Booming city sets up help desk

Ontario, Calif., officials find help-desk solution to centralize assistance and support city services

It used to be that colleagues would stop Dale Wishner and his technology

staff members in the halls or leave notes asking for help with computers

or phones. But, with Ontario, Calif., rapidly growing in size, officials

realized there had to be a better way to help the city's 23 departments

and 1,100 employees.

Over the past two years, the information services department — which

itself has grown from three people in 1998 to a current 22 — tested several

help-desk systems to centralize assistance. It finally settled on a Web-based

system called FootPrints, developed by UniPress Software Inc.

Such a Web-based system is critical because as the southern California

city (www.ci.ontario.ca.us) grows in population — proposed development

on 8,200 acres could add 100,000 residents to the current population of

162,000 — more services will be required.

As newer technologies, systems and applications are implemented to support

city services, surely questions, problems and complaints will rise as well,

said Wishner, Ontario's Information Systems Department technology supervisor.

By tracking and prioritizing such issues, the bottom line is better public

service, he said.

FootPrints, he said, is more flexible, scalable and affordable than

other help-desk applications and also enables users to build a "knowledge

base" of solutions to help fix a problem.

Since installing the system, the city has recorded 5,000 "tickets" —

that is, questions or problems raised by city staff — in a centralized

database, Wishner said. Such tickets range from replacing toner cartridges

to a server going down to public safety system problems, he said. Staff

members can type their request directly through the city intranet, send

an e-mail or place a call to technicians, who handle about 30 requests a

day.

The staff has created a knowledge base of about 200 solutions, or frequently

asked questions, that IT staff members can refer to, especially if there

is a recurring problem. "It keeps the next person from spinning their wheels,"

he said.

The application also prioritizes and tracks activity and makes the staff

more accountable for solving problems. Wishner said the application also

could make it easier to argue for hiring more staff, if needed.

FootPrints has a self-service component for employees to look up solutions

to problems themselves, but it's not used much, he said.

The city paid an initial $11,000 licensing fee for the help-desk

package, and maintenance runs about $3,000 a year.

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