IT Policies

10 things to consider when choosing a help desk system

The right help desk system can make all the difference in the success of your firm or IT group. Before you commit to a solution, be sure you've considered all the angles.

The consulting firm I work for recently asked me to find a solution to meet our help desk needs. Specific qualifications had to be met for this help desk system to become "the one." I assumed the task would be simple -- after all, I've spent the last 10 years covering software of all sorts, including help desk tools. The reality was much different. There are a LOT of help desk systems available. So many, I quickly realized just how challenging the selection would be.

During the process, I also realized how important it is to know exactly what you are looking for and how to find what you need. Thus, I came up with this list of the most critical factors to consider while searching for a help desk system.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Know your budget

You will find help desk solutions ranging from $0 to just about any figure you can image. I came across systems that priced out at nearly $900 per tech. Our firm has seven techs -- you can do the math there. Other vendors charge a monthly fee, and although some of them offer a number of amazing features, the cost was out of reach. We knew our budget, so that dictated which tools were out of limit. With your budget in mind, don't make any assumptions that the more you pay, the better the tool will be. And considering that we wound up choosing an open source solution (free) that had every feature we needed, cost can be misleading.

2: Map out and prioritize the features you need

A help desk system can be a make or break a firm. This tool will help you manage your tickets and track the flow of work. Without such a system, you'll have a difficult time ensuring all of your customers are taken care of in a timely manner. For our situation, one of the key components was the ability for clients to submit tickets via email. Beneath the email system, we needed to be able to assign tickets to specific techs as well as elevate tickets. Because we knew exactly what we were looking for, we were able to quickly weed out the systems that didn't cover our bases.

3: Check email compatibility

One of the issues we had in finding an email-submission system was that the system had to be compatible with an Exchange server. Because Exchange doesn't play well with others, this made the task quite a challenge. So great was this challenge, we had to rethink the process of email ticket submission and enable IMAP for email. A number of systems are compatible with one email server or the other. Very few are compatible with both.

4: Think database

One of my personal requirements was that the system be database driven. Because one of the help desk system's primary goals was keeping tabs on the flow of business, being able to rely on this system, as well as back up the data, was crucial. Having a system based on a database makes backing up a much easier (and more reliable) task. If you will be reyling on this system for business, think very seriously about finding one that requires a database.

5: Don't forget security

In many cases, your ticketing system will be passing client data back and forth. This data might contain passwords, addresses, names, and other sensitive information you don't want outsiders to lay their eyes on. For this reason, make sure the tool you select can be secured in both environment and data transfer. If you are using an email-driven ticketing system, consider SSL or some form of encryption.

6: Personalize your email templates

If you want to use email for ticket submission, you will most likely be replying to those emails with auto-responses. But you won't want to use generic templates that don't make your clients feel like they're being taken care of. Generic responses make people think they're a number. And since you depend upon client loyalty, you want them to know how important their business is. Make sure you take the time to personalize those templates so that your business and the personality of your business are reflected.

7: Consider the need for a Web interface

Some tools offer both email-based and Web-based ticket submission. Many clients want the ease of email submission. But others prefer the control of a Web-based system. Some clients will not want just anyone being able to submit a request to an email address. With a Web portal, some clients will feel they have more control over how, when, and why their employees submit help requests.

8: Evaluate ticket management features

You might assume that all help desk systems would be able to granularly manage tickets. Assigning, re-assigning, escalating, resending, closing, canceling... you'd think all systems would include these capabilities. That is not an absolute. Some systems offer more in the way of ticket control than others. Know how much control you want over your tickets before you start looking at the offerings. Don't settle for a system that doesn't offer the control you need -- you won't be able to "make it work for you" in this case.

9: Be sure you're branded

Both in email submissions and Web fronts, your help desk must be branded for your company. The last thing you need is for your clients to think you don't care enough to make your tools "yours." Sending out auto-responses that say, "This ticket submitted by HELP DESK" is just not professional. Make sure the tool you choose can be branded with your logos, URLS, information, copyright information, and legal information (if necessary). Do not settle for anything less.

