IT Policies

What your help desk needs to do, Part 2

The second of two posts focused on mining your help desk for gold. This post focuses on what features and functions you should look for in a ticketing system.

The second of two posts focused on mining your help desk for gold.  This post focuses on what features and functions you should look for in a ticketing system.

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Now that the flow is down, we need to think about the features. Let's talk a little about what we don't need. We don't need a proprietary solution. We need something that uses normal scripting languages that one of your team can change or configure. A lot of the systems out there have such specialized code that you need to hire a consultant to make small changes. Get one that requires skill sets that you already have on your team. Now, with that out of the way...

  • Asset Management: Really just a database table that allows you to enter information about a computer asset. There should be child tables or repositories as well for associating software licenses with the asset. In essence, you want to capture the PC with memory, CPU, warranty info, year purchased and OS. Also include model numbers and serial numbers for the PC and any peripheral over $150. That is just a guideline, but that is typically what your controller wants when they do their annual inventory. It's all about killing many birds with one stone and doing it right from the beginning lets you deal with these one of processes or requests with ease.
  • Software License Management: There are smarter people than me that can understand the various licensing options for computer software. OEM or not to OEM? This is just a data store that allows you to capture all of the software licenses and associate the licenses with a particular PC and a user. The volume licensing from Microsoft is convenient, but you will have to judge the cost/benefit. A nice to have feature is one that can go out and discover what applications are on PC's. Even better would be a system that can monitor the PC for application changes, upgrades and additions. It can basically generate a punch-list to go to a user and collect the license
  • Active Directory/LDAP Integration: It would be very helpful if the system can leverage the company directory and allow authentication tokens so you do not have to require separate logins. It also makes it easier to start filling in the Asset Management function.
  • Issue capture: The web interface needs to be clean and simple with some enforcement rules on fields. I have tried to let the user select the priority in the past by using plain English summary descriptions, but I have had mixed results. Too many of the users would figure out the highest priority and always select that, but leading questions like application problems, access problems, phone problems, etc., all help narrow down the issue and allow the appropriate resource to be tasked with the issue. These come in handy if you are outsourcing some of your applications. At one company we outsourced a compliance application that had to be accessed by every employee once a year. We put the application name in one of the fields and if selected, the ticket alert would be sent to that company's help desk. The system must also take in email requests and associate inbound email addresses to customer records. The ticket number generated by the email must be used in the subject line for all future correspondence so we can keep the various communications associated with the right ticket. All in all, you want to encourage the use of the form as the main channel for submitting issues. Free form issue submission wastes time because it usually takes more than one round of communication to get at the true problem.
  • Rules Engine: The system should have an overall rules engine that can be used for event triggers, escalation triggers and service level agreement creation and management. A somewhat generic rules engine is a lot more flexible than traditional procedural constraints. The good part about these rules engines is that they allow for cascading rule sets, dependent rule sets and array-based rule sets. But also note that this level of flexibility is also the bad news. It makes it much easier to shoot yourself in the foot and inadvertently generate Cartesian products in your ticketing database. Tie the triggers to your SLA and communicate your SLA whenever possible. This way, you are taking action according to the expectations you set with the user. Users will always believe that their issue has evaporated into the ether if you don't reach out when you told them you would reach out.
  • Work Order: Many tickets may result in work orders and a work order may generate one or more trouble tickets. It is a vicious cycle, but necessary. Work orders are things that are dependent on timing issues outside the control of IT. Example would be waiting a week for a new laptop. Before a work order can be created, a definite deadline must be given as to when the work is going to be done in order to keep customer expectations in line.
  • Categorization: Additionally, the ability to re-classify a ticket while keeping the original classification is necessary. I used "Training Issue" as a reclassification option. This denoted that the trouble ticket could have been prevented with some basic PC training. We then worked with HR to notify department heads that certain training may be needed by their employees. In one company, this resulted in HR and IT working together to bring online training courses to employees over our internal network. That way, if there was a training issue, the help desk can point the user in the direction of an online module on Excel Pivot Tables or something along those lines without offending anyone. Overtime, we learned what basic computer training needed to be completed by new employees and nearly eliminated "Training Issue" reclassifications.
  • Survey Tool: This is a nice to have especially if your help desk team is being evaluated on customer satisfaction. If your system is flexible enough with a rules engine, you can trigger an email when you close a ticket that includes a link to a simple survey web form. Actually following up with a ticket after it is closed is always a good idea. There have been many times where the help desk tech thought an issue was closed but the user did not. This helps bridge that communication/understanding gap.
  • Reporting: This is the bread and butter of the system. This is where you determine the IT project low hanging fruit and see how well you are performing to your internal customers' expectations. If they are not aligned, then some changes need to be made, but the only way to know is to see these in reports. Beware of complex reporting package add-ons. You may need consulting resources to get these off the ground. When creating the reports, remember what you are trying to measure:
    • Number of tickets by classification: Determine projects to reduce number of ticket
    • Number of tickets within SLA: Are you staffed appropriately? Are there outliers that impacted performance? How can you avoid surprises in the future
    • Average ticket resolution time by classification: Do you have the right people taking care of the right issues
    • Average work order completion time: How many tickets resulted in work orders? If this number is too high, you may have to make sure that tickets aren't being converted to work orders to make the SLA compliance numbers look better. If these work orders are too long, what can you anticipate in the future to avoid having to create a work order? Example would be a one shot, 33% annual refresh on PCs and laptops instead of handling one of new PC requests
    • Number of tickets by user: Are there training opportunities? Is this a power user you can leverage
    • Number of tickets by department: What department are you working for the most? Can a new system help alleviate new trouble ticket submissions
    • Per ticket cost data: Great metric to include in a business case for a project that will address some root causes and eliminate trouble tickets.
    • Asset inventory for finance: Annual asset report.

