HelpMaster Service Management Software Blog

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Practical tips and information about running an efficient service desk. News and information about HelpMaster, PRD Software and the ITSM industry.


CeBIT review 2018 - PRD Software exhibits HelpMaster helpdesk software

PRD Software recently exhibited at the annual CeBIT in Sydney to showcase our IT helpdesk software product, HelpMaster.

As usual, CeBIT was busy and had a good cross-section of delegates and visitors.  The HelpMaster team were doing non-stop product demos for 3 days straight.  Each year, the face-to-face interaction with people from the IT support industry reveals something new.  This year was particularly interesting.

Here are some key points.

Almost no mention of ITIL

Hooray!!!....at last!!  What a refreshing change!

In previous years, ITIL was a frequent discussion point. As a vendor, it was frustrating trying to answer ITIL-based questions, whilst at the same time trying to correct/educate people on their mis-application and/or understanding of what ITIL is and is not.  In previous years, it was obvious to spot those who had just done an ITIL foundation course, or who were part of a team/business unit that was undergoing some sort of ITIL transformation (whatever that is).  What a relief it was not to hear the question "Is it ITIL compliant?"

Managed Services Providers (MSP) are on the rise!

There was an increased number of MSP representatives visiting the booth this year.  Young ones, old ones, and a good diversity from Australia and beyond.  Almost all of them already had some sort of ticketing solution in place (mainly Autotask, ConnectWise, SalesForce, ManageEngine), but almost all of them were dissatisfied with the software.  

Interesting.  

Naturally, we pressed them to speak of their pain-points.  Common complaints were:
    • Too expensive, with long-term contacts that they are stuck with
    • Their hosted data was not fully available to them (for custom reports, exports, analysis etc.)
    • Limited functionality, or missing functionality - particularly around time, billing and integration with accounting apps.
    • Limited reporting and/or exporting abilities.
    • Perhaps the biggest complaint was the performance of the hosted app.  Almost everyone commented on how slow their application was, and how unreliable it was.  Compounding this was the inability to quickly and effectively speak to someone on the provider-side to address the situation.

MSPs are tech-savvy, no-nonsense users of this style of software.  They know what they want, and they know what doesn't work.  Speaking with representatives from the MSP market is always enlightening.  HelpMaster is already used by quite a few MSPs, but this is a market that we're definitely developing for.  Stay tuned!

Australian Made Helpdesk Software

As usual, the HelpMaster stand was displaying our "Australian Made" banner.  We also went with the simple "Helpdesk Software" fascia, rather than "ITSM", the company name, or some such acronym that means nothing to most.  This approach stopped a lot of people in their tracks.  We were encouraged by the number of people that were pleasantly surprised by the combination of these "Australian-made", and "Helpdesk Software".  Now you know!  There is Australian made Helpdesk Software out there.   It was great to connect with IT workers and consultants that were impressed and interested to find us.  

Many people using foreign-made ITSM software were dismayed by the lack of product support outside of sales channels.  Again, the face-to-face communication that CeBIT offers us provides valuable insight.

australian helpdesk software

 

On-Premise ITSM Software

There is still a market for on-premise software, and it was reassuring to meet many who preferred their helpdesk and business data to be fully controlled by them, on-site, using their infrastructure.  It seems the SAAS market has burned quite a few service-desk operations with limited reporting AND a lack of in-app reporting.  This can be a deadly combination for SAAS vendors.  

A very common question we faced this year was "What is the licensing and cost for this product?"  We actually ran out of our licensing and pricing brochure because of this (note for next year).  The perpetual licensing model of HelpMaster also means that you can buy the software once, and use it forever.  No more vendor-lock-in with monthly fees, and holding your data.  It was interesting to see the positive reaction of people when they enquired about our licensing model, and they loved the fact that we were upfront about all costs, no jumping through hoops or vague answers.

