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, we’ll look at HelpMaster Pro from PRD Software.

HelpMaster Pro is available in both Business and Enterprise Editions. The Business Edition has more limited functionality and utilizes an Access database. The Enterprise Edition offers such features as autogenerated client IDs, self-linking knowledge base articles, and the ability to link attachments and keywords to clients, help desk jobs, and assets. The Enterprise Edition also uses a more robust SQL database. Both systems offer a Windows client and a Web interface, which runs on IIS 5.0 or later. Although I will focus primarily on the Enterprise Edition, you can learn more about the differences between the two packages on the HelpMaster Pro comparison page.

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 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 an Excel spreadsheet. To increase download speed, we’ve zipped these two files 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
At login, HelpMaster Pro Enterprise Edition greets agents with a Welcome screen that summarizes the number of currently open calls assigned to them and allows them to set their availability status and launch the desired screen. Toolbars provide shortcuts to nearly every possible screen, and function keys are assigned to frequently needed screens or procedures.

The logging of a new call begins by searching for the client. This can be done using the client ID or any part of the client’s name. After selecting the appropriate client, agents can easily view the client’s help desk history. The agent can now edit a previous call or log a new one.

To make call logging easier, you can create job templates that can be selected from the new call screen. Templates allow you to populate call categories and the call’s description area with preset information on common call types. Templates are also available for follow-up actions and resolutions. One feature I found very helpful is the ability to subscribe to particular templates by selecting the ones relevant to your workgroup and hiding the others from view.

Once a new call (or “job” as HelpMaster Pro refers to them) or an existing call is opened, the Job Details window, shown in Figure A, displays the information for that call.

Figure A

An action item is logged for each follow-up action or item associated with a call. A list of to-do actions can be attached to the call and then added to the call’s progress notes as they are completed. The to-do actions must be selected from a template to which no personal note can be added until it is marked as completed. You can also attach files to calls, which are copied to a shared directory that you specify.

Call queuing, routing, and escalation
Call queues are organized by skill group and available through the Helpdesk Explorer window, shown in Figure B. The Field Chooser allows each user to select the data columns available on the Helpdesk Explorer and other list screens for a customized work environment. The queue also offers the ability to retrieve saved searches that are created through the Job Finder.

Figure B

When you reassign calls, a call must be assigned to an individual agent rather than a workgroup. This limitation can be overcome by creating a dummy workgroup user that all agents can access, but this is only a workaround. It would be nice to see a true workgroup user added to a later version. During the reassignment, you can send an e-mail notification to the agent and/or the client to inform them of the new assignment. Notes on the reassignment are all tracked as part of the call’s progress information.

If you need to stay on top of Service Level Agreements or otherwise automatically monitor the calls, you can use the Priority Manager add-on. This tool runs continuously and queries the database at desired intervals. Conditions are set up, and when calls meet the conditions, a variety of actions—from increasing the priority to sending e-mail notifications—is available. All e-mail notifications in the entire system can be customized through templates and include call fields as desired.

Integration with other systems
HelpMaster Pro includes basic inventory/asset tracking information. Calls can be associated with particular assets, building a history of help desk tickets related to the hardware item. If a help desk ticket is not appropriate, you can independently create a service entry for the asset. HelpMaster Pro provides basic knowledge base capabilities and lets you link articles to one another, perform keyword searches, and rate articles according to their helpfulness. You can add attachments to articles and e-mail articles as desired. Figure C shows a sample knowledge base article. One drawback to the knowledge base is the lack of ability to create new articles directly from call tickets or associate knowledge articles to a specific call’s resolution. You must manually cut and paste to move information between the call tickets and knowledge base articles.

Figure C

Web-based components are available for both the customer and staff member. Both are fully functional for each group. At the time of this writing, the staff Web module for the Enterprise Edition was still in Beta. The E-mail Logger add-on will take e-mail received by your help desk and create tickets automatically. E-mail can be screened for certain keywords and logged with various call templates based on these keywords.

Reporting and adaptability
HelpMaster Pro provides a large selection of standardized reports through the Report Selector, shown in Figure D. One of my favorites is a report that shows the number of calls logged each day for a specified date range, indicates the person logging the most calls that day, lists the most common call type for the day, and summarizes the information graphically.

Figure D

Since HelpMaster Pro Enterprise Edition is built on SQL, you can write additional reports using any report writer that provides ODBC connections. Custom reports created in Crystal Reports 8.5 can be added to a specified directory and made available through the HelpMaster interface. The relationships within the HelpMaster database are highly complex, which can make report writing difficult.

HelpMaster allows you to customize all of the system codes shipped with the application and create new custom fields as well. The custom fields are placed on a custom tab within each entity’s main screen and cannot be integrated into other screens. This works fine if you have a minimum number required, but it can make reviewing information more difficult since these custom fields aren’t available on the same screen as other standard data fields.

System requirements and licensing
HelpMaster client software requires a Pentium 166 MHz or higher with 64 MB of RAM, 20 MB of hard drive space, and Windows 98 or higher. For the Enterprise Edition, SQL Server 7.0 or later is required, and IIS 5.0 or later is required for the Web-based components.

HelpMaster Pro Enterprise Edition starts at $1,302 for two concurrent users. Additional user licenses start at $558 per user and volume discounts are available. A complete package of all add-on modules, such as Priority Manager, starts at $2,659. The first 12 months of support are included. Thereafter, annual maintenance is 15 percent of your total cost for standard support and 30 percent for premium support.

Overall, I believe PRD Software offers a solid help desk package at an extremely fair price. The current Enterprise Edition is a significant improvement over previous versions of HelpMaster Pro. And although a few low-impact errors are still being addressed, the Enterprise Edition’s features make it worthy of serious consideration when evaluating new help desk software. Trial versions are available for both HelpMaster Pro Business Edition and HelpMaster Pro Enterprise Edition.