So, what features should you look for in IT help desk software and why?
The Best Help Desk Features for Smaller Businesses
There are a variety of IT help desk software solutions on the market (I’ve tried a few) and their focus ranges from the smallest to the largest of companies. In meeting the requirements of different size organizations, the offered capabilities vary – but so does the complexity and the cost.
So, if you’re a smaller business that’s growing, and you want to improve your IT support capabilities, then there are a number of key features to seek out in help desk ticketing software, across five key areas:
- The technology
- The ease-of-use
- The core capabilities
- Additional capabilities
- The IT help desk software supplier
The following 5 points also articulate the “hows” mentioned earlier.
1. The Technology
Most help desk ticketing software will come in two delivery models: on-premises and software-as-a-service (SaaS), with the latter often marketed as “cloud.”
More and more organizations, of all sizes (so not just smaller businesses), are now opting for the SaaS (or cloud) delivery model due to a number of benefits this offers over on-premises software. These include:
- A simple, subscription-based pricing model – usually an all-inclusive cost per month (or year) per user for the core help desk capabilities. I prefer simple.
- No hosting and application maintenance effort and cost involved – as these are “shouldered” by the service supplier.
- A lower total cost of ownership (TCO).
- A higher release cadence, which means that new capabilities are delivered sooner.
- It’s quicker to achieve ready-to-use status – whether this is the time to initially deploy or upgrading to the next release.
- Integrations tend to be easier than with traditional on-premises solutions.
- Cloud offers levels of scalability, security, and availability beyond what’s economical (and potentially achievable) for smaller businesses.
Beyond the delivery model, how the IT help desk software is designed is important too. For instance, different modules should ideally be on the same platform, use a single database, and have a consistent look and feel. This not only applies to core IT support capabilities, but also any other additional capabilities offered. For instance, remote control or IT asset management capabilities.
2. The Ease-of-Use
For IT help desk software, ease-of-use covers a number of things. Firstly, there’s the ease of set up – to match your business’ needs. Then there’s the needs of the IT support staff, who use it all day every day, and how easy it is for them to work within the help desk ticketing software. And finally, there’s the ease-of-use for end users as they seek and receive IT support via channels such as self-service – there’s more on this in my next point.
Ideally, the IT help desk software should be as easy to use as consumer-world products and services across all three of the above scenarios.
3. The Core Capabilities
Many of the core capabilities to seek in IT help desk software relate to industry best practice and the formalization of various IT support activities. Good examples include:
Ticketing – the ability to log end-user calls (whether they arrive in person or via email, telephone, or the self-service portal). This provides a complete list of the work at hand – both issues and requests for new stuff – that allows IT support staff to prioritize their work order, both individually and among themselves. It also allows for transparency into progress. For instance, if an end user would like an update. Or where certain issues or requests have not been completed in the agreed, or an acceptable, timeframe. This speeds up work, prioritizes effort, removes confusion and duplication of effort, reduces operational costs, and improves the quality of support.
Knowledge sharing – the ticket data can be used to create a knowledge database that helps IT support staff to collectively know more than they personally know. This enables quicker resolutions and prevents “wheel reinvention.” Staff can also independently document what they know in knowledge articles – again making the team collectively smarter. Finally, the knowledge can also be positioned – using self-service – to help end users to help themselves. This adds to the above benefits of the ticketing capabilities, with an additional benefit being that there’s a body of knowledge available to new staff to speed up their induction and quickly increase their operational capabilities.
Self-service – if end users can help themselves, then they will most likely get a quicker resolution than waiting for IT support personnel to be available to help. This might be the ability to order pre-approved items, to self-diagnose and rectify issues using the knowledge base, or to use automation to set up accounts or to install software. This provides a quicker service to end users, so that they can regain full productivity ASAP, while also taking some of the pressure off your IT support staff. Self-help is also proven to be the most-economical form of IT support (see slide 28 here).
