Tech Success: FCC has Remedy for public outrage

IT solutioins in action

Project: Consumer Information Project

Agency: Federal Communications Commission

Partners:Advanced Technology Systems Inc., McLean, Va.; BMC Software Inc., Houston, and Zen Technology Inc., Bethesda, Md.

Goal: The Federal Communications Commission wanted an integrated call-center application that would consolidate phone calls, faxes and e-mails into a single knowledge base. The system would give the agency a better understanding of people's issues and help it provide better service.

Obstacle:FCC liked off-the-shelf software because it was cost-effective and could be deployed quickly. But it also needed to be easy to customize to ensure a consistent message to all the agency's customers, including consumers, businesses and government officials. FCC also wanted to add functionality to support multiple communication channels.

Solution: FCC consolidated its aging customer service applications into a single solution based on Remedy Help Desk Software. Zen Technology provided the ongoing integration to ensure the software was tailored to FCC needs. Through a simple user interface, FCC agents can log complaints and inquiries, direct them to the proper divisions and track their status in the system.

Payoff:The new system allows FCC to provide better, faster service to consumers without adding staff. With an integrated system, FCC avoids duplicated records and quickly produces reports in response to requests from Congress or the FCC commissioner. The open architecture also will help FCC integrate an e-mail handling application that automatically analyzes messages and initiates appropriate responses -- a capability FCC expects will save it time and money.

Scott Harris of Zen Technology

J. Adam Fenster

Roger Goldblatt, deputy assistant bureau chief for system support in the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs division

J. Adam Fenster

Software integrates e-mail, faxes, calls to improve service

When singer Janet Jackson's costume "malfunctioned" during the Super Bowl halftime show in February, exposing her breast to millions of viewers, the Federal Communications Commission was flooded with angry phone calls.

"What's more, we got thousands and thousands of e-mail messages," said Roger Goldblatt, deputy assistant bureau chief for system support in the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs division.

That's a lot for the agency's 80-person consumer mediation staff to handle. In a typical week, the FCC said it receives roughly 12,000 phone calls and 1,500 e-mails covering a wide range of topics. In the week following the Super Bowl, the FCC received more than 200,000 complaints about the halftime show alone.

It was a major test of the FCC's new Consumer Information Management System, a call center application designed to provide a single platform for processing everything from complaints to simple inquiries.

"Four years ago, the agency decided it needed a more integrated system to handle inquiries and complaints," Goldblatt said. "We had two systems that didn't talk to each other, and it was difficult to get reports."

Last April, the FCC launched its new system using Remedy Help Desk software from BMC Software Inc. The agency had adopted the Remedy platform for its internal IT help desk and its wireless spectrum auction bureau. But the new system, which supports call centers in Washington and Gettysburg, Pa., was the FCC's most ambitious Remedy project to date.

"We're a little agency that deals with the hottest issues, and we needed to get control over what's coming in, what's on people's minds," Goldblatt said.

Government agencies are turning to off-the-shelf applications to streamline operations, provide better customer service and give new insight into the mountains of information they collect each day.

Doug Lingenfelter, client executive at Remedy Software, a division of BMC, said Remedy is in use at 14 of 15 cabinet-level departments, in both public-facing and internal help desk applications. The result, he said, has been "significant" year-over-year growth in BMC Software's public-sector business.

"We're seeing lots of consolidation within agencies to help save money," Lingenfelter said. "Software like Remedy can do that by allowing agencies and their IT organizations to support multiple groups with a single platform."

But off-the-shelf software does not always fit an agency's needs right out of the box. Zen Technology Inc., on a subcontract from Advanced Technology Systems Inc., McLean, Va., helped perform systems integration and tailor the application with FCC-specific forms, reports and functionality.

"We found that Remedy was a great help desk product, but our needs are so unique, we have two contractors who pretty much spend all day customizing it to our particular needs," Goldblatt said.

Today, the Remedy application automatically handles phone calls that come into FCC's consumer hotline. E-mails are logged in Remedy but handled manually. From a Remedy screen, the agent can see where the call is coming from and select from a list to define what the call is about. The system then generates an FCC-specific script that guides the agent through the process of handling that type of call, while logging the call in the system's knowledge base.

"It's like killing two birds with one stone," said Scott Harris, Zen's technical lead at FCC. "It allows us to do very accurate reporting on what people are calling about, and at the same time the scripts help the [agents] to very efficiently deal with the caller's issue."

[IMGCAP(2)]The system can automatically send out electronic files in response to consumer inquiries. If someone wants to know how the V-chip keeps his or her kids from seeing inappropriate television shows, the system can immediately e-mail the information. And perhaps most importantly, the Remedy system gives Goldblatt's team quick access to detailed reports.

"The chairman's office might want to know how many calls we got about a Victoria's Secret special, or is V-chip still a big issue," Goldblatt said. "We have to be able to give accurate information."

Harris said FCC has 18 months of development to go before the system includes all the functionality the agency needs. The next major phase is to integrate an artificial intelligence e-mail response system that will analyze incoming messages and route them through the system.

"As people's mode of complaining changes, e-mail has become a major way people contact us," Goldblatt said.

The Remedy platform does not include this kind of artificial intelligence, but when Harris prepared a study of the available solutions, he said he found programs that could easily integrate with Remedy's open, Web-based architecture.

Goldblatt said when the e-mail component is in place, it will save the agency money and effort. Because the process can happen around the clock, it will help the FCC improve service.

"Simply by automating the phone-handling functions and putting the entire system on a single platform, FCC has enhanced its service to the public," Harris said. *

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Brad Grimes at bgrimes@postnewsweektech.com.

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