Running a helpdesk with Microsoft Outlook

As usual, we also met a number of businesses that are using Outlook as a support and helpdesk system.  For start-ups and small business, this is a natural occurrence, however this year we met more than a few mid-sized, well established businesses (household name businesses) that are still colour-coding email, sorting into customer folders and tagging email for various staff to respond to.  

If you are a business that is still running your customer support operations entirely out of email, please know that there is a much better way that will yield a massive increase in productivity, transparency, efficiency and overall customer satisfaction.  Check out http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Product/Features/Email-to-ticket-conversion Contact us for a demo and let us show you!  The HelpMaster Email Manager is one of the most popular and powerful components of HelpMaster.

IT Trade-shows are awesome!

Trade-shows are a highlight of the year for us.  It's great to get out of the office, mix it up and meet people face-to-face.  It gives us an opportunity to test our software against the reality of a "give me a 2 minute demo".  It's like an elevator pitch for software demos.  Most importantly, it gives us the chance meet with existing clients, meet new people, connect with old acquaintances and strengthen the bonds of business friendships once again.

Thanks to everyone that stopped at the HelpMaster stand to say hi.  We really appreciate it.


Building a web request portal for client self-service. Part 1

Having a web request portal for clients and staff to lodge requests, submit support tickets, and browse information is a part of the modern business.  Service catalogs, web request portals, and self-help sites have come a long way in recent times, and are increasingly being used for the whole business, not just for IT related issues.  Think enterprise service portal - not just IT helpdesk.

The web portal for the latest release of HelpMaster gives business a great platform to design and host a web request portal for staff and clients.

In order to help you get going, here's some brief information and tips on how to get started.

Introducing the new HelpMaster objects

HelpMaster v17 introduced a number of new concepts and features that are used in building a web request portal.

These are:

  • Request Catalogs
  • Control Sets

Together these combine with the existing concept/feature of Job templates to create a flexible and powerful web self-service portal.

Request Catalogs are top-level web objects that are groupings of Job Templates.  Think of a Request Catalog as a container of Job templates that are grouped together into business functionality. 

Common Request Catalogs would be:

  • IT Helpdesk / Service desk
  • Facilities Management
  • Human Resources
  • Legal and Financial
  • Security and Incident Management
  • …etc.

They represent different functional areas of the business.

Inside each Request Catalog is a number of relevant "Job Templates" that the user can select from.  These job templates are used to capture relevant details about the job type, and contain all of the business logic and workflow that will be used for the job life-cycle.  The new Control Sets may be used to create "forms" that are used to capture specific information for a given context.

Here's some screen-snaps of the web portal in action, and how the different HelpMaster objects link together to form a great web request experience for users.

web service catalog request portal for the it help desk

 

The default job templates can quickly be improved by linking them with relevant "Control Sets".  These are the "smart forms" that HelpMaster uses to capture user data.   Add one or more "Control Sets" to each Job Template for a rich data-capture experience.

Here's an overview of these objects

web portal service catalog design objects

In the next post, we'll look at practical ways to building a web request portal, and some of the best-practices involved.  (hint - it's all about communication)

In the meantime, read about these features in the helpfile, post something here, or contact PRD Software for further information.  Better yet - start designing your web portal and start thinking about service delivery with your team.


Practical ways to improve the quality of your service-desk email communication

Improve the quality, content and visual presentation of your service-desk email

Email plays an important role at the service-desk, whether it be in-coming, out-going, or just internal communication with other members of your support team. Although other notification channels are available for service-oriented support, such as chat, web and a range of pop-up notifications alert mechanisms, email offers a rich medium for sharing content, attachments, and offers very good opportunities for automation.

It's not uncommon to see a lot of email being passed around at the helpdesk, with a lot of it generated from the service-desk tool being used.  Here's a quick summary of some of the more common types of email that you'll typically see in a service-desk environment.

A new incident is logged

Typically 2 emails are sent for this event, and both serve to confirm and alert to the fact that a new incident has been logged.  Both emails open the door to further email automation such (see below).

