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Distributed User Support and the Gemini Observatory HelpDesk. Simon Chan and Phil Puxley SPIE March 2000. Overview. Gemini user support model and rationale for the HelpDesk Division of responsibilities Desirable features of a HelpDesk Implementation model HelpDesk tiers and structure

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Distributed user support and the gemini observatory helpdesk l.jpg

Distributed User Support and the Gemini Observatory HelpDesk

Simon Chan and Phil Puxley


March 2000

Overview l.jpg

  • Gemini user support model and rationale for the HelpDesk

    • Division of responsibilities

    • Desirable features of a HelpDesk

  • Implementation model

    • HelpDesk tiers and structure

    • Remedy AR system

    • Workflow

  • Life cycle of a request

  • Knowledgebase

  • Metrics and user support performance

Shared support l.jpg
Shared Support

  • Operational context:

    • Gemini Observatory operates two geographically separated 8m-telescopes (Hawaii and Chile)

    • Gemini partnership includes nine user groups:

      • 7 partner countries (US, UK, Can., Chile, Aus., Arg., Bra.)

      • University of Hawaii

      • Gemini staff

    • Each partner country has established a National Gemini Office (NGO) to support facility development and users

  • Principal issue recognised was that NGOs would not have adequate staffing to cover all areas of expertise and Gemini staff could be overwhelmed by large volume of queries

Distributed user support responsibilities l.jpg

Observation execution and on-site support

Including Contact Scientists assigned to each classical or queue program

Expert support for user queries

Distribute to support network as necessary

Before and after observations

First point of contact for user queries

Distribute to support network as necessary

Distributed User Support Responsibilities

Gemini Observatory

National Gemini Offices

Challenges for distributed support model l.jpg
Challenges for Distributed Support Model

  • Open access and fairness to all potential users of Gemini

  • Efficient and reliable distribution of queries to designated responsible staff and of responses to users

    • Any metric must recognize time zone dependency

  • Accountability to funding authorities

  • Staff training

  • Communications bandwidth

  • Implementation and infrastructure maintenance

Helpdesk solution to user support l.jpg
HelpDesk Solution to User Support

  • Leverage commercial “help desk” (a.k.a. knowledge database) technology.

    • Undergoing major investment in software, electronic hardware and service industries.

  • Evolutionary step forward from static web page solutions to “problem and knowledge management”:

    “goal is the control and reduction of calls per person”

  • Provides call management...

    “the ability to accurately and effectively log, track, hold, forward and escalate calls as necessary, preventing any call from being lost or forgotten”

    ...and problem resolution tools:

    “the timely discovery of an accurate solution to a help desk problem”

(PHD White Paper)

Desirable elements of a help desk i l.jpg
Desirable Elements of a Help Desk : I

(NB: all are featured in existing commercial help desk products)

  • User-friendly web GUI

    • Easy user access

  • Filter and route queries to designated support individuals

    • “Send all GMOS queries to person X in country Y”

  • Accounting and analysis tools

    • Assist management of user support, generate usage reports, efficiency metrics etc.

      • “How many queries about GMOS gratings?”

    • Feedback for updating static web information

Desirable elements of a help desk ii l.jpg
Desirable Elements of a Help Desk : II

  • Audit tracking and history

    • Track changes to database information; identify who answered a specific question

  • Integrate existing web-based documentation

    • Complement to primary information resource

  • Intelligent language interface, options include:

    • Natural language queries

      • “What is the best GMOS grating for Ha?”

    • Expert or rule-based systems

      • Efficiently moves through stored set of rules

    • Fuzzy logic

      • Guesstimates a solution when no exact match can be found

Desirable elements of a help desk iii l.jpg
Desirable Elements of aHelp Desk : III

  • Experience-based learning

    • Resolved problems stored in the database and available to future queries…the system learns!

  • Distributed read and write access to database

    • Support staff located at NGOs (and in some instances more widely)

  • Simultaneous access by multiple users and scalable.

