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Help desk software a primer for small and medium business

June 13, 2008

Executive Summary

Help desk management software can help streamline support processes and improve quality of service. To reap these benefits, an enterprise must adopt a solution that is suited to its IT environment. A poorly-chosen tool will only result in wasted expenditure and frustrated users.

This research note examines the two major classes of help desk software solutions and their associated tools. Coverage includes the following areas:

  • A conceptual comparison of help desk tracking solutions and IT service management suites.
  • A functionality-based differentiation of the two solution types.
  • Key factors to include in the decision-making process.

IT decision-makers must understand the range of service desk management options to arrive at an appropriate decision.

Technology Point

Help desk software solutions range in complexity from basic call logging tools to comprehensive IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) based suites. A well-chosen product will enhance the help desk team’s performance and increase end-user satisfaction. On the other hand, an inappropriate solution will only lead to disappointment. A solution that is too limited in functionality will fail to meet IT’s needs, while one that is too feature-rich will be a waste of budget. IT decision-makers must understand the full range of service desk management offerings to select the most appropriate solution type.

Help Desk Tracking Solutions – Core Functionality

An entry-level help desk tracking solution (e.g. FrontRange HEAT PowerDesk) is a set of basic service desk management tools. The price can range from zero (e.g. open source, OneOrZero) to thousands of dollars. All major tracking solutions offer the following basic functions:

Function Description
Call Logging » Submission and tracking of requests. The method of submission varies among different solutions, and can include any of the following options:

– Data entry by help desk staff (analysts or queue managers).

– Self-serve Web or e-mail forms.

– Automated conversion of free-form e-mails to tickets.

» Documentation of resolution. Provides help desks staff with a central location to record techniques and results – this facilitates sharing and transfer of knowledge.

Workflow Management » Triage of service requests. Sorting, prioritization, and assignment of new incidents or requests. The degree of automation varies depending on the solution. Some tools allow managers to pre-assign requests based on the nature of the issue. Others require manual sorting but will automatically notify the designated analyst via e-mail, pager, or other channels of communication.

» Escalation of requests. Facilitates the escalation of an incident to the next support tier. This function can also be highly automated. Some solutions can be configured with established escalation rules so that requests will be escalated automatically according to priority and duration.

Description                                                                               Function

Reporting » Generating reports of help desk statistics and performance metrics such as the following:

– Call volume (number of calls per day/week/month).

– Call duration.

– Average speed of response (how long it takes a call to reach an analyst).

– Average resolution time (how long it takes to resolve an incident).

– First call resolution rate.

– Number of open tickets per day/week/month.

» Specific report types and formats will vary among solutions. Some products allow the user to create custom reports outside of the pre-defined types.

Help Desk Tracking Solutions – Advanced Functionality

Higher-end tracking solutions (e.g. Numara Track-It!) provide additional features beyond the core functions listed above. The following advanced features are often offered as optional modules or included with premium editions of the product:

Function Description
Self-service » There are two types of self-service features in help desk software:

– Incident submission and tracking. End-users submit their own tickets, usually via Web-based forms or e-mail. They can also obtain current status updates on the tickets they submit.

– Knowledge management. Products that have this feature usually include self-serve incident submission and tracking as well. Help desk staff compile information on common requests into a searchable list of issues and solutions for end-users.

Internal Knowledgebase » A centralized database of problems and solutions. This tool takes the documentation of resolution techniques one step further, enabling support staff to maximize knowledge-sharing and increase their efficiency.

Description                                                                 Function

Asset Management » Though not as robust as a full asset management system, higher-end help desk solutions offer some degree of asset management functionality:

– Automated inventory audits of PC and non-PC assets.

– Configuration and service histories.

– Software license management.

Description                                                                   Component

configuration changes without needing a desk side visit.

– Software license optimization. Tracks and analyzes application usage, allowing IT to reduce or eliminate license bloat.

Service Level Management » This component enables IT to ensure it is meeting the needs of business end-users by managing internal service level agreements. The software facilitates the following processes:

– Definition of conditions and service targets (e.g. performance or service availability metrics).

– Drafting of service level agreements.

– Monitoring and measurement of service targets.

– Scheduling of performance audits.

– Cost of service calculations.

» In some ITSM solutions, service level management is incorporated into the service desk tools and does not exist as an independent component.

Change Management » This set of tools guides and facilitates IT in the planning and execution of change processes, including the following:

– Prioritization and scheduling of change requests.

– Obtaining required approval for changes.

– Project assignment (internal and outsourced).

– Status tracking.

– Post-implementation verification.

» In certain ITSM suites, change management functionality is built into the service desk component or asset management system.

Key Questions

a)

Does the help desk receive two or more calls per end-user per month?

b)

Does the enterprise have at least 100 PCs?

c)

Does IT handle at least 100 change requests per month?
Note: These numbers may vary depending on the complexity of the IT environment.
Responses Recommended Solution Type

a

b

c

No

No

No

Basic help desk tracking solution.

Yes

Higher-end help desk tracking solution with change management module or tool.

Yes

No

Higher-end help desk tracking solution with asset management.

Yes

ITSM solution or higher-end help desk tracking solution with asset management and change management module or tool.

Yes

No

No

Higher-end help desk tracking solution with self-service features.

Yes

ITSM solution or higher-end help desk tracking solution with self-service and change management module or tool.

Yes

No

ITSM solution or higher-end help desk tracking solution with self-service and asset management.

Yes

ITSM solution.
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