officials have said. Requests are aligned with specific mission areas to ensure that the technicians are working towards solutions for high priority requests. An incident is high priority if it causes a full work stoppage.

“Specialization always proves to be most efficient,” Lt. Col. Eric Trias, 690th Network Support Squadron Detachment 2 commander, said. The 690th NSS Det. 2 is located at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Gunter Annex in Montgomery, Alabama. “We align requests with specific mission areas ensuring the right technicians are working the solutions for issues that warrant higher priority. Incidents resulting in full work stoppage are given higher priority than routine service requests. Automation is allowing us to implement this concept more and more, ultimately resulting in much faster processing of incident requests.”

“So though we are diligently working to vastly reduce wait times, that’s not the end goal,” said Reith. “We’re implementing multiple solutions to get users back to productivity in pursuit of their respective missions.”

“We knew our customers were tired of the wait times, and frankly, so were we,” he added. “Even though we have reduced the wait time significantly, it’s important for our customers to know we’re committed to putting the right people on the right tasks with the overarching goal of return-to-service for the customer.”

“The ESD innovations have empowered us to do the things our customers had grown accustomed to and provided us the tools to directly respond to our customers’ needs in a way that only a local support function can,” Biddington explained.

Innovation through automation

The ESD had been transforming its operations over the past year through continuous innovation. To reduce the queues and wait time, the ESD initiated several successful automation initiatives. One of these was the digital tool known as IAO (Information Assurance Officer) Express. This tool was specifically developed to help address the three most common requests made to the ESD.

“We determined that three specific requests constituted a full 28 percent of the ESD’s overall workload,” said Reith. “The three most common requests were creating new user accounts, known as provisioning; moving a user account between bases of assignment; and removing unneeded accounts from the Air Force network, known as de-provision,” he explained. “IAO Express addresses all three. De-provisioning alone accounts for nearly 150,000 transactions per year.” Currently IAO Express, in a partnership with Air Force Directory Services and the Air Force Network Information Center, allows the information assurance officer at the base to put in standardized information and have that work be automatically completed without a phone call or a ticket.

Through a web-based portal, information assurance officers from every Air Force location can access IAO Express to submit any of a number of common requests without the need to pick up the telephone. Once submitted, the request is prioritized and inserted into a batch file which is then automatically processed by Air Force Directory Services (AFDS).

“The tool is designed to gather all the necessary information to ensure the request is executable by AFDS computers,” said Reith.

According to Reith, IAO Express has been online since Dec. 16, 2013, and has been well-received by the information assurance community across the Air Force, already handling more than 14,000 requests per week.

The way ahead

Two town hall meetings will be held at JBSA – Lackland in the next couple of weeks to provide a demonstration and information on the vESD. These sessions will also be available virtually via Defense Connect Online. All base personnel will receive links to these online sessions through e-mail. As the roll out continues, these demonstrations will be conducted at each base where the vESD is being implemented.

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