  1. Email the staff member / technician that is assigned the job to let them know.
  2. Email the client that the incident is logged for.  This serves as an acknowledgement, and gives them their unique tracking number

service management incident email

An incident is re-assigned

  1. Email the staff member / technician to let them know they have a new job (can be the same email as when a new incident is logged)

service management re-assign email notification

 

 

A client updates their job (via any means - email, calling the service desk, or updating via the web portal)

  1. Email the staff member to let them know that something has happened to their job
  2. Email the client to let them know that you have received their update.  Think about this one.  Some think that sending another email to confirm that you have received an email is too much.  Others think this is a suitable service-desk practice.  (let us know in the comments below!)

 

When an incident is closed

Email the client when their incident/ticket is closed.  Tell them that it's closed, and any relevant resolution details.  Invite feedback regarding their service experience via a survey link.

ITIL service management resolve and close email

 

Checking on the status of a job

Another common practice in customer service is to follow-up on aging jobs, particularly if you haven't heard back from the customer in a reasonable amount of time.  This is especially relevant when your service desk technician has replied to the client with a resolution, or has asked them for further information, yet no response has been forthcoming.

This style of email should be short, direct, and remind the client what the issue was, and the resolution/last update that was provided by the service desk team.  It is not uncommon to automatically close the job if this email is not responded to within a reasonable amount of time.

 

ITIL service management status confirmation email 

 

Escalation / SLA approaching / SLA breach

The key elements in this style of email is information that clearly states what has happened, and all of the relevant time, date and SLA details.  Provide a call-to-action that clearly states what should be done next as a matter of priority.

 

ITIL service management sla breach email example 

 

A style-guide for your service-desk email communication

Don't be the helpdesk that just sends out plain text email. 

Add some flair to your communications and show some class.  A well-crafted email, with effective graphics, fonts and styling can say a lot about your support operations.  Spend time on your design, and collaborate with team members to continually improve the quality of your communications via email.

 

helpdesk email template

 

  1. Colour-code your templates.  Consider using different colours/themes for different types of email.  Green for staff, blue for clients, reds for escalation/sla etc.  This will instantly identify the type of email the person is receiving.  (see the downloads section below for some great examples).  Also, consider using your corporate colours for headers/footers etc.

  2. Design your templates so that they are consistent in terms of look, content and styling.  This will help identify them and provide a professional approach to your service-operations communications.

  3. Make them easy to understand and quick to the point.  Remember that the whole point of these emails is to offer a quick snap-shot of a single action that has just occured.  They are designed to be read, understood, then deleted.

  4. Where appropriate, have a clear call to action.  Make it easy for the person receiving the email to understand whether any action is required, or expected of them.

  5. Provide all the ticket information that is required, but no more.  Embed email-tags into the email template to provide context.  Consider including the summary of the ticket in the subject of the email, and the full details of the original request in the body.

  6. Always include the unique ticket/job number in the subject and/or body of the email.  This will enable automation, as well as giving the staff or client a clear reference to the actual job.

  7. When emailing customers of the service-desk, consider including brief details about the contact information you have for them.  If it's wrong, they can tell you, and you can retain up-to-date information for your clients.

  8. Make them automation friendly.  If using email automation, design the email in a way that will enable them to be automatically processed.  Automation may include the ability to update existing tickets, or provide staff with the ability to issue email-based commands that can trigger certain actions such as re-assignment, auto-close, escalation and more.  See Email Automation patterns for the helpdesk for use with the HelpMaster Email Manager.

  9. Go rich text!  Why stay in plain text if you don't have to.  HelpMaster supports full HTML, and can import and render Microsoft Word documents.  Include pictures, hyperlinks, tables, frames and other formatting object.  Remove all traces of Times New Roman as a font!  Choose a font that is up-beat, snappy and modern

  10. Market your helpdesk and support services while you're sending email.  Be careful not to over-do this one.  Include a graphical footer for your company and any relevant news and events.