10: Make it easy

Your help desk system needs to be useful to your users. If you wind up with a system that is overly complicated, it will hinder your company's ability to work smoothly. The point of a help desk is "help." Over the period I spent testing various tools, I came across very easy tools and insanely difficult tools. Fortunately, most tools offer an online demo or a trial period. Take advantage of that to find out if the tool you are considering is user-friendly enough for your employees. Otherwise, you may find your help desk system is more hindrance than help. For the sake of your employees and your clients, choose wisely.

A critical tool

Remember, this tool will serve a much greater purpose than allowing clients to tell you they are having trouble. It will make your workflow reliable and productive, and far fewer tickets will fall through the cracks.

If you have good (or bad) things to say about the help desk systems you've used, share your experiences with other TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

75 comments
chapbrisk
chapbrisk

Hi Jack,


Thanks for the great article, do you have any feedback on Cayzu Help Desk (http://www.cayzu.com) or SupportBee (https://supportbee.com/) ? I see that Cayzu has a lot of features and has a great price right now. Just not sure if I need all those features and if my better choice would be SupportBee as they only deal with email?

c0r50
c0r50

Using Pink Veirfy Assestments, by PinkElephant, i found OTRS as the best choice. The best of OTRS is that they have a schedule of upgrades, and now it is very simple to install it. Take a look, it is very flexible and configurable, Even the tickets are very simple to create. May be the cons. are in the Change management process, it is a little bit messy, but it works. But it has several pros and plus, and it is free.

OIVL
OIVL

Hi, Do you have any opinion about BMC Remedy Mid Tier 7.6? A web system based an also includes ITIL And I also used HP Openview Service Desk, all ITIL based. Thanks for answering.

vshankar90
vshankar90

Just a quick suggestion. Try out Freshdesk. Same team that built manage engine service desk has built it. check it out. www.freshdesk.com

ital21
ital21

Can someone point me to where I can find a template or matrix that I can use to evaluate the various helpdesk apllications out there?

freehelpdesk
freehelpdesk

Have you guys tried out NeuQS free help desk. It checks all the boxes here and best of all it is free: http://www.neuqs.com We use it and find it works a treat.

aniketbhosle
aniketbhosle

this post has got into d details.good for starters. would have been great if u had mentioned of names of some tools and also i guess telecom equipment is critical

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

You need a way for the users to generate tickets, that's a must. You also need to REALLY think about how it will scale. How will it access external data, will it have web services you can use or will you be relegated to file listeners, etc...

hubbadubba
hubbadubba

Sounds like Jack just described Cerberus Help Desk/CRM. Developers are great- product is reasonably priced (free for the first 3 users) and while they charge licenses, it's open source, allowing for easy customization. Version 4 has been in development for at least a couple of years and is working great for me. www.cerberusweb.com

jlwallen
jlwallen

the help desk system we wound up using was osTicket! it's really quite good.

jcleckler
jcleckler

Numara Footprints has been an amazing tool for us. I highly recommend it due to low cost and ease of use.

ignasi.jimenez
ignasi.jimenez

I would recommend to take a look at www.attend-solutions.com. ATTEND PRO covers the "10 things" and more. 100% web, advanced ticket management, ITIL compliant, complete DB integration (MS-SQL, Oracle, MySQL and more), Google Maps integration, complete set of reports based on Crystal Reports runtime (new reports available with CR Designer). ATTEND is also available through SaaS without limitations. We are using this system since 1999 and it has been updated regularly every year. There is a 30-day trial at this web site.

daredavidj
daredavidj

What System did you use? David Dare System Consultant PC Techs & Network Solutions ddare@pctechs-net.com

Compuhorsy
Compuhorsy

It passes muster on all the criteria, has canned and custom reporting, and a VERY active support community. And it is free, but don't let that fool you - sometimes the best things really can be free. At the very least, I would recommend installing it and trying out the features to find out which ones are the most critical to your organization. http://www.spiceworks.com/referrer/Dana4085

mtalaga
mtalaga

Our users are getting very comfortable with Sharepoint, so it would be nice to have a system that has a familiar interface for the users.

jprescott
jprescott

Dont forget to understand what you will need to get OUT of the helpdesk.. Is there some measurable matrix that you are seeking to provide (SLA, uptime, ticket type, ticket location, etc, ad nauseam.) Often knowing what you want to get out of the system helps to dictate what system you purchase, what features it has, and so forth. It may sound silly, but many that are new to helpdesks forget this step and wind up with a beautiful new system that is like a care with no wheels.

