USDA tries a magical approach

The Agriculture Department has seven mission areas and 29 agencies and staff offices.

USDA agencies employ a staggering variety of IT resources and technologies, creating a challenging technical support problem. But its 2000-2005 strategic plan calls for 'an aggressive approach to problem resolution, improved technical communications, a centralized help desk and the development of good customer service skills.'

One way the plan is taking shape is in the Centralized Help Desk (CHD) at USDA's Rural Development agency.

As with many help desks, CHD did not start out with a sleek, state-of-the-art system. Indeed, pen and paper were the original technologies used to record problems, pass assignments along and track resolutions.

Eventually, manual methods gave way to an automated call-tracking system. The latest upgrade to a Web-enabled enterprise system brings CHD squarely in line with the agency's goals.

Staying the course

Through all of its incarnations, the basic objectives of CHD haven't changed.
CHD officials' experience with help desk systems helped them define the product requirements and rate products accordingly. They chose Magic Service Desk from Network Associates Inc.

Having settled on Magic, they still faced a few obstacles. For one, the transition from a client-server to a Web system involved the loss of some needed functions. 'CHD had to hold off implementing until a more robust Web-based version was available,' Loberg said.

The system now boasts a browser-accessible interface that should speed and simplify problem reporting and resolution.

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