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Navy 311: Reinventing service and support

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Following on from my trip to itSMF Norway last week, I wanted to share with ITSM Review readers my thoughts on Susan Reisinger’s presentation along with some of the key pieces of advice that she presented.

This was an interesting session, not least because it focused on such a huge organization (the US Navy) that operates globally. I would perhaps say that the session focused a little too much on the “what was done” and not enough on the “how you can do this / fit this to your business”, but nevertheless it was a very educating session.

Susan explained how Navy 311 is not a new program, but a new approach to service and support. The US Navy’s IT operations had been complex, with multiple service desks spread across numerous countries with limited communication between them. They needed both an efficient and cost effective way to fix this problem with no available budget (this is the government that we’re talking about here). This was where the 311 model came in.

What is Navy 311?

The 311 model was adopted by the US Navy for all non-emergency services, from a captain on a ship who had a minor problem to a member of the public enquiring whether the ship they had just seen in a port belonged to the Navy or not (hey they were just wondering!). However, Navy 311 comprises of more than just call center support, it has four key capabilities:

  • Customer interface – ensuring consistency of support from initial service request through to issue resolution
  • Shore-based infrastructure – a network of authorized service providers and call center professionals as well as the IT assets that support them. Previously if there had been a fault on a ship a technician would have had to have been shipped out to fix it. Now technicians can advise via telephone and people on board can carry out what needs to be done to fix the issue. One technician can now be working on several issues at once, versus previously where they would have had to travel and only been able to deal with one issue/ship at a time. The result? Quicker resolutions and a huge saving on travel expenses
  • Knowledge management – a repository of all records to enable data mining to identify trends and thereby enable process improvements and total cost ownership (TCO) reduction analysis
  • Program management ­– business management functions such as information and systems assurance, program execution and financial accountability. All of which provides transparency to the business.

The improvements

Susan explained that adopting the 311 approach can work for any organization regardless of size. The key improvements delivered to sailors and the leadership in the US Navy were:

  • Reactive service delivery
  • Proactive service delivery
  • Predictive analysis
  • Metrics
  • Call center optimization

The presentation with a story

As previously stated it would have been nice to hear more of the “how you can do this” and perhaps a clearer explanation of what the 311 program (adopted by over 400 cities across the globe) is would have been good too. That said, Susan wins the prize for telling my favourite story of the entire conference:

Shortly after the 311 program had been rolled out, when the Iraq war was at its peak, one US Navy call center received a call from a man who was clearly distraught. The man explained that he had heard that the ship his son was deployed on had been struck and that there were numerous injuries and fatalities. He wanted to know if the next of kin had been alerted as he was desperate for news of his son.

The agent explained that she didn’t have the information to hand but she would find out and get back to him as soon as possible. Pre-Navy 311 it might have taken the agent hours, maybe even days, to be able to source the necessary information to get back to that man quickly. However, thanks to the fact that they now operated as a global, multi-functional team with strong communication and transparent operations, that agent was able to quickly reach the closest unit to the attack.

The result? Within 45 minutes of the man contacting the US Navy call center he had a call back from the agent and an email from his son confirming he was safe and well.

Susan finishing on this story, left me in no doubt about the wider impact that IT service can have not just on the business itself, but on external businesses and individuals as well.

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