bullens
bullens

I've been using it for a couple of years now and it does everthing you mentioned above and more for free! it's great. :-)

gramsay
gramsay

Resource requirements - will it run on the spare workstation in the corner or will you need to buy half a dozen new servers? Plus licences for SQL, IIS etc. etc. Reports - how good are the reports out of the box? Will you need to invest in Crystal skills? Integration - do you need it to work with your other systems - LANDesk, SMS, Zen or whatever. Can it import data from existing data sources such as Active Directory? Inventory - can you keep inventory/asset records through their lifecycle? (The mythical CMDB/CMS even) Service Levels - how easy is it to apply correct service levels to all your different customers. ITIL - is it "ITIL aware" if required. Service catalogue - can you create such a thing, store it within the system and report on service availability etc? System Admin - can you administer your new Helpdesk easily? What about drag/drop interface, multiple selection of users/groups/roles/inventory etc. Performance - how responsive is it? Loads of bells & whistles are no use if they bring your system to its knees. Make sure you see it working in a real world situation - talk to existing users if possible.

karimdjelid
karimdjelid

I was looking into the same thing and crossed OTRS. We didn't go for it for now because it seems not the smallest thing to set up. What did you favour?

aholthouse
aholthouse

We looked for a system that could: - Support the ITIL framework and include change management and configuration databases as part of the overall support system. - Incorporate an asset database for bother software and hardware - Allow the setup of a knowledge base for support techs - Allow self service by staff for general requests (such as connect a printer, reset a password, etc).

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

It works well for us. I have used Remedy and HEAT and it compares well to the others.

cburke
cburke

I use Spiceworks and it gets better with each upgrade. I have no budget authority so I got the go ahead from my manager and I was able to implement it and prove myself in the IT Department. The input you get from other IT people is awesome and really helps. No 800 numbers and being put on hold, lots of discussion groups and people sharing their reports.

Brown-IT-Guy
Brown-IT-Guy

THAT'S how strong SpiceWorks is. Unbeliev-a-easy to set up helpdesk, with enough notifications, tracking and customization options to make you wonder how you made do without it. I'm not a drink-the-Kool-Aid kinda guy but this tool rules.

Granville
Granville

I have been using it since 1.something and have introduced it to a third site now.

wanharris
wanharris

Thanks for sharing this cool app which does it freely but do you think with the embedded advertisement appearing on the right hand side, is it kind of disturbing for IT administrators? Is there any way to disable these advertisements?

johno
johno

I second that - easy to backup also.! And the price is right - FREE

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

OK, not really, but we've been using it for about 6 months now and it is very, very good. Imagine a free piece of software that works so well with a company that updates software within DAYS if the userbase points out a feature they want. Some of the peopel charging hundreds of dollars per user (ahem..cough..Microsoft) could learn from this business model. My biggest fear is that one of the big Helpdesk software companies will buy these guys out. Maybe that was the plan all along and why it is free... :)

jason
jason

You can use one of the Fab 40 Sharepoint Templates that are on MS's download site, theres a built in helpdesk sample.

iithyd
iithyd

We can migrate our system to sharepoint, if you are requested. Please advise, if you need a demo. www.iitsw.com

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

For larger companies it is imparative that you can track the number of tickets opened, the first response time, escalation and time when ticket was resolved. Reporting all of this is vita to run a good Help Desk. I worked for a company a few years ago and we had a ticker that counted average time on phone - they ran the service desk very well.

Beothuk
Beothuk

I fully agree with the thrust of this article. I have just finished an evaluation of a number of programs pretty much using this approach. I believe that some of the most important features any application should have are: 1. ITIL V3 compliance. 2. Web interface for general users. 3. Knowledge base 4. Database back end 5. Customisable (by you) to suit your needs. I evaluated the following products listed in order of preference after evaluation: 1. ServiceDesk Plus from Manage Engine 2. Numara FootPrints 3. HelpMasterPro from PRD Software 4. FrontRange HEAT 5. SpiceWorks ServiceDesk Plus was a clear winner meeting all 36 of the essential requirements I had specified. FootPrints and Helpmaster Pro met 30 and HEAT 28. SpiceWorks met a low 16. I'd be happy to share my technical investigation and methods with anyone who cares to email me.