  11. Provide links to social media pages, or other services.  Consider including operating hours, and contact details in any client-facing email - even if it's just a link to the self-service portal

  12. Watch your language!  Consider the language you use when composing.  Does it have to be so formal and stiff?  Strike a balance between between being business like and being personable.  Remember that staff and clients emails can have a different tone.  Us vs Them!?

  13. Design your email in Microsoft Word, then import into HelpMaster.  Many people are comfortable creating documents with the Microsoft Word environment.  Use the text formatting features, tables, shading and colouring that you're used to, and then save your Word document.  Import into HelpMaster using the "File > Open" menu on the Email Template toolbar.

  14. Make it fun.  Consider including images in some types of emails to deliver a graphical punch, and say what 1000 words cannot.  SLA approaching breach?  A ticking bomb, countdown timer, angry face, of a picture of the client!?  What image would you use for a failed hardware/software test?  What about a delighted customer?  Use your imagination, but don't overuse.

 

 

Download some examples

Want to see some of these ideas in action? 

Click the link below for to download some basic templates that have been created in Microsoft Word format.   These documents can be used in any service management tool and are ready to be imported in HelpMaster, and contain relevant HelpMaster email tags.  All you have to do is change the words and links and graphics to suit your style and you're ready to go.

Download now, modify, and use today!

Share your ideas about email design

Do these tips work for you?  Have we missed something?  Let us know what works for you.

 


7 Internet-enabled things that HelpMaster does that you may not have known about

 

1. Resolve addresses

Type or paste an address into the Address text box on the client or site screens and then client "Resolve" to perform an address lookup.  Use this information to confirm details.

2. Display a Google map

Use the HelpMaster Google Map AddIn to display a map of an address for a client or a site.  Use the AddIn Manager to load the Google Map plug-in.

3. Open a webpage

Click the "Web" button to open any hyperlink that is stored in the text details.  HelpMaster will attempt to open any kind of "link" that you store here.  http/www will open Web.  .bat will open a Batch file etc.  Get creative with this.

4. Get your gravitar

Use www.gravatar.com to store and retrieve images for your clients.  Right-click the client profile picture and select "Get web Gravatar"

5. Job satisfaction survey

Send out a job satisfaction survey when you close a job (or whenever you like).  Simply include the job survey tag in the outgoing email template, and then configure the survey to your preference.

6. The HelpMaster web interface

Use the HelpMaster web interface!  It's got full job functionality for both staff and clients.  Web-enable knowledge base articles so that your customers can find information and resolve their own issues.

7. Make your own web plug-in!

Use the HelpMaster API and Plug-In architecture to create whatever web service you like.


Build a help-desk reporting dashboard using Excel

Build your own helpdesk reporting dashboards using Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is an excellent report tool and it has a lot of power to deliver charts, graphs and other visualizations of your data.

When it comes to HelpMaster reporting, many people tend to run a built-in HelpMaster report (which uses the Crystal Reports reporting engine), then export the report to a CSV file (comma separated value), or an Excel file and then use Excel to manipulate the data and create graphs and other reports.  Sound familiar?

That's the hard way.

Here's the easy(er) way.  It's also a LOT more powerful and flexible.

Pivot tables and pivot charts are you friend here.

 

1.  Open Microsoft Excel.  The first step is to connect directly to your HelpMaster SQL Server database.

 2. Enter your database connection credentials.

 

3. Select your HelpMaster database from the top drop-down box.  Then select a reporting query (view).  Any view that is prefixed by "rpt" has been designed to be consumed by a report.

Note!  The screen shot below was taken from a HelpMaster v10 database.  If you are using a newer version please be aware that the reporting views have changed.  Refer to the following article for changes in names.  http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Community/Blogs/EntryId/77/A-look-at-the-new-reports-and-reporting-structure-in-HelpMaster-v11.aspx

 

 

4. Give the data connection a name (optional) and click "Finish"

 

5. Now the important bit.  Make sure you select "PivotChart and PivotTable Report" and click OK

 

6. A pivot table has 4 components to it.  Scroll down the list of available fields until you find "JobNumber".  Drag it into the "Values" section.  This will be the field that will be the Pivot Table aggregation. 

