Technology Focus: Apps for Modernizing the IT Help Desk

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There are software solutions for providing help desk services that are more economical than building a custom application.

 

While it can be a major challenge to provide help-desk services, there's rarely much discussion of software applications that can manage that function, commonly referred to as IT service management, or ITSM. Part of the problem is that regardless of whether one is speaking of helping users of internal IT services, customers of various software applications, or clients of full-blown cloud-services, there's always a strong element of the "our requirements are unique, and no off-the-shelf product can do everything we need" syndrome.

Yet, whether one is referring to assisting users with computer services or providing help with third-party software applications, many help-desk products offer some of the same essential functions, regardless of the platforms involved. These include easy entry of problem information for users who may not be as technically savvy as others, mechanisms for assigning and tracking speed and execution of remedial staff actions, a management-reporting system that can take a broad view of all help-desk activity, and ideally, a knowledgebase of fixes to common problems that end users can use to resolve simple dilemmas without involving the support staff.

Help Desk for IT vs. Help Desk for Applications and Cloud

Of course, despite broad similarities between help desks for internal IT users and those for users of your company's applications across the world, there are differences. Primary among these are user expectations.

"Captive audiences are more accepting of what their company provides, especially when it is their sole gateway to resolving issues," notes Ira Chandler, chief technical officer for Curbstone Corporation. "The public, on the other hand, is spoiled and demands that their services be delivered with a bow of gold foil and a mint on the pillow." Companies providing help with their own application software or cloud services have to be particularly careful because "all customer interactions, especially in resolving post-sale issues, will determine the future purchasing actions of that customer and their friends," Chandler underscores. "As a further challenge, a customer-facing application must require zero skills to navigate and operate, [while] internal apps can have accompanying training and support from the IT staff."

Other differences include issues such as the need to comply with service-level agreements and associated timelines, auditing requirements, and the need in some cases for a help-desk request-input system to accommodate both service requests and other functions such as handling change requests for software functions.

The Need (or Not) for ITIL Compliance

A relatively recent issue for help-desk applications is the question of whether or not to conform to standards called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Originally, this was a methodology that described procedures and other means of integrating ITSM with organizational strategy in a general sense. Since 2013, the term was acquired by AXELOS, Ltd., which currently provides detailed requirements, certification options, and other information for ITSM providers. AXELOS defines ITIL as a methodology for "how to use IT as a tool to facilitate business change, transformation and growth," but the methodology isn't unique to any computer platform or business type. Nevertheless, it is a system for planning service strategies, designing those services, modifying those services, managing the services in supported environments, and managing incremental and large-scale service improvements.

"Our observation is that voluntary standards compliance is a black-or-white issue," observes Curbstone's Chandler. "Companies large enough to stomach the costs of implementing ITIL-compliance software generally have internal mandates requiring it. The vast majority of companies that don't have mandates will not be able to afford the overhead of implementing an ITIL solution. So there is plenty of room for both in the marketplace."

Other Issues in Help-Desk Features

As is the case with many other kinds of business software applications, the future of help-desk software is full of technologically inspired land mines. Principal among these are supporting feedback via user devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and traditional workstations.

"The variations in screen sizes alone are daunting," observes Chandler, "and the existing middleware products that claim to be 'responsive' are ill-suited to the complex forms typical of a help desk. The current crop of responsive website engines requires tedious manual adjustment to ensure that the presentations are equally useful on all screen sizes and layouts."

Another growing problem is supporting communications back to the requesting users on social media. "Just having a desk that accepts issues and tracks them doesn't satisfy some users who want a Twitter feed of the progress or alerts when an issue hits a particular status. And that doesn't include external postings for companies who want to publish their solutions via a website, Tweets, Facebook pages, LinkedIn feeds, or even RSS. Add in the posting of FAQs that are generated from help-desk solutions, and we have a cross-posting challenge of monumental proportions," Chandler points out.

Selecting a Help-Desk Application

Off-the-shelf help-desk applications offer a variety of features for managing user requests. In many cases, some customization of such products is possible by arrangement with the manufacturer. Selecting a product based on enterprise needs and doing some customization for special situations can often be more economical than creating an application from scratch and maintaining that software internally.

Profiled below are full-featured help-desk applications for IBM i servers, which either run natively or under IBM/Lotus Domino. The list doesn't include software products that provide single-purpose help-desk functions such as password reset requests. Also included are some selected help-desk applications that run under Windows or other web-accessible systems because many enterprises operate their help desks on platforms other than IBM i servers. Please note that the product profiles merely mention some highlights of available features. More complete information is available via the links to vendor websites or by contacting the vendors directly.

Help Desk Applications for IBM i

ARCAD Software

ARCAD-Customer

ARCAD-Customer tracks any kind of service request submitted to IT departments. The product includes a rich-client interface for PC workstations, a 5250 interface, plug-in interfaces for Eclipse/RDp and Rational Application Developer, and links to custom service-desk tools.

IT Service Management

IT Service Management is an automated system for reporting and tracking the status of help-desk and software-modification requests submitted to IT by end users and executives. Software change requests are evaluated for economic and organizational impacts, and approved requests become maintenance reports that identify work required and track the progress of tasks. This product also links with the company's ARCAD-Skipper change-management request application.

CICS.Com, a division of UNICOM Global

Help Desk for Lotus Notes

Help Desk for Lotus Notes provides help-desk functions for IBM i servers running Domino 7.2 or later. The product helps users manage and track service requests and service contracts, manage assets, compile help-desk performance statistics, generate reports on a variety of criteria, and remotely submit requests and check ticket progress.

