Ubiquitous effort helps handle job

BOSTON—We live in a world filled with increasingly complex technology
that we take for granted. That is, until we’re faced with an unresponsive PC, printer
or modem. Then, finding someone who understands the problem can be the hardest part of the
repair process.


But for folks at the General Services Administration’s Boston office know just the
man to call.


In his corner cubicle on the ninth floor of the Thomas P. O’Neill Federal
Building, Jim LeVerso, regional systems chief for GSA’s Public Buildings Service,
rarely has time to look out over the city skyline. He’s busy fulfilling hardware and
software help requests.


Every facet of GSA’s network management system in the agency’s New England
region—300 users distributed throughout the six New England states from Connecticut
to the Canadian border—is handled from the Boston office, base of operations for
LeVerso and his five-person team.


“A lot of what we do here falls under the umbrella of network management, although
the title I like to use to describe us is technologists for the agency,” LeVerso
said.


LeVerso’s team of technologists manage and maintain eight PC LANs and hundreds of
desktop and notebook PCs running Microsoft Windows NT. That usually includes tackling 25
to 35 help requests that daily are logged in the system.


“All trouble calls go through a help desk manned by one person who will dispatch
one of the technologists if he’s unable to resolve the problem,” LeVerso said.
“This allows me to work on the bigger problems.”


This is not precisely true—colleagues with computer problems stream through his
office, stop him in hallways and keep his phone ringing to the tune of another 50 to 60
daily requests for help.


Although about 80 percent of the help requests that come through the door are handled
by LeVerso’s team, he will act as backup if a problem escalates beyond the
staff’s abilities or if someone is out of the office. “I need to know everyone
else’s job and, when necessary, jump in as a kind of senior tech support
officer,” he said.


A typical day for LeVerso starts early and ends late, if it can be said to end at all.
Although not on the clock until 8 a.m., he arrives early to check his voice mail and


e-mail and clean up any problems that have trickled in during the evening or early
morning. A couple of times a week, colleagues are too desperate for electronic messages
and are waiting for him at his door.


A recent Monday begins quietly enough, but at 10 a.m., LeVerso hears of the
group’s first major problem of the day: The server at the new Boston Courthouse
Project Office went down sometime during the weekend, and one of his team members is
having problems logging into it.


A few minutes later, he’s intercepted by a colleague who’s having a driver
problem and can’t get a printer to function on the network in the Combined Federal
Campaign office. LeVerso stops by the second floor to brainstorm with him.


Along the way, there’s a field trip to the John F. Kennedy Federal Building to
check on the status of a project to set up user accounts for jointly used computer systems
for the Federal Police Control Center. LeVerso’s team has nearly completed
installation of nine desktop PCs and one server that will connect to the GSA LAN.


At the Kennedy building, LeVerso remotely accesses his own PC to patch up a problem
with Lotus cc:Mail administration, an area usually handled by a technician who is out on
this particular Monday.


“We pride ourselves on being in multiple places at one time so we have PCAnywhere
installed on every CPU and laptop in the region, which allows us to remotely access a
system or server in order to fix the problem from another location,” LeVerso said.


He’s in the middle of adding an e-mail user to the system when his colleague at
the next desk tells him that the GSA Web server had gone down, and no one is receiving
e-mail. LeVerso hastens back to the O’Neill Building to make things right again.


“We’re like firemen, putting out fires all day,” he said later when the
server was up and running again.


“I’m working on three or four problems at any one time,” he said. He
returns to the still unresolved printer problem. Either the driver is in use somewhere
else, or the file is corrupt. He suggests reloading the printer software on another
machine to see if it works.


“This machine may end up as a standalone rather than a networked device,” he
said to his colleague.


Then it’s back to his office to complete a Web page for New England’s
contract opportunities. The site includes Commerce Business Daily notices, requests for
proposals and all amendments that make up each procurement.


While he’s working on the page, a frazzled-looking GSA employee appears at his
door. The man has just finished rescanning more than 100 pages of Wage Determination
reports, which took nearly two hours. LeVerso tells him gently that if the files are
available electronically, he doesn’t need to scan them. “As long as it’s in
a readable format, I can convert the files and load them on the Web site, which will save
you time and money,” LeVerso said to him.


The colleague hands LeVerso a floppy disk; the files to be loaded on the Web site are
all on the disk, he said. LeVerso checks. They aren’t there. It’s time for
another field trip, this time to the standalone scanner in the Property Disposal Division.
He comes up empty-handed and continues backtracking to find the staff member who initially
provided the information. By early afternoon, LeVerso has found the files and loaded them
on the site.


But not all the work is done in his own backyard.


A recent large project—the property management staff decided to decentralize its
seven field offices—took LeVerso and his crew to several New England cities.
Employees were relocated to different government buildings all over the state, and they
needed the functionality and connection speeds they had at the field offices to move with
them to their new desktop PCs.


“Our task was to replicate as much as possible in a remote environment, so we had
to come up with a workstation design that could deliver as much speed as possible while
not breaking the bank,” he said.


It took only four months to set up about 30 workstations running NT 4.0 that gave
remote employees the security and horsepower they needed. LeVerso and his team threw in a
little extra optimization, letting them use multilink technology for higher throughput.


“That’s a lot of what we do—knowing the ins and outs of what’s on
the market, the hardware, software, applications and utilities, and exploiting them to the
fullest extent,” he said.


In fact, much of LeVerso’s time is spent working on the future—trying to
automate the agency’s information management flow.


“We keep our ears to the ground listening for problems, trying to identify areas
that we could possibly automate by using our knowledge of the industry to design systems
to do what we want them to do,” he said.


It’s only in the evening after dinner that he has time to catch up on his reading
of technical trade magazines and journals, always on the lookout for emerging
technologies.

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