 

7. The default aggregation type is set to "Sum".  You'll need to change this to "Count"

 

 

 

8. Now the fun part.  Drag and drop different fields from the reporting view onto either the Axis Fields, or the Legend Field.  You'll notice the pivot chart changing as you do this.

 

9. Experiment with different combinations.  You can stack multiple fields on either axis for different statistical views.

10. Right-click the chart to change the chart type.

 

Filter your data

Note! This is important!!!

Please be aware that when you connect directly to your live HelpMaster database and use any of the default rpt views, you are pulling ALL OF YOUR DATA across your network.  The views do not have a filter on them - they return everything!  This means that your SQL Server database takes a bit hit, your network bandwidth takes a big hit and your local computer takes a big hit. Furthermore, everyone on your network and those connected to HelpMaster at the time of you doing this will experience a performance hit.   (Try looking at your task manager for what this is doing to your computer). 

Remember that the HelpMaster reporting views are unfiltered - this means that every job you've ever logged will be queried and returned back to the client machine.

To avoid this situation, consider doing one or more of the following:

  1. Write your own query using SQL, and ensure that the query is filtered using a "WHERE" clause to only the data you want.  To do this, update the connection properties of the Data Connection as shown below.  Contact PRD Software if you require assistance with querying the HelpMaster database.
     

  2. Create a filtered view based on an existing rpt view and point Excel at this instead.  You could create specific views especially for reporting purposes that are filtered by date, time, job number or other factors
  3. Create a separate, database warehouse style database.  This is essentially a de-normalized database that has an optimized database schema for reporting.
  4. Use a backup database to base your reporting on.  For even better performance, you could restore your database to a local machine.

 

You need to adjust date-based fields from UTC to local time

Remember that all dates stored in the HelpMaster database are stored in UTC time.  This means if you will need to transform every date to your local time to get an accurate.  For further information about this, please refer to this discussion board post and knowledge base article:

http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Community/Discussion-Board/aft/493
https://prdsoftware.com/helpmasterlive/KnowledgeBase/kbarticle.aspx?view=152

 

Automatically update your dashboard data

If you wish to automatically update your chart/data at regular time intervals, you can adjust the data connection properties to do so.  This is ideal if you are displaying your data on a monitor in a common area. 

 

 

 

Download a sample

Download a sample Excel Report.  In order to use it against your data, you will need to update the database connection string as shown above.

Download a sample report

 

Extend your Excel Dashboard reports

Once you start using dynamic reporting of this nature, you can get a lot of insight into your data.  Furthermore, you can save the Excel spreadsheet as a regular .xls file and open it at another time.  You can create copies of the file, or even add more tabs, more PivotTables and/or charts to create an even better helpdesk dashboard effect.

Have fun.


CeBIT Sydney May 2015

Last week, PRD Software and HelpMaster once again exhibited at the annual IT tradeshow, ceBIT. (www.cebit.com.au).

As usual, we had a great time, performed lots of demos and spoke to lots of interested ones.

This years there were a few more helpdesk and ITSM vendors attending the show, so it looks like the Aussie software scene is heating up a bit.  Should be interesting to see how it develops.  HelpMaster is very competitive against the bigger players in the market, so we welcome the addition of additional products to the floor-space.  It's good for competition, and gives everyone a better view and choice in the market.  HelpMaster stacks up well against the competition.  It looks good, has all of the basic features, and a lot more, and is priced to be affordable.  PRD Software operate at a price point where competitive products won't even look at.

All of these factors make HelpMaster a great choice for your helpdesk needs.

This year we showed off the new v15. It received very positive reviews about the new-look icons and the new features.

Renee at the HelpMaster stand

 

 


Regression Testing an ITSM tool

Regression Testing an ITSM tool 

Avoid the pitfalls and heart-ache of a botched ITSM software upgrade by utilizing some basic principles of regression testing the latest release of your helpdesk software.

