NOVEMBER 18, 2014, MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) – As the Air Force Enterprise Service Desk goes virtual, Airmen will see a new application on their computers that allows them to immediately tackle and fix their minor information technology issues.
The Virtual Enterprise Service Desk is a client-based application that allows the user to solve common issues and self-initiate trouble tickets for email, desktop, laptop and mobile devices. It allows for status checks of any current trouble ticket, feedback submission and provides further contact information for more help. The application will eventually include network, software, hardware and other user account capabilities.
The application began rolling out across the Air Force in stages, starting with Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, in October 2014. After those locations, the app will be implemented across the major commands in stages. The rollout date for Air Education and Training Command bases is Nov. 17.
Users who experienced account or network problems over the last few years have called a central customer service center. With a customer base of over 650,000 people, the ESD’s automated phone system had been significantly overburdened, which led to a cascade of inefficiencies. Not immune to the fiscal challenges so familiar across the Air Force, the 67th Cyber Wing advanced on a new approach to customer service, necessary to solve this complex problem.
“Back in February, the average call wait time was around 20 minutes, but during peak periods this could easily run up to an hour,” said Col. Chad Raduege, the commander of the 690th Cyberspace Operations Group. “That’s a 60-minute wait just to tell an ESD technician that you have a problem. Coupled with the ESD’s backlog, our return to service time took up to seven days. That’s unacceptable.”
The ESD is transforming to more efficiently empower users to find solutions to their technical challenges as well as leverage new automated programs to eliminate the need for a call center. It is important to note the ESD is not closing. It will still exist. It is simply transforming its business processes on more proactive tasks.
“The ESD continues to modernize and retool in order to address the call wait times and return to service rates,” said Lt. Col. Mark Reith, the commander of the 690th Network Support Squadron. “It started with an online tool called MyGAL, and then we added IAO Express. These tools drastically improved user experience.
“Today the average wait time is five to 10 minutes, and users should expect an average return to service time of about half a day,” he added. “The vESD app is the final piece of the new IT support model, and it comes just in time before the Air National Guard migration into (the Air Force Network).”
With the vESD, the user simply clicks an icon on their desktop, answers some simple questions, and the software attempts repair. They effectively reach a virtual ESD technician immediately. Similar to the human technician, the vESD will attempt repair based on the user’s response to questions and will perform its own “health check” of the user’s computer. If it can’t resolve the problem, the vESD will automatically initiate a trouble ticket and route it immediately to the appropriate office at one of the Network Operations Squadrons or the local Communications Focal Point, depending on the problem identified.
“Historically, about 70 percent of all tickets are minor issues that could be resolved through this type of automation,” Reith said. “The remaining tickets are generally forwarded to other offices for resolution because it is beyond the expertise of the first-line technician. The vESD is great because it either resolves the minor issue or routes the ticket to the right back-shop office. Instead of waiting for someone to answer the phone, the tough tickets are created and routed to the right specialist faster.”
The local communications squadron will continue to be an important partner in the new IT support model. Armed with additional IT permissions, they are empowered to work their local priorities. In extreme cases, users may need to call their local support when a computer is completely broken or off the network. This is actually a faster approach since even if the ESD did take the call, they would not be able resolve it since remote access wouldn’t be possible. Eliminating the middleman actually improves the user experience.
“Automation allows our users to update more information on their own, and even solve common problems at their desktop,” said Craig Biddington, the senior communications officer for the 366th Communications Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. “Now our technicians see fewer tickets, allowing us to recapitalize resources toward more critical tasks.”
The ESD will continue to be an important part of IT support, just not as a call center. The future ESD will focus instead on proactive activities that prevent issues in the first place. One example is the creation of a problem management team. Often cited as an industry best-practice, problem management focuses on finding the root cause of enterprise-wide issues and ensuring that solutions are worked through the engineering and acquisition battle rhythms. Another example is the creation of an AFIN Mission Assurance Center, or AMAC, to orchestrate maintenance actions amid real-world operations. These initiatives are key elements of realizing IT efficiencies and maximizing limited IT resources while protecting Air Force missions.