    • Peak access around telescope application deadlines

  • Multimedia capabilities

    • Use video files, sounds and pictures to make complex issues clearer

User support model and the 3 tier helpdesk l.jpg
User Support Model and the 3-Tier HelpDesk

  • User self-support

    • Aim for majority of queries to be addressed by [1] use of ‘static’ web info or [2] Help Desk solutions database (via search engines)

    • Those that can’t are handled by the [3] HelpDesk

  • Tier 1: Front-end support

    • NGO staff field requests for information from their own community

    • Queries that cannot be answered are escalated to Tier 2 support

  • Tier 2: NGO-designated experts and Gemini staff

    • Respond to queries from entire community

    • Queries that cannot be answered are escalated to Tier 3 support

  • Tier 3: Gemini staff

Slide11 l.jpg







Remedy AR system

help desk interface s/w




another NGO







solution found automatically

from existing database information

no solution found

- route to NGO


request resolved

and entered

in database

Helpdesk structure l.jpg
HelpDesk Structure

  • Queries are categorised into three broad subject areas:

    • Instrumentation

    • Telescope performance and capabilities

    • Proposal and observing process

  • Subjects are sub-divided further:

Helpdesk responsibilities l.jpg
Helpdesk Responsibilities

  • Each NGO has assigned support staff personnel to each subject sub-category in Tier-1 look-up table

    • Includes other staff to be notified

  • NGOs with community-wide responsibility and Gemini have assigned support staff in Tier-2 table

    • Generally, partners that are providing the instrument or facility provide tier-2 support

    • Gemini provides tier-2 support for visiting instruments, telescope capabilities and observing process

  • Gemini has assigned support staff in Tier-3 table.

Remedy ar system l.jpg
Remedy AR System

  • Remedy Action Request system selected for Gemini HelpDesk

    • Very robust and flexible toolbox of HelpDesk components that is readily customised

    • Possesses many of the features of a desirable system

    • Has a large share of commercial market

    • Deployed elsewhere in astronomical community (Keck, STScI, ESO) for various functions

    • Used for internal Gemini Fault Reporting System

Implementation of remedy ar system l.jpg
Implementation of Remedy AR System

remote users &

support staff (any

modern browser)

user interface


AR system hosted

at Gemini North

queries and


Helpdesk workflow design l.jpg




in progress



Helpdesk Workflow Design

Tier-1, -2 and -3


  • Requestor logs on to helpdesk (or registers if a new user).

  • Request is routed to their local NGO using Tier-1 table.

    • Staff member is e-mailed that a request has been assigned to them; uses web tool to resolve.

  • Support staff member can escalate the request (using Tier-2 or -3 table) to the responsible individual (within an NGO or Gemini).

  • Requestor can check status on web and is e-mailed on each action or resolution.

    • Resolution is copied to previously-assigned staff in lower tiers.

Knowledgebase l.jpg

  • The knowledgebase (a.k.a. solutions database) is a self-help database

    • Provides a searchable repository of solutions to common requests

      • 2nd stage in user-support model

    • It’s purpose is to reduce the number of similar requests being submitted to the HelpDesk

    • Entries in the knowledgebase are derived from existing HelpDesk requests

    • Currently a simple free-text search engine is used with the knowledgebase

      • Search by sub-category or keywords

Help desk metrics l.jpg
Help Desk Metrics

  • Remedy system time-stamps status changes corresponding to key events:

    • Submission of request, assignment to responsible individual, changes to work-in-progress log, resolution of the request, closure

  • System also records:

    • User contact details, assigned group, subject category etc

  • These data provide feedback for ‘static’ web pages

    • Update / improve existing primary information

Example user support performance metrics l.jpg
Example User Support Performance Metrics

  • The system data can be analysed in a multitude of ways; some examples:

    • Measurement of load and balance:

      • Number of requests received per NGO

        • per subject category, per country of origin etc.

      • Number of requests escalated (e.g. to Gemini)

    • Measurement of performance:

      • Number (fraction) of responses and response time

    • Measurement of fairness:

      • Distribution of response times

        • by country of origin, by subject category etc.

Integrated user support l.jpg


feedback improvements

Integrated User Support

web user interface

‘static’ web




Integrated user support23 l.jpg


feedback improvements

Integrated User Support

web user interface

‘static’ web