What is regression testing?

In a software context, regression testing refers to testing the latest release of a software product to ensure that it is stable, functional and does not “break” any existing integrations with other systems such as reporting, custom code or other business processes.

Why regression testing is needed

Any progressive ITSM / help desk software will be updated over time.  Depending on the vendor and their particular product release and lifecycle management cycle and processes, releases will usually fall into the following categories.

  1. Maintenance (bugfix / performance)
  2. Point release (maintenance + minor enhancements)
  3. Major release (all of the above + major new features)

Due to the fact that ITSM / helpdesk software is usually business-critical software, it is important to approach any upgrade, install and configuration with due diligence and consideration. A bad install, a missing configuration item, a change in technical specification, or a change in an existing, or new feature behavior can quickly cause a disruption to service, and/or a reduction in the quality of an IT Service – an ITIL incident if you will…

The irony of course, is if this happens to your actual ITSM software, who you gonna call?  Where do you log this incident, when your incident tracker is dead?  Don’t be the company that kills their helpdesk, with the very software that provides the helpdesk.  It’s not good for business…or careers.

Here’s some things to consider when upgrading your ITSM / helpdesk software

Consider your testing environment

A full range of tests against your ITSM system will no-doubt include creating new incidents, problems, email automation, web, automation triggers, API integration etc etc etc.  Consider using a dedicated test platform and database to perform at least some portion of your regression testing against.  This platform should include specific test-only email addresses, test-only Active Directory structures, test-only clients, site, assets etc.

Don't fall into the testing trap of running tests again a copy of your live database/configuration, only to find that you just send email out to real people, and real organizations and/or modified your Active Directory contents, or worse.

Build this test platform up over time so that it can successfully emulate and run a wide range of tests.

An alternative to this, may be to run scripts against your live configuration/database to blank-out email addresses etc, and/or update them to specific test-only accounts.

Are you entitled to use the latest version?

Check to see whether you are actually entitled to use the latest version.  When new versions of your software is released, use the opportunity to review your licensing entitlements and product availability.  Are you currently within a maintenance contract, or otherwise entitled to actually implement and use the software?  Verify with your vendor if unsure.

Always read the release notes

When new software is released, there should always be some documentation associated with it.

Release notes vary from vendor to vendor.  Some release notes are comprehensive, explanatory and helpful.  Others are just terse descriptions of fixed errors and issues, no-doubt written by the developer that performed the code update.  Whatever style of documentation you have, read it thoroughly and understand the implications.  Discuss any concerns with your vendor.

It may be the case that you don’t need to upgrade to a particular release. If there is nothing in the change-log that directly affects you, consider not upgrading to it – why go through the hassle of upgrading for no discernible benefit!?

Scan the documentation for specific issues that affect you.

Verify the technical specifications – have they changed?

Updated software, can often mean updated specifications, particularly so with major feature releases, or new products.

Have the technical specification changed?

Things to check include:

  • Machine specification (processor, memory, drive configuration etc)
  • Windows version, service pack. 
  • Microsoft .Net Framework version
  • Microsoft Internet Information Server version IIS.
  • Java requirements
  • SQL Server (including Reporting Services)
  • Crystal Reports (doesn’t play well with other versions of itself)
  • Miscellaneous 3rd party libraries
  • Email systems – IMAP, SMTP etc
  • Encryption libraries and technology
If unsure about the requirements and specifications, check with your vendor, and discuss with your technical team to ensure that all requirements are met.

Custom development API / SDK – Integrations with other systems

Do you use any custom-developed code libraries for your solution that were developed against the product API/SDK or web-services?  Custom code is often developed and used to integrate other systems, and/or provide functionality to other operational areas and personnel.  Oftentimes, custom solutions are vitally important to the business areas utilizing it.

