How to Evaluate Help Desk Software: Top 10 Considerations

 
 
By Vance F. Brown  |  Posted 2011-01-18
 
 
 

How to Evaluate Help Desk Software: Top 10 Considerations


As technological innovation continues to outpace change in the IT department, it is not surprising to see confusion in the help desk software industry. Evaluation of a robust help desk software solution requires an understanding of IT best practices and how new systems can offer customization and scalability at competitive prices.

Moving past cumbersome legacy systems does require an investment in time and capital, but results in more nimble and efficient customer service. Choosing the right service desk vendor to take you into the modern age requires you to first tackle some industry considerations and misconceptions. Here are the top 10 considerations to keep in mind when evaluating help desk software for your company.

Consideration No. 1: Standardization of multiple help desks

As the standard for IT best practices, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) adoption allowed for the standardization of multiple help desks that were utilizing many different IT infrastructures. ITIL is intended to allow IT personnel to move to another IT location without the need to learn localized terminology. Similar to the accounting industry's adoption of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), IT is embracing standardized best practices of ITIL.

The complete service desk delivers all custom support on a daily basis including management of incidents, problems, changes, configurations and new releases. With the service desk operating as the point of contact for customers, proper implementation of the service desk is paramount for success. Thankfully, there are service desk solutions available that feature newer ITIL standards and allow for the gradual training of your current staff.

Consideration No. 2: ITIL is Designed as a Framework


Consideration No. 2: ITIL is designed as a framework

ITIL is designed as a framework, not a step-by-step methodology. Your organization is unique. The ITIL system can't prioritize IT issues specific to your business, but it does promote setting priority levels to incidents tied to existing service-level agreements (SLAs). It also does not mandate the level of detail used to track your configuration items (for example, computer, workstation and software licenses); it simply allows tracking of incidents per item.

Being armed with this knowledge allows you to better review potential service desk software solutions to ensure the system offers unlimited configurability. This customization should be achievable without the use of a programmer in order to handle ever-changing business needs.

Consideration No. 3: Expanded data storage capabilities

Modern technology advances have greatly expanded data storage capabilities and allowed instant management of that data. Choosing a system with real-time knowledge management pays immediate dividends in IT staff productivity and customer satisfaction.

You should be able to search the Internet and internal databases for past incidents, change requests and white paper data, which allows the usage of data to actually solve real-world problems. Are you tied to a legacy system through a decade of upkeep and investment? Breaking free can be a challenge but modern systems both accomplish more and cost less.

Consideration No. 4: Multilocation Sharing


Consideration No. 4: Multilocation sharing

Early Internet-based applications functioned as "mainframes" with computations executed on a central server and then sent out to local client computers. This did not harness the local computer's processing power, resulting in inefficiencies caused by slower connections or bandwidth issues.

The best of both worlds can be brought to the service desk solution: the multilocation sharing of the Web and the client experience of Windows. Solutions using Microsoft's .Net programming environment allow fast business logic that is performed on local computer systems, allowing IT to tailor the right task to either a browser-based or client application-based solution.

Consideration No. 5: Low cost with high scalability and customization

Service desk solutions used to fit into three markets: small businesses under $25M in revenue, midmarket firms with $25M to $250M in revenue and large enterprise companies with more than $250M in revenue. Previously, only the enterprise-level companies could purchase customizable and scalable solutions without limitation. Software vendors understood the economics. Why chase five $50,000 deals when you can focus on one big $500,000 enterprise client? Technology allows a marriage of low cost with high scalability and customization, with solutions that are easy to install and maintain and inexpensive to customize.

Consideration No. 6: Change of Ownership


Consideration No. 6: Change of ownership

For IT service desk solution companies, constant change of ownership and focus on "exit strategies" have shifted their priorities from satisfying customers to growing a customer base and then selling the company. This change in priorities results in industry confusion, with many leading vendors changing ownership multiple times over short time frames.

Many of these newly formed companies push clients to more expensive product lines and phase out or decrease R&D for the less expensive products. How does this alter your choice of service desk provider? Look at their product lines and code bases, with a clear view of how multiple changes of ownership might dilute their product. Lean towards those firms that exhibit clear focus and stability.

Consideration No. 7: Dedicated following of ITIL best practices

Dedicated following of ITIL best practices require that every IT request is tracked and recorded. A 20-second customer call asking for a reset password should be tracked. With modern technology, it's possible to run the program to reset the password, create incident fields, and send the user a confirmation e-mail with just one click.

A hundred undocumented "small" tasks in a day result in perceived department inefficiencies by management. "Known problems" should also be automated, with incidents that can be created in seconds and all future inquiries into that issue should receive automated resolution. Don't purchase a system that can't handle automation of routine or redundant tasks.

Consideration No. 8: Serving the Customer


Consideration No. 8: Serving the customer

Serving the customer should always be the focus of any software vendor. Great systems without customer care are not worth your time. From the initial receptionist contact through your sales contact, do you feel the company will proactively handle requests and problems? Could you get the CEO on the line for unresolved issues? Find a vendor that can guarantee their focus on providing you with a configurable product specific to your business environment.

Consideration No. 9: Pricing new help desk solutions

When you get to the pricing discussion for a new IT service desk solution, remember a golden rule: a complex pricing model means hidden costs. There are important questions you should ask. Does the system include all ITIL-related activities for incident, problem, change and configuration management? If not, are they available as expensive extra "modules"? How much does configuration and customization cost?

Ask the vendor to outline yearly fees for maintenance, support and solution updates. Remember, the line between "midmarket" and "enterprise" solutions is rapidly dissolving due to technological innovation. Don't pigeonhole your company into one type of solution.

Consideration No. 10: Follow Your Instincts


Consideration No. 10: Follow your instincts

When choosing any ongoing business relationship, you need to trust your gut after performing due diligence. Follow your instincts when choosing a service desk provider. Do you trust the vendor's technical expertise and ability to respond to your questions? Do you get a feeling of trust and openness from your sales consultant? Whichever company you select, you will be working very closely with their team so it doesn't hurt if you like and respect their personnel.

Conclusion

Hopefully these ten tips clear some of the confusion from the process of choosing the right service desk software provider. Now is a great time to shop for the right solution to enjoy the convergence of technological progress with proven best practices. Whichever solution you choose, make sure you take a long-term view of the relationship, especially in terms of the customer satisfaction payoffs that will come from a modern service desk solution.

Vance F. Brown is CEO of Cherwell Software. Vance has been involved in the IT service industry for over 10 years. From 1996 to 2000, Vance was president and CEO of GoldMine Software Corporation (formerly Bendata and currently FrontRange Solutions). Vance graduated from Wake Forest University, summa cum laude, with degrees in Economics and Computer Science. He graduated from law school, with honors, from the University of North Carolina, finishing as a member of the Order of the Coif and the Law Review. He can be reached at vance.brown@cherwellsoftware.com.

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