Unipress solution helps justice prevail

Tech success: IT solutions in action

Project: IT help-desk management system for the D.C. Courts

Partners: UniPress Software Inc., KPMG LLP and D.C. Courts

Objective: Manage better the IT infrastructure at the court's campus and satellite offices

Obstacles: A homegrown system could not accommodate all staff who needed to use it to track trouble-ticket resolution. Work orders often fell through the cracks.

Solution: KPMG installed for the courts a Web-based system that enables broader access. The new system also has automated management features that help ensure completion of work requests.

Payoff: The court's IT staff is better able to manage day-to-day work orders as well as major IT upgrades.

Ken Foor, director of IT for D.C. Courts, and his staff use software from Unipress Software Inc. to manage the help desk.

Rick Steele

Over the course of trials in District of Columbia Courts, judges and staff rely on technology to keep the proceedings moving forward. A frozen computer or a broken printer can set off an unwanted chain of events, said Ken Foor, director of IT for the courts.

"Judges very often need to print out things such as juror instructions, various orders or responses to motions," Foor said. "Printing in judges' chambers or court rooms is one of our highest priorities, because if you slow down the PC operations, you slow down justice."

To avoid those problems, Foor's staff adopted service-desk software from Unipress Software Inc., Edison, N.J., to manage the court system's IT help desk. The staff chose Unipress' FootPrints software for the project. KPMG LLP, Montvale, N.J., was the court's technology partner on the effort.

The D.C. Courts are divided into trial court and appeals court and have about 1,600 PCs. The employees and their PCs are dispersed across a centralized campus and four field units.

Previously, a homegrown application built around Microsoft Access tracked all of the courts' technology. Employees called or e-mailed in IT problems, and IT staff recorded them in the Access application. Among its shortcomings, the Access application could handle only a few users simultaneously accessing the system, Foor said.

"Overall, 38 people make up our IT staff, including programming, computer operations, systems and others. Each of those disciplines needed access to the Access database," Foor said. "We needed a more robust tool that would let our managers use it when they needed it."

One of the biggest problems any IT staff faces is being able to communicate adequately to staff and users the status of work orders.

"If people are in tune with the progress being made, even if it's taking longer than expected, the frustration level is lower if they have information," Foor said.

FootPrints' Web-based interface satisfied that need for broad access to work orders. The product's interface not only lets the IT staff access trouble ticket information from any computer, it also lets anyone in an organization interact directly with the software.

"A customer can report a problem by going into a Web screen that's integrated with FootPrints and literally type in a ticket to tell the help desk, 'I've got this problem,' " said Mark Krieger, Unipress' president and co-founder.

Most organizations that use FootPrints operate it internally as a service desk that tracks, manages and generates reports on problems, Krieger said.

"Probably 70 percent of our customer base, including the D.C. Courts, uses FootPrints as an internal service-desk-type of operation," Krieger said.

The software's primary function is tracking tickets, but it also comes bundled with other features, such as asset management and a session control feature that lets staff remotely fix networked computers. It also looks for consistent problems occurring throughout an enterprise.

"Say a main printer goes down, and the help desk is swamped with calls," Krieger said. "There are ways in FootPrints to turn the problem into an incident. An incident is a specific event that's causing a lot of people a problem. FootPrints has automatic methods to e-mail those people to tell them that problem will be fixed by a certain time or that it has been repaired."

Escalation workflows built into the product let managers track how well problem tickets are handled. For example, a rule can be set in the software that says tickets must be looked at and responded to within three hours. If there is no response within that time, the software automatically escalates the ticket and notifies a help-desk manager. Should the manager not respond to the ticket, a second escalation message might go to, say, the chief information officer to let her know that, for some reason, customers aren't being helped.

That kind of automation was just what the IT staff at D.C. Courts was looking for. Under its old system, paper work tickets went to IT staff members, who would then go and analyze the computer problems. They were supposed to write on the ticket what they did to fix the problem, and someone else was responsible for keying that information into the Access database.

"Things were falling through the cracks all the time," Foor said. "Now, the actual technician updates the work order or trouble ticket as they progress with it. The information is available through the Web to the people who made the request, and it even sends a survey for the user to fill out to say how well they were satisfied with the level of service."

The help-desk tracking system has worked so well for D.C. Courts that the IT staff has used it to help manage major IT upgrades, one of which was implementing a new case management system. The implementation required migrating from a mainframe system to a client-server system running Web-based software.

"In the course of doing that, we've added a tremendous number of network printers and scanners," Foor said. "We used Footprints to generate all the work orders and to manage all that work to make sure it was done on time to go live."

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Doug Beizer at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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