How agile is your IT help desk?

When the help desk is familiar with agency- and user-specific issues, it can eliminate gaps in communication, reduce response times, cut waste and create value.

When the Agile Manifesto was signed nearly 15 years ago, the document’s 12 principles were used primarily as a framework for software development. Agile, which can be defined as a fluid methodology that issues frequent deliverables through constant iterations with an emphasis on cooperation and communication across all relevant business components, is being used today to manage a variety of creative projects in addition to software development.

Agile government

Agility is becoming a mandate for government agencies. The General Services Administration’s 18F digital services group introduced the wholly agile agency model in March of 2014, borrowing the lean development mantra of Silicon Valley startups and applying it to the agency environment. The organization’s primary goal is to transform government services by building exceptional software products and raising the standards of software development throughout the government, while minimizing waste and maximizing value production.

While GSA’s 18F was initially rolled out in response to the technical issues plaguing Healthcare.gov, the organization has experienced many successes since then. Its work includes encouraging government domain migration to secure HTTPS connections; the rollout of Analytics.usa.gov, which provides a snapshot of how people are interacting with the government online; College Scoreboard,  a clearinghouse that provides up-to-date data on college costs, graduation, debt and post-college earnings; OpenFEC and many others. One of the most interesting examples of 18F’s ingenuity is its onboarding chatbot named after the West Wing television series character, Mrs. Landingham. The bot is designed to help newly hired employees fill out forms, join online discussions and assimilate into their new government workplace. The organization’s success with many government projects has spurred an increasing demand for agile throughout the public sector.

Agile and the IT help desk

Application and software development may be the most prominent use cases, but agility is being applied elsewhere as well. The methodology promoted by a lean approach that encourages iterative feedback cycles and efficiency through collaboration, for example, can be applied throughout the agency IT environment.

A prime candidate for this approach is the agency IT help desk, which is responsible for seamlessly aiding in the day-to-day operations of the end user. IT managers can apply an agile delivery model to this type of service by hosting it on site and staffing it with dedicated IT professionals who have a comprehensive understanding of the issues and processes unique to that agency. This approach can save time and money and facilitate employee operations.

Running an agile IT help desk is like having a dedicated 18F team -- a valuable resource that can successfully deploy and maintain technology, ensuring end users receive and create the maximum amount of value for their agency. No matter how innovative or revolutionary the core technology, its effectiveness ultimately comes down to the end user who is responsible for its day-to-day application. Therefore, it is vital that the employees have useful and dedicated resources behind them -- namely, the help desk.

One of the core tenants of agility is continuous feedback across work segments. When a wide range of urgent requests are made, immediate answers are needed. An agile, on-premise IT help desk must have the expertise to adapt to rapidly changing environments, while being able to improvise when needed. An agile help desk is also expected to monitor progress with updates, close tickets by quickly solving problems in real time, all while delivering exceptional service to end users.

Having an agile help desk is a key factor in boosting agency productivity. When the help desk staff is familiar with agency- and user-specific issues, they can eliminate gaps in communication, reduce response times, cut waste and create value.

The idea behind the current administration’s Digital Government Strategy is to build a better platform for serving the American people. Agile IT help desks can help agencies run more efficiently by enabling employees to be more productive. If government employees have the tools they need to do their job, they will produce world-class solutions that ultimately meet the goal of providing great services for the public.

Editor's note: This column was changed Aug. 10 to correct a reference to GSA's OpenFEC project. It was incorrectly referred to as OpenSEC.

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