When evaluating help desk call-tracking software, you should always consider your organization’s current practices and procedures, how your agents would use such a system, call queuing, routing and escalation, system integration points, and the program’s reporting and adaptability. With these criteria in mind, let’s look at HEAT PowerDesk—an entry-level call tracking system from FrontRange Solutions.

HEAT PowerDesk is designed for small and midsize organizations. It offers solid call logging and reporting features and integrates with FrontRange Solutions’ GoldMine Sales And Marketing software. For businesses needing greater customization and more advanced features, FrontRange Solutions offers HEAT Service & Support—an enterprise-level system that I will review in a future article.

Call-tracking software evaluation toolkit

To help you evaluate call-tracking software and choose the best product for your help desk, I’ve developed a simple needs analysis checklist and product comparison spreadsheet. You can download this call-tracking software evaluation toolkit by following this link or by clicking on the Downloads link in the navigation bar at the top of this page.

My call-tracking software evaluation toolkit contains both a Word document and Excel spreadsheet. To increase download speed, we’ve zipped these two files together into one file. You will need an unzip utility such as WinZip or PKZIP to expand the zipped file. You will also need Microsoft Word and Excel.

Agent use and call logging
PowerDesk’s main screen is divided into several panes. The HEATBoard and Call Map are located on the left, and the Call Logging pane is located on the right, as shown in Figure A. The Call Logging pane has four tabs: Call Log, Detail, Assignment, and Journal. PowerDesk’s screens are easy to use and navigate but the actual call-logging process takes practice to master. Techs will need adequate training time before being able to use the system effectively and efficiently.

Figure A
HEAT PowerDesk main call screen with HEATBoard visible

New calls are easy to create and once one is open, help desk techs can enter a caller’s information onto the Call Log tab by browsing or searching a Validate Field dialog box—accessed by right-clicking a particular field, such as Employee ID. Once the caller’s information is entered and the tech has entered the basic call information (e.g., problem description, call source, call type, and so forth), the call can be assigned to a specific tech using the Assignment tab. You can even create multiple assignments from a single call; each with it’s own start, acknowledgement, and resolution dates and times. Actions taken to resolve a call, such as follow-up phone calls, and information related to a call, such as research notes, can be entered using the Journal tab. If you need to view all the various components of a call, you can easily do so using the Call Map tab, which displays this information in a familiar tree format.

To ensure that techs collect all the information relevant to a particular call (e.g., software, virus, training, and the like), PowerDesk uses a variable Detail tab that changes configuration depending on the call type. Techs may be required to enter more information on some calls than other. The Detail tab can be turned on or off during Administrative setup. It provides a useful tool for information gathering.

Save time and effort with the HEATBoard and Auto Tasks
One of PowerDesk’s best features is the ability to create lead calls and post them to the HEATBoard—a bulletin board onto which techs can post important calls and information. You can add a lead call to the HEATBoard that represents a widespread problem or important issue for all agents, such as a network outage. You can then link subsequent calls for the same problem to the lead call and ultimately close all the calls simultaneously when the issue is resolved.

PowerDesk also allows you to create Auto Tasks that can automate some steps in the call logging process. Several common Auto Tasks come preconfigured, but you can create new ones for individual techs or the entire help desk. Although this advanced feature is complex, it can save you significant time and effort.

Call queuing, routing, and escalation
PowerDesk allows you to assign calls to an individual tech or a group of techs. But the software lacks an automatic notification system, so your help desk will need create procedures to ensure that calls are not neglected.

You can search and arrange calls using PowerDesk’s Group feature, as shown in Figure B. Several predefined Call Groups such as Active Calls, My Active Assignments, and Overdue Calls are available but you can create new groups when needed. Once a particular Call Group is selected, the calls can be displayed in several formats including a list or grid view. Call Groups give you a high level of control over how you view calls, but the default navigation of individual call tickets and the group selection processes isn’t overly intuitive and takes time to master.

Figure B
HEAT PowerDesk Call Group menu

You can create new assignments at any time and can route both new and existing assignments to other techs. You must keep in mind, however, that PowerDesk doesn’t track changes to an assignment’s owner (i.e., tech); only the current owner is listed. You can manually send an e-mail notification when an assignment is routed or escalated to a particular tech and this process can be expedited using an Auto Task, but it cannot be totally automated.

Integration with other systems and add-on modules
If your help desk wants a complete CRM solution, HEAT PowerDesk can be integrated with FrontRange Solutions’ GoldMine Sales And Marketing contact management system. PowerDesk also offers the iHeat add-on module that allows technicians to access PowerDesk via a network connection and Web Browser. iHeat looks and feels identical to the regular PowerDesk client.

PowerDesk includes a fairly powerful knowledge base utility, called First Level Support, that is easy to use and allows techs to quickly transfer pertinent information directly to call tickets. Administrators can even set up key areas of a call ticket to automatically be included in knowledge base searches. Although a good feature, I found PowerDesk’s knowledge base more difficult to configure than one would expect in something categorized as an entry-level product.

PowerDesk allows help desks to track assets by entering equipment information for each customer, as shown in Figure C. Automated equipment auditing is not offered however. If your help desk tracks training and purchase order information, special call ticket forms and reports are also available for these items.

Figure C
HEAT PowerDesk Equipment Configuration screen

Reporting and adaptability
HEAT PowerDesk offers a wide selection of canned reports, and graphs are available for most of them. The reporting tool is a separate executable called Answer Wizard that uses common metric-related questions as the starting point for defining the desired report. Custom reports can be created using Crystal Reports.

In terms of customization, PowerDesk is rather limited, but this is usually the case with entry-level, call-tracking packages. There are a set number of user definable fields in each key area of the system and although field labels and drop-down lists can be customized, you can’t add new fields or redesign call tracking forms.

System requirements and licensing
HEAT PowerDesk requires an Access 2000 or SQL Server 2000 database for the back end and the client requires Windows 95 or later. A license for a single concurrent user costs $795 and an evaluation version is available for download. The iHeat add-on costs $295 per user.

Although I believe PowerDesk’s high level of call detail and integrated knowledge base make it worthy of a second-look, organizations should be aware that training and setup time is likely to be greater than with other entry-level call tracking systems on the market.