Madison Metropolitan School District Tracks Tech Work Online

Until the summer of 2000, Madison Metropolitan School District had no way of centrally processing the hundreds of work orders generated every week by its 7,200 computers and assorted peripherals. Work requests were simply stored in binders at each of the 47 schools, available only on technicians’ weekly visits. Then the district adopted AIM’s Web-based HelpDesk Expert for IT Support, allowing tickets to be submitted through a Web browser. Now technicians can view all requests from their PCs and use their time more efficiently — at very low cost to the district.

Before the Madison Metropolitan School District automated its system for tracking work requests related to the district’s computers, it designated technology liaisons at each of the district’s 47 schools, completed three-part paper work orders, sent one part to district headquarters, kept one for their records, and stowed the third in a binder. Technicians consulted the binder on regular school visits but had no way of knowing beforehand what kinds of projects or problems they would encounter. As a result, they were unable to prioritize their calls, often arrived without the parts or equipment they needed, and frequently were forced to wait until the next visit to fulfill a given request. This manual system also left valuable data buried in dozens of binders, depriving the district of metrics on recurring problems and technician productivity that could be used to aid in planning.

Going Electronic on a School Budget

When Tom Germanson joined the district as microcomputing manager in mid-1999, one of his first initiatives was to enable all work orders to be submitted electronically for greater visibility and efficiency. Most call tracking solutions he evaluated were conventional systems that would cost upwards of $200,000, require expensive servers, and compel his staff to install and maintain client software on hundreds of computers throughout the district. AIM’s Web-based HelpDesk Expert for IT Support offered comparable functionality at a dramatically lower price and needed only two inexpensive servers that would be accessible to all users via a Web browser. With added advantages that included simple customization and platform independence — an important consideration in the district’s mixed PC and Mac environment — HelpDesk Expert was the clear choice.

Out of the box, HelpDesk Expert met nearly 90 percent of the district’s needs. Germanson performed the necessary customizations himself in less than two weeks, utilizing the built-in configuration tools, Microsoft FrontPage and Notepad. He fine-tuned the system to automatically assign tickets to the appropriate MIS staff member based on the school and/or the kind of work involved. He issued e-mail alerts to the right technician when critical requests came in, informed him personally by e-mail if a ticket was not retrieved within an hour, and captured room numbers and other special fields tailored to the school environment. Then he installed the district’s new MIS Online Help Desk on a Pentium II with 64 MB RAM running Windows NT 4.0, utilizing the default Microsoft Access database. He also ran a 10-school beta test before going into full operation in mid-2000. No software training was needed because the system’s standard Web conventions were instantly familiar to users.


100 Tickets a Day, All in One Database

Today, the Madison school district receives an average of 100 work orders a day through HelpDesk Expert. For simplicity’s sake, Germanson retained the original procedure of routing most requests through school technology coordinators, but the rest of the district’s 4,200 staff members can also submit requests through the district’s Intranet. Users simply complete a short online form that includes a checklist of work categories for instant problem identification (PC, Mac, laptop, printer, scanner, ID/login, Internet/e-mail, virus, wiring, etc.) and send it to headquarters for processing. Work status can be checked online at any time, and the system automatically sends a message as soon as a ticket is closed — a boon for users who previously never knew when their requests were fulfilled.

In addition to being able to submit, access and check work orders online, the MIS staff and school technology liaisons that comprise the system’s 150 core users can consult HelpDesk Expert for technical guidance. District-written FAQs, a searchable knowledge base of all resolved tickets, and technical documentation that can be downloaded via FTP are only a few clicks away, frequently allowing schools to make fixes themselves and also speeding technicians’ work by serving as a sort of virtual advisor. The system also permits administrators to run reports on anything from technician performance to the most common service issues, providing important information that was never available before.

Most important, technicians can access work orders from their office or even from the road, enabling them to allocate their time more efficiently and to anticipate their equipment needs for the day. “We have just 17 technicians handling 47 buildings and over 500 work orders per week, ranging from requests to move a computer or fix a jammed printer, to true emergencies like viruses and connectivity problems,” Germanson says. “HelpDesk Expert has produced a huge increase in our efficiency, allowed us to handle more work without adding staff, and done it at extremely low cost, both in terms of upfront expenses and staff overhead. The days of paper work orders are over for us.”

Contact Information
Help Desk Expert for IT Support
Applied Innovation Management
Las Vegas, NV

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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