Chat – this is something that your employees are increasingly using in their personal lives and, as with self-service, there will likely be the expectation for multi-channel IT support. It can also be a better use of IT support staff and end-user time than the telephone channel. Chat can also remove the need for travel when remote control capabilities are used.
A configuration management database (CMDB) – this capability will allow your IT support staff to maintain a detailed record, and understanding, of the components that make up the IT services they deliver and support. For example, everything that’s involved in delivering an internet commerce website. It allows support staff to better understand both what’s involved when trying to resolve issues and the impact of future changes. Ideally, the CMDB is populated using a network discovery capability rather than manually.
Automation – this is, wherever possible, removing low-value, repetitive tasks. This might be the auto-conversion of emails into tickets, automated issue/ticket prioritization, the automated routing of tickets to the correct person or group for resolution, automated notifications of progress or delays (including automated escalations), or the delivery of automated resolutions – such as automated password reset – and automated provisioning.
Management insight and reporting – because all IT support work is now being logged within the IT help desk software, there’s the ability to understand how both individuals and the team as a whole are performing. This can be the comparison of performance against set targets, against previous periods, individuals versus other individuals, or the use of benchmarks created using aggregated customer data (provided by the help desk supplier). This opens up a wealth of data that can be used to improve IT support performance, create new knowledge articles, and drive further opportunities to speed up resolutions, reduce costs, and improve the customer experience.
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4. Additional Capabilities
While help desk ticketing software might only be needed for dealing with IT issues and requests for additional IT products and services, IT help desk software can include so much more than what has already been covered.
If your business only needs the core help desk capabilities, then please jump to point 5. However, if your growth rate means that you’re looking for more than ticketing, then please carry on with this point – with all of these additional capabilities offering extra benefits to your IT support operations. For example:
Network discovery – this is the discovery, either via an agent or an agentless service, of network-connected computers running operating systems such as Windows, Linux, Mac, and Unix. Or mobile devices running iOS and Android. Or even SNMP-capable devices. This facilitates CMDB population and thus issue resolution and change control. Plus, it provides asset-related data for IT asset management needs.
IT asset management – this is an inventory and management capability for hardware and software. Plus, the ability to manage non-IT assets. The aforementioned network discovery capability will show which assets are network connected, their attributes, plus the installed software – making your organization able to understand its licensing-compliance position. These and other capabilities will allow for greater control and cost reductions through better asset management.
Monitoring – let the technology monitor your IT infrastructure for issues. Receive automated alerts and notifications that can trigger either manual or automated remediation efforts. With the notifications auto-creating tickets in your IT help desk software. It gives IT support the ability to identify and correct issues before they start to affect end users and business operations.
Mobile device management – this capability allows IT support to better manage mobile devices. From setting device policies and services to security-based activities such as locking or wiping devices when circumstances require it.
Remote control – this allows IT support people to take control of end-user devices to both better understand their issues and to affect resolutions. It can also be used to manually install software when needed. Thus, saving time and money and delivering a better customer experience.
Patch management – given the increasing levels of IT security threats, the use of an automated patch management capability will save your business time and money as well as protecting it from the unwanted consequences of threats such as malware, etc.
These additional capabilities will provide further benefits to your business that reduce downtown and costs while speeding up IT support activities through automation.
5. The IT Help Desk Software Supplier
While the previous four points have focused on the IT help desk software and what it can do, there’s also a need to understand how you’ll be treated as a customer of the software provider (and I love being treated as a customer). From the level, and quality, of support when things go wrong to how you are valued as their customer.
It’s ultimately important to understand the type of relationship that will evolve. For instance, will you have little contact except for support transactions and a periodical renewal conversation? Or will the supplier proactively help you to get greater value from your help desk ticketing software (especially as your business grows)? For example, assisting in extending the use of the IT help desk software to fulfill the need for customer service software.
So, this is why and how your business will benefit from IT help desk software and the capabilities it offers.