Things to check include:

  • Read the API documentation.  Give a copy to your developers to review.
  • Has the API been updated?
  • Have methods and functions been deprecated, or changed in some way?  Discuss any changes with the developers of the code to understand the implications.  You may need to re-write code before any update takes place.
  • Your developers wrote test scripts right? (insert chirping cricket sounds here…)
    • Run these against the upgraded API.
    • Do all functions and methods work correctly?
    • Verify this with key people from the business areas that are affected.

Reports and reporting

Updates to software often mean updates to the underlying database structure.  This may affect any custom reporting or data access that may have been developed against the database schema.

Things to check include:

  • Do you utilize any custom reporting solutions?
  • Has the database schema changed?  How?  Is there an updated data dictionary?
  • Are you using a database reporting abstraction layer to produce reports?  BI solution/framework?  Will this reporting layer require updating?
  • Test all reports, ETL, and other database scripting against an updated database

Database upgrade / migration

Updates in software often requires an update to the underlying database schema, or (worse), a data migration to a new database.  This is an essential area to test and check.

Create a backup of your existing live database.  Use this database to test the upgrade process.  Check with your vendor first to see if there is anything you need to know about this before performing it.

If the database upgrade fails, or provides warning/information, research these and find solutions before progressing further with the upgrade and testing.  Even though a database upgrade/migration may progress without issue, verify the results by looking at your upgraded data through an updated version of the software.  Are all the jobs/tickets/incident intact?  Is everything still there, and OK?  Verify this will members of the team that know the data.  A DBA, or a technical person doing the upgrade won’t necessarily be the best person to verify data integrity.

Test the known issues

Test the issues you have experienced and are of interest to you.  Only you know the bug/issue, especially so if you reported it in the first place.  Test the bug and see if it’s really fixed.

Re-run your test cases.  Read through your documentation on the issue.  Talk to other people about the nature of the bug.  Often times, bugs and anomalies will be found by the front-line staff who have a tendency to use the software more rigorously than 2nd level staff, or technical personnel.  Get them involved – they will tell you whether the issue is truly resolved or not.

Understand and test new features

Get to know the new features of the software.  Seek to understand the following questions about each feature.

  • Why was it developed?
  • What does it do? 
  • Does it make other features obsolete – is there now a better way of doing something?
  • How can you utilize this new feature?
  • Will this new feature require group discussion, planning and configuration?
  • Will this new feature require training?
  • Do we need this new feature?
  • Is this feature ready for use?  Has the vendor implemented this correctly?
  • Discuss new features and opportunities with your team.

Test for accessibility

Do you have special needs for your software?  If you do, test for these things, and involve the people that know what to look for.  Test for high visibility, screen reader integrations, access keys, appropriate imagery etc.

Document everything

Throughout the installing, testing, and configuration of any software, be sure to document your experience.  Every environment is unique and there is a lot of environmental and configuration data that needs to be recorded.

By continually documenting and improving the documentation of your ITSM / helpdesk software installation, configuration and upgrade processes, you’ll be building a valuable reference guide not only for your organization, but for anyone who will require this information in the future.

Get help

If at any time you require assistance, have questions or need to clarify any matter, contact the vendor of the software.  The people that build the software (should) know it inside and out, and they (should) be able to provide guidance and support throughout your testing and upgrading experience.  Consider even getting your vendor involved on-site to assist with any upgrade, testing and training needs.  You may find that you can save a lot of time and trouble by leveraging the know-how of your vendor.

Conclusion

Upgrading software to the latest and greatest release is an exciting time.  Bugfixes, new features and increased performance can really grease the wheels of your IT service delivery and provide benefits to your team and the clients you support.

View upgrading software as a natural, and on-going part of the software development cycle – it’s a good thing.  Be pro-active about it, and plan for it.  Embrace the upgrade!

By adhering to a few basic principles and approaching the transition with due diligence and care, you’ll find that not only will your upgrade progress smoothly, but you’ll also continue to build a valuable foundation of product lifecycle management, documentation and process maturity.



