Army office transforms customer service

US Army Reserve Personnel Command website

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The U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Command is moving full steam ahead with its 5-year-long information technology makeover that will provide more than 1 million reserve soldiers, veterans and retirees with online services and information.

The transformation effort will create a new Web portal that ultimately will provide individuals with instant access to their military records. It also includes a new Web-based system the command uses to track reserve deployments — whether for combat, a major field exercise or military school — and a customer-friendly automated system to prioritize telephone calls and route them to the proper office.

Officials at the command, dubbed AR-PERSCOM, say they are creating a "virtual human resource center for the entire Army Reserve." Among other things, the organization maintains individual records and aids reservists, veterans and retirees on a host of issues.

AR-PERSCOM officials said that recent downsizing has left the command unable to meet the demand for assistance, which in fiscal 2000 encompassed nearly 200,000 phone calls to the call center, nearly 6,000 walk-in customers, more than 700,000 letters, 5,000 special inquiries and 3 million e-mails.

"We were not answering up to 25 percent of the phone calls, and then the next letter we're getting is from a congressman wanting to know why we're not answering a soldier's questions," said Col. Timothy Cannon, AR-PERSCOM commander.

"We needed a vehicle to stop the phone calls and e-mails and letters that were coming in to this organization," Cannon added. "What we see the command doing is being a virtual military office, where soldiers can find information on the Web, and if they need to do something, they can do it online."

The command was first established in 1998 and de-emphasized records management, transferring some 700,000 Army retiree files to the National Archives and Records Administration. That move exacerbated frustrations, Cannon said.

"The public has been frustrated...over the archiving of records," Cannon said. "There was the feel-ing that we became a black hole where you send your records in and they never come out again. Now we can scan documents, put them in an optical digital image and make them available on the Web."

The command's IT effort to date cost about $400,000 in fiscal 1999 and $800,000 in fiscal 2000.

As part of the effort, the command in October unveiled a new Web site at www.2xcitizen.usar.army.mil. It reflects the idea that reserve soldiers preparing for war also hold civilian jobs, and it includes new features such as scrolling news and enhanced graphics, advanced search capabilities and a menu structure that focuses on soldier services instead of the offices that provide them.

Eventually, it will become a comprehensive portal that will allow soldiers to see online exactly what is in their records.

"We [first] have to make sure data is correct," Cannon said. "We think some data is bad in the system, and we are not resourced to open it up and have a zillion calls come in saying it's wrong. This [Web site] is really a near-term initiative for the portal."

AR-PERSCOM is asking soldiers to include in their records any skills earned through non-military means, including IT certificates or degrees. The additional information will help commanders identify soldiers with useful skills beyond those attained via military training. A tank driver for the reserves, for example, might also be a chemical engineer in a civilian job.

One key change is having the new Web site housed at command headquarters in St. Louis rather than at the Pentagon, said Patricia Germain, an information systems manager with the project.

Another was that information on the old site "was organizationally driven and you had to know what the different offices within the command" were, Germain said. "Now, it's driven by the type of service [offered] so that the information is easier to find."

All the Internet-based changes are paying benefits for AR-PERSCOM, according to command officials. "We've seen a steady increase of about 15 to 20 percent of hits on the home page," Germain said. "That means customers are coming back and starting to use it more and more."

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