Army Housing OneStop: A Comprehensive Source of Information
San Antonio, Texas. – October 9, 2003 –
“Tell the people at Army Housing headquarters that this site is wonderful!”
This statement was made by Yasmin Hunt, one of the spouses who was given a “sneak preview” of the Army Housing OneStop website currently under development. DynaTouch Corporation of San Antonio, Texas, was awarded a contract in February of this year to consolidate and centralize all of the web-based and kiosk content that has been developed over the last 10 years into a single, comprehensive “one stop” source of information for Army Housing worldwide.
Ultimately, every existing web and kiosk display page that has any information pertinent to the needs of Army Housing customers will be accessible via the Army Housing OneStop (AHOS) site. More important than the amount of information that will be available on the site is that it will be presented to users in a totally uniform structure, saving them hours of time navigating around numerous dissimilar government Internet sites trying to find the information they need.
“There is so much web content available today – so much good web content”, says Peter Gentieu, “but people have their own ideas about what information should be included and how it should be structured. It’s not that one approach is necessarily better than another, but the inconsistency in how web content is presented from one installation to another makes it very frustrating for housing customers who are constantly relocating.”
The AHOS home page showcases selected Army Housing photos and floor plans, while giving customers a choice of selecting a specific installation either by location or alphabetically. Alternatively, they can select a topic first, such as waiting list, floor plans, photos, BAH/OHA, FAQs, housing offices, personal property, relocation assistance, etc., directly from the home page.
If users select “By Location”, they are presented with a map of the U.S. and a list of countries to choose from.
Once a location is selected, they are presented with a “Main Menu” for that installation. Every main menu is exactly the same for each installation. (Slight modifications are being considered for a few overseas locations that have unique needs.)
The graphical layout of the main menu is designed to give focus to “Level 1” topics – which are intended to be the five topics most requested by housing customers worldwide. Level 1 topics are: 1) Waiting List, 2) Floor Plans, 3) Photos, 4) Maps, and 5) FAQs. These key topics use large button images for emphasis and ease of selection.
The AHOS main menu also includes 12 additional “Level 2” topics. Level 2 topics are: 1) Family Housing, 2) UPH, 3) Community Housing, 4) Temporary Lodging, 5) BAH/Money Matters, 6) Personal Property/HHG, 7) Personnel Matters, 8) Soldier & Family Support, 9) Leadership, 10) On-Post Services, 11) Local Area, and 12) Other Information.
Thousands of existing web pages are accessed from the AHOS website, many with unique styles and themes, but all of the information is organized into the same user-friendly, customer-focused menu structure that has already been applied and refined through hundreds of military customer service kiosks developed and installed over the years.
One of the key benefits of AHOS is that customers can get up-to-the-minute waiting list information for any Army Housing waiting list in the world, from anywhere in the world. They can check their position on an existing waiting list, or lookup current estimated wait times. Most of the AHOS waiting list information comes directly from HOMES, via the consolidated headquarters database. Army Housing managers and counselors don’t have to do anything different from what they’re currently doing to provide this new service to customers, since existing databases have been integrated with web technology — everything is automated.
Second only to waiting list information, housing customers seem to be starved for floor plans and pictures. The AHOS website presents family housing floor plans, pictures, maps (and in a few cases, Virtual Reality tours) via a database-driven application that utilizes standardized display templates. Customers are able to look up information by installation, authorized pay grade, number of bedrooms and/or housing area. To control costs, all existing web-compatible content is integrated first. New floor plan image files are developed by DynaTouch when existing images either need to be replaced or don’t already exist. By the time the project is completed (scheduled for January 2004), over 1800 Army Housing floor plans will be included for installations worldwide. As time permits the local housing offices to take digitized photos, up to five photos for each floor plan will be integrated into the database.
Another popular feature of the OneStop is the interface with local BAH/OHA and COLA/OCOLA rates provided by the Per Diem Committee. Since one of the primary objectives of OneStop is to save customer time and “clicks”, the interface pre-selects a location code based on which installation they’ve already selected. All customers have to do is select their pay gradeor other personal information needed for OHA, COLA and OCOLA.
DynaTouch has been developing content for military housing operations for years, as part of the customer service kiosks they’ve been providing since 1988. Their new OneStop kiosk product line evolved from experience developing hundreds of individual kiosk applications, one-by-one, long before there was any good housing content available on the Internet. They know first-hand that a consistent approach to how information is structured for military personnel is vital for such a transient target audience. The OneStop application is currently being utilized by a wide variety of customer service operations throughout the Department of Defense. The expectation is that it will become the standard for DoD, not only for Housing, but for other customer service operations as well.
The Army Housing OneStop website will be made available to the public in October 2003. The URL will be www.OneStopArmy.com.