bgarcia
bgarcia

I've been using spiceworks for over a year and its seamless integration of network scanning, inventory, and help desk, makes handling tickets a breeze. I can assign tickets to a particular devices or even open one from device view in the inventory.

mogrith
mogrith

As has been stated you can pay $20/mo to stop adds, But you don't get the screen real estate back it's just blank. But these are not Google ads that might vaguely be tech related. But properly targeted to the IT SMB Admin. We have found several goods and services from SW adds. One was a rebate on scanners we had just bought. So we for us SW was not just free but paid us money.

benhar
benhar

Spiceworks fits the bill here all the way. Free, helpdesk, inventory, event monitoring, network mapping, and an awesome community. I've canceled my EE subscription because SW fills that need. Been using since beta and haven't looked back. http://www.spiceworks.com/referrer/benhar

erbngeek
erbngeek

Ads subsidize the cost of Spiceworks to make it free to end users, however you can get a subscription for $20/month that will replace the ads with your company logo.

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

I am sure everyone has their favorites. Honstly, I haven't heard of most of these systems referenced by other posters. I've used Remedy, TrackIT!, and SupportSoft in the past. All of them were used in fairly large organizations. I am crious how big your organizations are and if these systems can support the large to mid size orgs. I've also toyed with Spiceworks but it lacked a few features which as of two years ago might be fixed. I think above all else it doesn't matter WHAT system is used but WHO is using it. If your Level 1 and 2 support techs are mentally challenged it won't matter what system is implimented. I read the most pitiful responses from service desk now and we use Remedy from BMC (finally after 5 years using Lotus Notes Database) but sadly the system is not used to its full potential (for the price tag) and ultimately the techs fail to put in their names, a proper response, a proper reason for ticket closure or problem resolution and no way to re-open a ticket from the end user side. It really is more about HOW the tech and manager run the shop than the software they use.

celmert
celmert

Hi, do you still have your evaluations available? I'm looking for helpdesk software that can also do annual inventories. Any ideas? Thx. Ted email celmert@bsd405.org

phall
phall

Would you mind sending me you helpdesk essential doc, I too am looking at ServiceDesk etc.

aziz.rahim
aziz.rahim

would you please send me the doc so I can headstart thanks my email is aziz.rahim@hotmail.com

wyattharris
wyattharris

Keep in mind the ads are only visible on the admin side. I was pleased to see that our user portal was devoid of ads and customizable for our company.

dryflies
dryflies

When each PC is configured just a little different, then the configuration for spiceworks might have to be just a little different. I run a script on each PC when I install it that cfonfigures WMI and security to allow the spiceworks scan. using a GPO you can insert it into the logon script to make sure everything stays accessible.

mogrith
mogrith

There are some scripts you can run (local or remotely) that fix a lot of issues with the SW Scan (WMI fixes). For a remote office, SW running as a service in remote collector mode on a desktop PC takes few resources.

thom
thom

The auto discovery feature is cool - but I have almost a 100 PCs that for whatever reason, needs Windows tweak in order to be seen by Spiceworks. Each PC is weirdly different in what is causing issues. It would be SO MUCH easier just to deploy a tiny little agent that 1.) made the PC auto discoverable OR 2.) made auto discovery unnecessary. Only other issue is with PCs at 20+ branch offices w/ little-to-no network infrastructure OTHER than an ISP provided router and a little LAN for two PC users. (no domain controller, VPN, et cetera.)

erbngeek
erbngeek

The community support is great!

ignasi.jimenez
ignasi.jimenez

I agree concerning the training for technical staff and the users. Companies without Psycho IT will find their projects frustrated in most cases. So, if the users or technical staff are not commited with the company rules and product advantatges, the help desk project will fail. But, from my point of view, if the solution cannot cover your functional needs for any reason (for example, price or ticket closure reason), this cannot be your better solution. Maybe there are others poducts with the same key benefits at a lower cost; other implications: WHO is in the backoffice of these solutions.

Compuhorsy
Compuhorsy

The two hardest steps to implementing a helpdesk system are: 1. Getting your end-users to use it 2. Getting your tech staff to use it It is a matter of training, re-enforcing good behavior, re-training, and buy-in from administration/management.