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Would You Like Fries With That Laptop?

Employee using a drive-through IT service desk from Milestone Technologies

When someone says “drive-through,” what comes to mind?  Grabbing a meal at a fast-food restaurant?  Picking up a prescription at a pharmacy?  Using an ATM at your bank? In the current COVID-19 environment, you might also add picking up more traditional restaurant meals and alcoholic beverages to this list.  But one Silicon Valley company chose to offer a completely different drive-through service during the pandemic.  They are offering drive-through IT help desk services to their local employees from a tent in their parking lot, managed by Milestone Technologies technicians.  How did this come about?

The company is a global electronics manufacturer based in Silicon Valley.  With several facilities in the South Bay, it has about 4000 employees in the area. The company is a Milestone IT service desk managed services customer.  Specifically, Milestone has been managing and staffing walk-up service desks and tech lounges for the company at their various locations.

When the pandemic hit, the governor of California was one of the first to issue a shelter-in-place order requiring most citizens to stay in their homes. Milestone initially worked with the customer to enable work from home support for all their non-essential employees. During that exercise, we handled many requests from those employees for help getting set up on the new Cisco remote access system.

Once we addressed that problem, attention shifted to another issue.  What would happen when those remote South Bay employees had a hardware problem with their computer, phone, or another device?  Hardware problems were not going to stop just because employees were no longer in the office.  In fact, chances were hardware problems would increase with devices being moved around.

A Creative Solution for the IT Service Desk

As Milestone and company executives discussed this problem, a very creative solution emerged.  A member of the Milestone team had worked on a ‘drive-thru’ clinical triage initiative at Stanford Hospital and Clinics several years earlier. They were planning for potential ‘surge events’ such as epidemics, pandemics, and mass casualty incidents.  Their idea was to leverage existing resources such as the parking structure, power and Internet connections, and traffic flow to set up a high volume, yet temporary, triage capability.

Since these newly-remote company employees with equipment problems could no longer walk up to receive service, why not have them drive up?  Clearly, the local employee base lived near enough to drive to work in the South Bay when those offices were open, so why not implement a drive-thru service desk in the parking lot of the headquarters building? When a remote worker had a problem, they would drive to the headquarters facility, pull up to the drive-through service desk, roll down their car window and hand over their machine.  The service desk agent would then either repair the hardware or issue the worker a new device.  The worker would then drive home and resume work.

The drive-through service desk was quickly approved. A temporary facility housed in a tent launched April 2 as a pilot for a limited group to test the concept and procedures. The temporary facility had two primary goals.  First, for the safety of the company’s employees, reduce or eliminate the need for work-from-home staff to have to enter corporate facilities, and help maintain proper social distancing. Second, for the safety of the onsite Milestone service desk technicians, reduce potential exposure by isolating customers in their cars.

Safety and Service

To minimize exposure for both customers and technicians, customers were not allowed out of their cars during their encounter with the drive-through service desk.  Also, technicians maintained a very high standard of hygiene, using PPEs, maintaining social distancing guidelines, and wiping each component with disinfectant wipes upon receipt and delivery. They also practiced rigorous hand sanitization.

The drive-through service desk focused on several common support requests, including end-user access issues such as VPN connections and password resets, device break/fix, equipment loaners, and device collection or deployment.  It also handled common accessory deployment, deployment of refresh devices, and general inquiries.

What were the results of this creative exercise in going the extra mile in the name of customer and employee support?  First of all, the focus of this project was always on providing break-fix and other end-user IT related support with the highest focus on the health and safety of everyone, not throughput.  Based on that measure, it was a definite success.  As to performance, since opening, the drive-through facility has handled a bit over half as many cases as the on-premises walk-up service desk had been handling back in the pre-COVID days. It has also provisioned about 100 devices so far.

Not Just for Pandemics

While the pandemic was the motivation for implementing this particular drive-through service desk, the concept also applies to other scenarios such as a fire or an earthquake that make a building uninhabitable.  Also, the location does not have to be the parking lot of the company.  Milestone is now discussing with other Silicon Valley customers about hosting their service desks in a similar model, including in the Milestone parking lot!

Given our 20+ years providing IT support for some of Silicon Valley’s largest companies, we have seen many creative and ingenious solutions to business problems.  However, nothing compares to the challenges companies are going through now, nor the creativity we are witnessing as companies address these challenges.  If you would like more information about drive-through service desks or any other Milestone service, please drop a line to itsolutions@milestone.tech, or leave us a message on our website.

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