Operation set up to handle calls for assistance from computer users in government departments achieves ISO 9001

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:00am

The Information Technology Services Department (ITSD) has achieved ISO 9001 certification for its Central Computer Centre Helpdesk service, vindicating months of hard work and reinforcing its commitment to upgrade the efficiency of its inter- office technical assistance programme.

Operated under the department's Central Computer Centre, the Helpdesk is the largest of its kind within the government.

Providing backbone support to computer users in all departments, the service is geared at trouble-shooting problems with PCs. It also provides direct support for more than 20 kinds of computer applications, monitoring system's health and screening computer viruses.

'Our goal is to provide quality service, and we strive for continuous improvement,' said Kenneth Yeung Che-kuen, senior systems manager with the department.

'By implementing the ISO 9001 standards, we can provide a model, a mechanism to offer more efficient services and cope with IT growth. We have set out to establish a quality policy that meets international standards.'

The Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency, a regulatory body which oversees accreditation, awarded Helpdesk the ISO certification in October after conducting a review of the department's operation in August.

Besides the ISO certification, the department also received the British Standards Institution (BSI) accreditation and the International Certification Network.

The department outlined its aim to seek ISO 9001 certification in mid-1999, scheduling development to go ahead early this year.

As planned, the management revamped the Helpdesk's organisational structure and set the department on a three-month trial beginning in May, before inviting auditors for an on-site inspection in August.

The department's mission is to promote the wider use of information technology throughout the Government.

To fulfil its goal, the department provides a comprehensive range of services involving both IT management systems and infrastructure.

The Helpdesk provides overall technical support to all government agencies. Those with computer problems can simply dial the hotline and speak to a computer technician who will walk the user through a number of technical scenarios.

'The Helpdesk is a one-stop station, providing round-the-clock service to help computer users solve a variety of problems,' Mr Yeung said.

In addition to general computer information and overall systems support, the Helpdesk provides assistance on several applications involving government departments of Electronic Data Interchange, the licensing system of the Transport Department, Social Welfare and Architectural Services departments.

The Helpdesk has 20 staff, with 14 members dedicated to handling calls round the clock. About 200 requests for help are received each day - 80 by telephone and the rest over e-mail.

The Helpdesk is the second department within the ITSD to receive accreditation.

In 1998, the Internal Professional Support Services received the certificate.

Mr Yeung said the department's organising committee, chaired by Lau Kam-hung, director of the ITSD, first identified the goal of achieving ISO 9001 certification in mid-1999.

The project was identified as a major departmental objective for this year, following the department's effort to comply with Y2K readiness throughout last year.

Early last January, the department embarked on its ambitious project by sending a team of mid- level managers to study quality issues under the Hong Kong Productivity Council.

The team took a closer look at the 20 key standards reviewed under the ISO 9001 quality scheme, undertaking short courses in areas such as Defining Management Responsibility, Defining Quality Systems, Internal Quality Audit and staff training.

Armed with the know-how to redefine its management systems, departmental organisers reviewed existing Helpdesk systems to improvethe overall quality and efficiency of the system.

'We tried to examine the current system to improve work flow requirements,' Mr Yeung said.

He said the department had initiated a regular customer satisfaction survey, with client feedback enhancing the development of a system.

Another important development was the adoption of a performance pledge and quality policy.

'We upgrade our system to clearly define our procedure and state our quality policy to all staff,' he said.

During the auditing process, the assessors tested management to see if they understood the quality vision, interviewed staff to see if they complied with defined procedures, and checked operational protocol to ensure adequate computer and security setups.

As a final check, the auditors examined statistical data to ensure systems were maintaining proper record management.

After identifying key performance goals, the ITSD set about the most difficult task of all: communicating the new quality policy to staff and motivating them to embrace the new system.

It was not an easy job, considering it required staff to work harder without any monetary compensation.

'We purposely selected Helpdesk to go through the certification process because the interface with the public is a crucial function,' Mr Yeung said.

To spread the message, management held regular meetings and invited staff to participate by adding their own ideas on how to improve operations.

A quality manual was made available in the call centre area. The document defines the quality policy and the role of each individual in delivering a high level of service.

Despite the emphasis on open communications, Mr Yeung said one of the toughest challenges was getting a diverse group of employees to pull together and adopt ISO accreditation as a personal goal.

To complicate the problem, most operations staff worked in shifts and seldom interacted with each other, making it more difficult to define a common goal.

To overcome these difficulties, the management encouraged employees to view improvements in their performance as an important part of their self-development and professionalism.

Most employees already had a sense of pride in their work and only needed a channel to direct their energies, he said. 'This is the first time they are able to do something, and show others that they are doing good work.'

Mr Yeung said the cost of achieving accreditation was nominal, with a small fee paid to host organisations to cover examinations and related expenses.

Most of the work in meeting the ISO guidelines is labour committed by employees as part of their on-the-job duties, and therefore paid out as part of their regular salaries.

The benefits are carried over to the public through more efficient government services.

The department's next goal is to meet the compliance accreditation for the year 2000 version of ISO 9001.

At the time the Helpdesk underwent evaluation, only the 1994 version of the quality measure was available.

Graphics: ITSDgsp