Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New Software — Online Staff Availability Program — Replaces Marker Board in the Libraries Information Technology Services Unit (LITS)

One of the challenges in a busy office environment is to know who is at his or her desk. This comes up often when telephones are answered by a receptionist and calls are routed to the person’s desk. Multiple rings are noisy in the environment and annoying to the caller if the person is not available. It is also a problem when the person is needed by a manager or co-worker to answer a question or help to solve a priority problem.

A great convenience and time saver would be if the receptionist or co-workers could determine at a glance who is in or out of the office. To help solve this problem, we created a piece of software, The Online Staff Availability Program (OSAP).

Last Fall 2006, LITS student assistant R. Scott Morford, a junior, developed a client-side software program, Offline Staff Availability Program (OffSAP). This tool provided students working at the LITS reception desk, who are responsible for handling a high volume of incoming telephone calls, with the ability to provide faster service to callers.

By knowing at a glance when one of the 10 LITS staff members is in or out, questions are routed more quickly and calls handled more easily and professionally. This solution was particularly helpful because the seating is in cubicles where it is difficult to determine if a staff member is at his or her desk.

If a staff member is away from the workstation, the receptionist uses the program to send an e-mail to the staff member about a missed call with any additional message information.

In August 2006, shortly after LITS began using OffSAP, it became clear that sharing access to the information among all LITS staff and student workstations would be valuable. The challenge was to migrate Scott’s single client program to an online environment. In April 2007, LITS’ student assistant Tony S. Helvey, a junior, took on the project. Tony accomplished this task using PHP and MySQL on the University Libraries’ Microsoft IIS web server. The code base will also run on an Apache web server.

By mid-May 2007, Tony completed a working model of OSAP along with an administrative interface to add and remove names from the system. The interface also provides fields for the staff member’s name and e-mail address. The program is designed to accommodate any number of names. Staff availability information is keyed into the system in one of two ways, either by the staff member at his or her own workstation, or by the receptionist at the office’s front desk. Staff are each assigned one of the following eight status options: In, Stepped Out, Meeting, Lunch, Out for Day, Out for Week, Vacation, and Out.

Using OSAP in the LITS unit has improved awareness among the LITS staff about who is away from his or her telephone at a particular time. It has reduced noise from ringing telephones and has improved customer service by not keeping callers online if the person with whom they wish to speak is not available. It has also increased the efficiency and accuracy of leaving messages for the staff member, since the receptionist can include a brief message or calling information in the e-mail that is sent.

The University Libraries are testing this program in other areas. Some improvements have already been identified and will be implemented. The Libraries hope to make copies of the software available to other libraries that are interested in using it.

For more information, contact Bradley D. Faust, Ball State University Libraries’ Assistant Dean for Library Information Technology Services,, (765) 285-8032.

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