So with your ticketing system in place, the rest is up to you. Look for the low hanging fruit. A number of network outages may require a network re-design. A ton of printer issues may require a creative outsourced solution. Always look for ways to address the largest number of tickets in order to be proactive.

19 comments
brucewcameron
brucewcameron

I have worked with help desk systems as a user and vendor, I now work for a company that specializes in a dashboard that plugs into these tools (help desk, Asst Mgt, PBX, CMDB...). The fact that most commercial help desk tools still lack reporting and interactive dashboards is quite amazing - that's why we built ours. We understood what was needed and how it should be interacted with. The additional point I will make is that it doesn't require any coding or specialized reporting staff, sql queries, datawarehousing. We remove that dependance and allow anyone that can use a mouse to create a dashboard - in 30 seconds. Although we do not plan to address the majority of the concerns Mr Rollins states above, we are addressing the 'bread and butter' issue of the reporting and status dashboards very successfully. This, at least alleviates the pain and cost associated with manually attempting to get around the issues of lacking reporting, but also consolidating the data into single dashboards to create useful business information. bruce@hagridsolutions.com

Meesha
Meesha

For over ten years we used our own in house tool developed in Lotus Notes/Domino. It was great in that most of the requirements were already built into the system, i.e. email, calendaring, workflow (for work order authorizations), etc. We would still be using this tool except that we decided not to further enhance our own product but to go with a fully ITIL compliant solution and are now using LiveTime - http://www.livetime.com/webservicedesk/app . Although it's not "free" it does provides all that we need including integration with our internal systems. It's ITIL compliant, runs on multiple OS platforms, and so much more. It is hugely less expensive than a BMC (formerly Remedy/Heat) or HP solution (formerly Mercury) which those are really tailored more for larger organizations. With LiveTime we get all the stuff a large org has but wouldn't get in many of the smaller application offerings. And unlike many other offerings it's based on # of technicians and not by client licensing. Reporting metrics are excellent.

sidekick
sidekick

Great article. I recently started a new job with no help desk software. Well, they had Track-it 5, but it had never been used. It is one thing I wnt ot implement. I'm considering developing my own, probably LAMP based, since I know some basic HTML and PHP, but I would consider a ready-made product. So, anyone out there have any suggestions on software? Is there any open-source software out there?

stevengirardpalmer
stevengirardpalmer

Jay, you nailed it. And, reporting, timely reporting, is the bread and butter and the pie. Reporting starts in the trenches, gets seen at the top of the organization and triggers activity, mostly good activity in the teams that produce change. Second is asset management, but its a distant second as far as making a healthy organization goes. Change management plus good leadership is a game-changer. Steve Palmer CIO, OptHome www.opthome.com

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

And it's not THAT expensive...On that note, ITSM (FrontRange's ITIL product) is pretty spiffy and I quite like it and the work flow engine.* *I work for FrontRange Solutions

hickox71
hickox71

I can highly recommend you Bridgetrak (www.helpdesksoftware.com) that includes quite powerful ticket tracking and issue management abilities such as a web interface for submitting issues and viewing issue status, automatic issue escalation and notification of all persons involved, e-mail conversion directly into issues, skill based issue assignment, asset information storing, knowledgebase with differentiable access and many more. I just got an email from them saying that you can win BridgeTrak at scriptlogic's "The Value of Help Desk Service in Today’s Economy" webinar: http://dl.scriptlogic.com/landing/bridgetrak/help-desk-service.aspx

slkwyld
slkwyld

Its an all in one Inventory/Network Scanning/Ticketing/Helpdesk Solution, and its free! I used to use Track-it but it was too expensive and cumbersome to deal with. Integrates with Active Directory as well.