Curbstone Corporation

Mantis/400

Mantis/400 is a freeware help-desk application. Written in PHP, it lets users create and manage responses to internal and external support issues. It works with any web browser or client OS, lets users respond via email, and works with DB2. Use of the product requires download of Zend Corporation's Zend Server.

GroupSoft

GS/Help Desk

GS/HelpDesk is aninternal IT service management solution for IBM Lotus Notes/Domino with support for the Notes client, desktop browser, and mobile devices. Features include support for the three most commonly implemented ITIL service-support processes, the ability to update and close requests via mobile devices, email templates with field merging from incident reports, help-desk staff training and certification data, automatic task assignments based on request type, and separate tracking of time-to-acknowledgement and time-to-close data.

GS/Service Desk

GS/ServiceDesk is a customer-service solution for IBM Notes/Domino and the Web. It automatically converts web and email requests to service requests, automatically links user replies to existing service requests, enables acknowledgement and closing of requests from any mail client on any device, performs elapsed-time tracking, and offers multiple escalation levels.

Hesk.com

Hesk Help Desk Software

Hesk is PHP-based freeware available for a one-time support fee. Features include a centralized support system, the ability to set up and sort request tickets into unlimited categories, a knowledgebase that helps users solve their own common problems, as well as email notifications and tracking of time spent on individual tickets by IT personnel.

iSupport Software

iSupport Incident Management

iSupport Incident Management is IT help-desk software that lets users configure custom forms, workflows, and integrations with other applications to provide a reporting system for help requests. Features include email request processing, request-routing priority settings, graphical support for ad hoc approvals, unlimited custom fields, escalation, service-level agreement reporting, and access to a knowledge base.

iSupport Service Desk Edition

iSupport Service Desk Edition is a service-delivery application for IT departments. The product includes real-time and scheduled reporting, support for mobile devices and smartphones, configurable workflow rules, email request processing, social-media integration, discussion forums with polling and voting, and facilities for handling incident, problem, and change-management requests.

SoftLanding Systems, a division of UNICOM Global

EXPRESSDESK for iSeries

EXPRESSDESK for iSeries is an issue-tracking and help-desk solution that combines browser-based end user self-service features. Users can find answers to their own technical questions, submit requests, and track issue progress without involving technical-support staff. The product also interfaces with SoftLanding's TURNOVER application for project control and change-management.

Time Technology

Essential Help Desk

Essential Help Desk is designed for Lotus Notes clients and servers running Domino V4 or higher. The product handles incident management, call and email logging, customized call scripts for help-desk personnel, customer profiles, and service-level agreement measurements. The product also includes a connector for MS Outlook and integrates with IBM DB2 Content Manager and IBM Filenet P8.

Selected Help-Desk Solutions for Web Clients

Codel Software

Activ Helpdesk for Lotus Notes

Activ Helpdesk for Lotus Notes offers browser-based help-desk services for Lotus Notes users that includes FAQ-based questionnaires for users submitting requests, call scripting for help-desk personnel, a self-help knowledgebase of past problem solutions, automatic escalation, and tracking of request status.

IBM Corporation

IBM Control Desk

IBM Control Desk is a smart-cloud service offering for multiplatform environments, including IBM i, that runs via browsers. The service automatically turns inbound email requests into service requests, prioritizes incident responses, tracks and records all changes, and uses embedded diagnostics and a searchable knowledgebase.

Polar Software

Polar Help Desk 5

Polar Help Desk 5 lets enterprises manage and provide support services to employees and customers via a web-based help-desk portal. The product lets users manage incident and work orders, handle all transactions via Internet or email, monitor service-level agreements, customize user roles and permissions, change national languages, and integrate the product with other applications via an HTTP-based API.

SolarWinds

Web Help Desk

Web Help Desk automates help-desk operations by giving browser users access to help-desk ticketing with rule-based escalation, request tracking and reporting, a built-in knowledgebase, service-level agreement tracking and management, and help-desk performance reporting.

Selected Help Desk Solutions for Windows Clients

Freshdesk

Freshservice

Freshservice is service-desk management software that includes facilities for incident and problem management, software change and release management, and asset and contract management, along with a knowledgebase, ITIL compatibility, and service-catalog access.

Kayako

Kayako

Kayako offers an automated customer service and help-desk ticketing system that translates correspondence from voice, web, chat, and email systems. It prioritizes service requests, provides status windows for following progress, and can even suggest answers to common questions as requesters type in their problems.

ManageEngine

ServiceDesk Plus

ServiceDesk Plus is an application for handling help-desk, IT project management, and service-level agreement processes. Features include automatic ticket dispatching, customizable business rules, reporting on ticket resolution, data archiving, data access via mobile devices, a self-service web portal, and user surveys.

PhaseWare

Self Service Center

Self Service Center is a customer-service help-desk solution that lets customers and other users report and track problems and the resolution, search for solutions to common problems, and execute reports and manage their own information. It also provides mechanisms for companies to issue online software updates and publish company information.

Tracker

Tracker is a family of Windows-based products that help executives and help-desk personnel stay abreast of customer-support systems and track issues and complaints. Features include support for mobile devices, dashboard-style information presentation, and knowledgebase searches.

Zendesk

Zendesk

Zendesk helps help-desk or customer-support desk agents handle service requests. It includes ticket-management, knowledgebases, and a community forum. It can provide a single point of contact by accepting requests from web, email, landline or mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, and online chats.

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