Once an outcast, help desk now stars at TVA

Tennessee Valley Authority utility combines operations and help desk to create mission control for customers

The Tennessee Valley Authority's help desk was a career graveyard. It was that way for years and customers suffered for it.

Only about half of all help desk calls were resolved in the first call, a percentage below industry average. IT problems were festering for the TVA's 12,000 employees, and an almost equal number of contractors.

A lack of credibility set off a self-destructive cycle of IT underfunding. Equipment was aging. Business units were contracting for their own services, bypassing IT.

"[IT] was considered irrelevant," said Dan Traynor, the utility's CIO. "You can't even have a conversation about 'what do we want to invest in' if we can't get their problem solved."

Traynor was hired two and a half years ago to address these issues, and one of the major fruits of his effort was just completed.

In June, the utility opened a center that combines help desk and network operations. This 12,000 square-foot facility in Chattanooga operates 24-by-7 and is staffed by people who monitor networks, servers and applications and fix customer problems.

It has a mission control type of layout. Across the front of the main room is a wall of large screen monitors that keeps everyone abreast of operations and help desk demand.

The work stations accommodate three to five monitors, but keep a low profile to foster collaboration. There are meeting rooms off to the side where staff can use iPads to control audio, video and lighting.

There are about 80 people, out of an IT staff of 580, who work in what's called the Information Technology Customer Operations Center.

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Inside the new Information Technology Customer Operations Center. Photo: TVA

The help desk is no longer the job of last resort. It's become an entry point into the IT organization for computer science graduates. These novices are balanced out by some highly experience IT professional, who do root cause analysis and will handle the more difficult calls.

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