FCC consolidates communications

When people are outraged by shock jocks or images on television, they often pick up the phone and call the Federal Communications Commission.

Or they write letters. Or they send

e-mail messages. Or they fax complaints.

The various methods of contact make it difficult for agency officials to effectively summarize the communications the FCC receives. Some citizens complain about indecency, while others ask officials to go easy on censoring language or nudity. Officials also handle complaints about billing disputes or violations of the Federal Trade Commission's telemarketing Do Not Call list.

FCC officials are working on a project to consolidate complaint information into a help-desk system developed by Remedy, which is now part of BMC Software Inc. Roger Goldblatt, deputy assistant bureau chief for systems support at the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, said that right now, Remedy only handles information from phone calls.

"The next phase is putting in an e-mail packet," Goldblatt said. "Right now, e-mails are manually put into Remedy."

When the e-mail phase is complete sometime this summer, information in consumer e-mail messages will flow into the system automatically, he said.

The Consumer Information Management System has to be flexible and capable of handling unexpected spikes in traffic, Goldblatt said. FCC officials can sometimes plan for higher volumes of communication, but often events happen — such as the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl halftime show — that the agency can't anticipate.

"When there are events like a Victoria's Secret [lingerie] special, we know the phone is going to ring off the hook the next day," he said.

In addition to handling citizens' communications via traditional methods, Goldblatt is considering putting a Web form on the commission's Web site.

"The mail and phone complaints rely on people being here to take the complaints" and enter the data, he said. A Web form and e-mail are ways that complaints could be logged and tracked

automatically.

FCC officials had been working on developing an information management system with another vendor but switched to Remedy about a year ago, Goldblatt said. Software from a company called eiStream Technologies Inc. handles faxes. The FCC's call centers are in Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Pa.

Commission officials' ultimate goal is to track trends with greater accuracy, he said. Knowing what citizens are most likely to complain about helps officials make decisions and helps build legislative support for proposed policies.

A good information system will also help FCC officials get a more accurate estimate of the numbers of complaints,

said Scott Harris, technical lead on the project. If the same person makes the same complaint through two or more methods — for example, if someone sends an e-mail and later calls in the same complaint — it can appear to be more than one complaint.

Remedy has had a presence in the FCC for about four years, said Doug Lingenfelter, BMC's client executive for the product. First used by the information technology

help desk, other divisions later adopted the tool.

"It really gained a reputation within [the] FCC as an incident-tracking system that should be considered by other organizations," Lingenfelter said.

BMC acquired Remedy in 2002 and has been integrating Remedy products into its product line, said Craig Harper, vice president of the company's public-sector division.

BMC acquired not only the technology but also about 800 people skilled in working with it, Harper said. Because the brand name already had a good reputation, BMC officials decided not to change it, he added.

The FCC is one of several agencies consolidating call-center operations.

Last year, officials at the General Services Administration launched USA Services, an e-government initiative that ties the National Contact Center to FirstGov, the Web portal designed to give citizens easy access to agencies. USA Services handles calls to the (800) FED-INFO government information line and e-mail queries sent via FirstGov. Meanwhile, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working to merge three dozen hot lines into one contact center.

Many organizations are dealing with challenges similar to those the FCC faces, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at the Yankee Group. Technology solutions are still evolving, he said.

"What we're seeing now in call-center operations is a drive toward pulling together the various applications that contain information about users," Gardner said. "Very rarely is this information all stored in one place and using the same taxonomies."

Remedy's software has a great deal of value, but ultimately may prove to be a steppingstone to something better, he said.

"I think the technology is out in front of where the vendors are," Gardner said. "The vendors are catching up."

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