If you work at a small or midsize help desk, finding good call tracking software on a tight budget can be challenging. There are, however, five- and 10-seat licenses available for under $10,000—way under, in some cases.

For this article, I’ve reviewed five packages in this price range. While other packages also fit the bill, the packages I’ve listed here represent some of the leaders in the small to midsize market.

Many packages contain other modules, such as asset management, a Web interface for staff or end users, and integration with your e-mail system. You may also want to pay attention to whether a package can build a knowledge base and manage SLAs. A few packages also include modules for purchasing and training.

BridgeTrak from Kemma Software
In the past, Kemma Software has offered BridgeTrak (see Figure A) in Professional and Standard versions. But starting with Version 5, slated for release in early June, only the Professional option will be available. One appealing aspect of this package is the ability to add issues to “hot folders” for organizing calls. The knowledge base’s interface allows either a text search or browsing through an outline of topics and problems. The main call screen seems busy with lots of fields and a very small call summary box. Closing a ticket is also awkward compared to the rest of the call logging process.

BridgeTrak offers several add-on modules, including a PC Audit program and Web interface. An evaluation copy is available for download on the Kemma site. If your budget is really tight, Kemma offers a leasing program with a $1 buyout following the lease period.

Figure A: BridgeTrak from Kemma Software

Track-It from Blue Ocean Software
Blue Ocean Software (see Figure B) puts a lot of bang into little buck and has over 20,000 installations. Its simple interface makes learning the system a breeze. The asset management features are rich and complete. The add-on “Audit” gathers information from PCs and updates the Track-It database. If you have a large customer database, selecting the contact for a call is a bit awkward since it is done through a drop-down list. While typing a portion of the name allows you to move to that section of the list, a more advanced customer search feature would be faster. One other downside is that updates to calls are done in the original call description or resolution memo field. No logging of individual actions is available in a separate area.

Track-It comes in both Standard and Professional editions. Besides several enhanced features, the Professional edition allows for more than 10 users and can be used in a SQL environment. Both licenses offer a variety of “add-on” modules at an additional cost. Blue Ocean’s Web site offers a free evaluation download.

Figure B: Track-It from Blue Ocean Software

SupportDesk from House on the Hill Software
I’ve recently started hearing a lot about House on the Hill Software (see Figure C). After taking a closer look at the product, I can see why. A “folder” list down the left side of the screen speeds up navigation of the program, and alerts for companies or customers offer a nice “heads up” for consultants. The ability to publish almost anything from the program as an HTML is a great feature. On the downside, it does take a bit longer to get used to the work environment in the program and will require more training for consultants. While the search features are complete, they are broken across multiple screens, making it a bit confusing.

SupportDesk offers separately priced extras, including call escalation/monitoring and a Web interface. A visual walk-through of the software and a download for evaluation can be found at House on the Hill’s Web site.

Figure C: SupportDesk from House on the Hill Software

HelpMaster Pro from PRD Software
PRD Software (see Figure D) offers a great help desk package at a reasonable cost. The “First Contact” screen makes searching for callers easy and provides an immediate view of their currently open or past tickets. All queues or screens listing calls offer a preview feature to quickly view call details. You can add notes, set reminders, or resolve the ticket quickly from the call list screens. Asset management offers good detail but could be easier when assigning items to users or calls. The Web interface (an additional cost) is in its Version 1 release and still has a few kinks that are slowly being resolved.

Downloads and Web demonstrations of HelpMaster Pro can be found at PRD Software’s Web site. The staff Web interface, client Web interface, and priority manager are priced separately. Special package prices including all of these items are $4,695 for five-desktop users or $5,995 for 10-desktop users.

Figure D: HelpMaster Pro from PRD Software

FootPrints from UniPress Software
FootPrints (see Figure E) is a 100 percent Web-based product. UniPress Software offers an easy-to-customize, intuitive interface. The ability to create different “projects” makes this program versatile if you wish to separate IT departments or use it for other types of tracking, and cross-project reporting is available. Creating custom reports on the fly is an impressive feature of the package. The solution/knowledge base process is inconvenient, as creating a solution duplicates the ticket with a different number, though a link back to the original problem is available. The lack of asset management or inventory information is another shortcoming of the program.

UniPress Software’s Web site offers a download of the product for evaluation that must be installed on an NTFS formatted drive. They also offer a “walk-through” demo over the phone and access to the product on their site following the demo. Access for end users (unlimited) to log their own call tickets is priced separately.

Figure E: FootPrints from UniPress Software

Focus on the features you need
Even if finances are tight, commercial help desk software is available for almost any budget. Prioritize the features that are important to your operation and take a closer look at the software reviewed here.

When does help desk software become essential?

Many small and midsize help desks find it difficult to justify a help desk application’s price, so they try to operate sufficiently without it. As organizations grow however, help desk software becomes increasingly necessary to provide effective and timely support. At what size do you believe IT support departments need help desk software? Post a comment or write to Janice Ward and share your opinion.