West Point's help desks are all in step

What FootPrints can do

With an Internet browser, a user ID and a password, West Point users now can:

  • Order a computer, phone or network drop installed

  • Arrange photography or videotaping of an event

  • Burn CD-ROMs for classroom use

  • Borrow a camera or public address system

  • Schedule a videoconference

  • Specify an engineering model, with attached drawings, to be fabricated in the academy's shop.

West Point consolidated its help desk and other administrative activities across a 16,000-acre campus. The military academy, founded in 1802, currently has about 8,000 users.

A help desk application generally does handyman duty, finding lost passwords or summoning assistance to fix what's broken.

Users at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., however, converted their help app into more of a virtual butler.

'We call it 'creating an issue,' ' Lt. Col. Paul Scullion of the Directorate of Information Management said about filling out the various kinds of work orders.

'When the users went to other individual users for tech support, there was no visibility' for tracking the requests, Scullion said. 'There were so many help phone numbers and e-mail addresses that it just wasn't working.

'We looked for a way to consolidate the various phone and e-mail help requests into one point of entry. It's so important to have that one entry point,' he said.

It turned out to be FootPrints multiplatform service-desk software from Unipress Software Inc. of Edison, N.J.

What Scullion called 'tier one' support for the academy's 8,000 cadets and faculty members comes from branches of the Computer Systems Division or Computer Information Center. They are the main users of FootPrints.

'They're the ones on the ground, maybe doing support as a collateral duty,' he said. 'We look to them to enter the help requests. If they can fix it, we don't need a work order.'

When the tier-one helpers can't fulfill a request, they fire up a browser and complete a work order in FootPrints, which runs under Microsoft Windows, Unix or Linux.

'We have a mixture of servers, upwards of 90 percent of them running Windows,' Scullion said.

A requester opens one of several project boxes to ask for a service, depending on which branch provides that service. Academy staff members designed the project boxes to mimic the paper forms previously used for handling requests.

If a requester sends a form to the wrong place, FootPrints routing rules will notify the requester by e-mail or phone, reroute the order or, sometimes, share it out between branches for fulfillment.

The rules were set to 'prioritize and schedule the work orders,' Scullion said.

For example, toward the end of May, graduation exercises occupy everyone's time, and 'we have to sort out which orders are unrelated to graduation and notify the requesters,' he said.
'There's still the overhead of somebody having to keep an eye on the open requests,' print out reports and generally oversee operations.

But the prioritization seems to work. The help desk itself, he said, 'is the No. 1 user' and has filled 1,600 work orders since it began using FootPrints last year.

The cost, including the Unipress software and various knowledge bases that came with it, was about $30,000. 'We're now in a maintenance phase and looking at ways to improve the e-mail flow for greater visibility,' Scullion said.

Those improvements might include red-flag tracking and advance scheduling by superiors to balance workloads.

So far, the academy does not use the Defense Department's digital certificates stored on the Common Access Card to encrypt its documents. 'That's not a West Point policy yet,' Scullion said, 'but I think we're going to get there.'

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