rod
rod

For the money that you'll spend in time, software and learning, it's such a false economy that I'm surprised that people still consider it. Think about it. How long would it take to develop something even basic to run your helpdesk? Even a simple product would take months. How much is your time worth? You can buy helpdesk software that has years of product development and real-world testing, ideas and support for a few thousand dollars. With such a rich field, why would anyone even contemplate re-inventing the wheel...again... Best regards, Rod

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

It's not open source, but we have some good products. HEAT is a service desk tool that's really for the smaller helpdesks ITSM is an ITIL based tool that does everything from ITIL ITSM, to SAM (via Centennial for discovery and Enteo for push), to License Management (Centennial) GMEE is a CRM product that includes Case IPCM is a VoIP product that ties into all our product line to allow things like screen pops and a more robust self service experience. Not to sell these tools, but I gotta say I'm pretty damn proud of ITSM.

k.hoopes
k.hoopes

I recently entered into the same situation that you describe above. I was coming from a HelpSTAR environment, and have even used ManageEngine in the past, but Illient's SysAid software is truly worth its weight in GOLD. For starters... one version is totally free, can support an unlimited number of users and can hold 100 different assets (this includes software, hardware, etc.) The free version does not have access to LDAP integration, and also will not allow use of the Manager Portal, a great quick glance reporting tool. On the other hand, the paid version is great, offers unlimited users and assets, LDAP integration, great reporting, cost less than $2000 USD and if all of that was not enough... Illient's support team is by far one of the best group of individuals that I have worked with. As I previously stated... Don't just try it... Buy it.

Fairbs
Fairbs

Does anyone know of a task management system that would escalate an issue if it hasn't been resolved by a certain time sending an email would be very helpful. I looked at some of the opensource systems, but the tasks parts seemed to be more like lists. Is there anything like this out there that would tie in to SharePoint?

dagar
dagar

I have used IRM in the past and found it lacking. I switched over to GLPI about 2 years ago. It is open source and web based and written in php/mysql. The good: It has ticketing and asset management (links to ocs inventory) and many plugins to extend it. The bad: The developers are French and the English documentation is lacking. It is difficult to find something that truly is a complete IT solution. I am an IT department of 1. I do a little web development, a little bit of programming, shell scripts, project management, network management, ... I find it hard to have something that is a configuration management for knowing what server has what OS version and what patch AND can keep track of things like router and switch configs. And then also something that is geared toward software development like trac, but to handle multiple small software projects (like custom reports). And then small scale project management for things like "remote office is moving in to a new building".

Jay Rollins
Jay Rollins

We used @Task in a previous company. That was a few years ago and they had a great product. They are still around and expanded into project management software. They were a little expensive in 2003, but very good product.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

In ITSM you are able to assign tasks to users or teams, use SLAs or just simple resolutions timers, and send email via Outlook integration or send notifications via the ITSM server connecting to your mail server. We use a tool called BPD which is BPML based to do all schedule (time based) kung fu. We do work with SharePoint. I'll stop short of saying integration, but there are a number of options open to using SharePoint in ITSM. The best, and easiest, is using a Dashboard with IE part pointing to the SharePoint Server.

dacia123
dacia123

Hi, just to spread the good news: All New ITIL V3-compliant Change Management Module debuts at Pink Elephant IT Service Management Conference & Expo OTRS::ITSM 2.0 first open source software to track and support change management processes and roles as defined by ITIL http://www.otrs.com/en/news-and-press/news-details/article/itil-v3-kompatibles-it-service-management-mit-otrsitsm-2/ http://www.otrs.com/en/products/otrsitsm/ http://www.otrs.com/en/products/otrsitsm/change-management/

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...I was a project lead, looking to build up a call center. Two of the key technologies I chose for use to work with were the FrontRange Voice/IVR system and HEAT (selected over BMC SDE, RightNow and Alcatel-Lucent's contact center suite). The integration & transition from Tier 0 to Tier 1 support was fantastic and fairly easy to manage. Everyone I worked with at FrontRange (as well as the reseller, SMA) were top-notch. Just wanted to pass along the kudos, since you noted you worked with FrontRange.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

We have the Enteo product line (config mgmt and software mgmt), the Centennial product line (asset mgmnt), and the Service Desk line (HEAT or ITSM). We are a better solution for small or midsized companies or the smaller enterprise. We do fit into the bigger enterprise, but it takes more config and PSO time. I have to say I like Enteo better than LANDesk in a lot of ways and Centennial is a top notch license management and discovery tool. ITSM is great is you are going down the ITIL path as the tool is almost 100% configurable. * I work for FrontRange

vncoder
vncoder

We use OTRS for the last 2 years for a team of 12 people in multiple cities across Australia. Now, we can not live without it. It has all the functionality in Issue Management, including reminder, escalation, issue groups, time recording, LDAP integration, etc. Though it lacks Configuration Management, Asset Management and Work Order Management. If you want all those things bundle together you need to go for a big commercial vendor like CA, IBM or HP.

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