Software tracks FAA tech problems

Tracking information technology problems at the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aviation Registry used to be a painstaking process.

When users called the help desk to report problems at the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aviation Registry, one of the IT support team's three technicians had to enter every call in an Excel Spreadsheet. Some requests were misplaced and there was no easy way for IT staff to check the work in their queue, track job status or generate reports providing essential metrics.

But with a three-month-old commercial software program called HelpSTAR — short for Help Service Tracking and Review — the aviation registry's computer users can click on a desktop icon to access a self-service interface, choose the problem type, write a brief description (e.g. "Printer jamming") and select the urgency level. As soon as the user hits "send," the work order enters the system, all three IT technicians receive a popup alert, the first available technician accepts the assignment with a click, and HelpSTAR supplies the requester with a reference number that can be used to check job status online.

These features eliminate unnecessary phone calls, manual call logging and phone-related lag time that can cause work delays, said John Lobb, lead computer specialist at the aviation registry.

The aviation registry handles pilots' licenses, certifications and all aircraft registrations.

HelpSTAR also has trend-spotting abilities that, along with an operating system upgrade, were instrumental in cutting monthly service requests from 160 several years ago to about 100 today, Lobb said.

"Before we began using HelpSTAR, we could only take three phone calls at a time because there are only three of us, but now if we receive 10 HelpSTAR tickets in five minutes with the same complaint, we know we have a problem and can begin addressing it that much faster," Lobb said. "That means less downtime."

The software recently helped technicians determine that a Microsoft update shut down security on one of the aviation registry's servers.

"Prior to us doing the report, we thought it was a problem with our desktop system," Lobb said.

The key to HelpSTAR's success is centralizing information, said Gemma Young, HelpSTAR product manager for the software's vendor, Help Desk Technology. The software gives users a single point of contact for help, which saves time and interruptions for the support staff. The system works with e-mail, phone or portal submissions to a central queue and queues are holding areas, set up by skills and skill levels.

"It's much like the system in a bank, where you queue up in a line," Young said. "Queues allow multiple support staff to have access to requests."

Prices for HelpSTAR 8.2 begin at $2,495 for a starter pack covering two support reps and an unlimited number of end users; licenses for additional support reps begin at $500 per rep. Volume discounts and annual maintenance/upgrade plans are available.

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