Help desk gets closer to users

Some National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees now report system
troubles through a World Wide Web browser instead of making a telephone call.

The Systems Support Branch in NOAA's Office of Finance and Administration assists about
650 users at four Washington locations handling finance, payroll, personnel and
procurement, branch chief William Ross said.

When a NOAA employee signs onto the system using a badge identifier, information pops
up from a Microsoft Access 2.1 database, said Gary Banks, a NOAA computer analyst.

The Web system "helps us get one step closer to our clients," said Milton
Hamiel, a NOAA computer specialist. If they would rather, users can still report problems
by telephone, however.

NOAA's procurement office is considering a 30-day pilot of the system, computer
specialist Trina A. Simon said.

Help desk employees can query the Access database for users' badge identifications,
locations, phone numbers and call histories.

A Web site at distributes
upgrades to the Netscape Communicator browser and Virus-
Scan software from Network Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. The site has hot links
to vendors that support NOAA, and it presents a list of frequently asked questions from
NOAA users.

Banks and other NOAA employees de-veloped the help desk system using Heat for Microsoft
Windows 3.1 from Bendata Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Microsoft FrontPage 98.

"We didn't need to understand hard-core Hypertext Markup Language," Banks

As late as 1995, "People were buttonholing [support personnel] in the hallway or
in the restroom," Ross said. Instead of continuing to log help requests on paper,
NOAA officials decided to organize the information more effectively and cluster together
the support staff.

Bendata's Heat software lets help desk staff record information gathered from phone
conversations or e-mail messages. Managers then construct bar charts and graphs to show
the types of trouble calls and their resolutions.

Recording the content of phone calls and e-mail messages helps. "Resolutions need
to be well-documented," Simon said. "It helps when problems come around again
and keeps down residual problems."

The Systems Support Branch has been a technology laggard, using MS-DOS as a standard
operating system as recently as 18 months ago. It is now moving from a LAN running Vines
from Banyan Systems Inc. of Westborough, Mass., to a more open TCP/IP network, Hamiel

At the same time, the branch is changing from a shared to a switched network with hubs
from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and a Cisco 7500 router, he said. The network
will provide 100-megabit/sec Fast Ethernet between switches and a 10-megabit/sec pipe to
an Internet provider.

The standard PC configuration is a 166-MHz Pentium with Windows 95, 32M RAM and 2G hard
drive. NOAA bought most of the PCs from Dell Computer Corp.

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