ITSMF Australian LeadIT conference - Canberra - recap

ITSMF Australian LeadIT conference - Canberra

It’s been 5 years since PRD Software and HelpMaster attended an ITSMF event, and like last time, it was here in our home town of Canberra, Australia.  After attending a local ITSMF event and some thought, we decided to book a booth, pack our gear and head to the National Exhibition Centre to see what’s changed.

Back in 2008 our booth neighbours were a new service management company called ServiceNow, also sponsoring in the “Copper” range.  This year, ServiceNow was a major sponsor of the event, and had one of the biggest stands, and was accompanied by a few partners also exhibiting in separate booths (Thanks for the coffee Keystone!) 

What a difference 5 years can make!

It was nice to see familiar faces, catch up with old friends and hear the latest in vendor mutterings and ITSM rhetoric.  I've always enjoyed the "behind the news" speak that comes from the vendors about the state of the industry, the clients, the software and the teachings.  Enlightening stuff.
 

Putting faces to avatars

One of the great advantages to a physical conference is meeting people in the flesh that you’ve only ever communicated with via the internet, or phone.  This conference really delivered for me in this regard.  It was great to finally meet up with Aale Roos, Rob England aka IT Skeptic, Paul Jay (KCS champion), Ivor McFarlane, Charles Araujo, Kirstie McGowan, and many others.  Of course it was great to also catch up with old friends and faces, who have done many hours with us on the showroom floor in other events.

rod and aale

Aale Roos and PRD Software founder Rod Weir

Vendor ROI?

Is exhibiting at such an event worth it from a vendor perspective?  I guess that depends on how you quantify expenses and returns.  For PRD Software, it was great to meet up with our existing clients, talk with former clients and demonstrate the capabilities of HelpMaster to several very interested parties.  In a room full of overpriced software and over-hyped capabilities, it was gratifying to see the reaction of both clients and other vendors as they saw what HelpMaster can do.  

ROI?  We booked consulting work, encouraged some clients to upgrade from older versions, got some very good sales leads, spoke with other vendors about lead-swapping for tighter product alignment, and had several vendors from other stands request to become channel partners!  Additionally, our web stats spiked, our Tweets re-tweeted, our LinkedIn and FaceBook requests have fired up, and it was nice to hear Aale Roos reference us during his talk.

As mentioned, PRD Software haven’t been to an ITSMF event for 5 years, as we’ve been focused more on internet based sales, and have attended other trade shows that drive thousands of prospects past (and to) the booth, instead of the handful that ITSMF events do.  Having said that, we got our money’s worth....so I might have to re-think this.

Highlights

The highlights of the national ITSMF conference came down to a few key things. 

The networking opportunities was definitely top pick – hands down.

Second place oddly enough was a road trip with Aale Roos.  On the Thursday morning, Aale and I cut class and headed off for a quick tour of Canberra, stopping by the PRD Software office, the top of Black Mountain tower, and a fruitless search to find skippy during the midday hours.  Alas, it wasn’t to be. (As I type this, I am watching 3 large kangaroos lazing about on the hill across from the office).  We talked about the ITSM industry, mountaineering, ski trips and ski injuries, software development companies (www.flowdock.com), Australian wildlife and other poisonous things. 

We returned to the conference just in time for the awesome lunchtime butter chicken, (food service being another notable highlight).  It was also good to see some decent beer being served for a change.  Well played ITSMFA.

It would be remiss not to mention the gala night.  The team from HelpMaster thoroughly enjoyed dancing the night away at Parliament House.  The girls had sore feet the next day.
 

Industry news

The Vital ITIL Recital

It was good to see ITIL get a hammering.  I’ve never been a fan.  Being on a stand next door to Pink Elephant, we had some lively debates and entertaining stories about the notion of “best-practice”, software certification badges, the effectiveness of ITIL foundation courses, and the ever enlightening responses to the question "If ITIL is the answer…what’s your question?

My tweet during the “Unlearning ITIL” session on “Best practice=no innovation” had a short burst of Twitterverse notoriety, and there is a nice spike on our web-server statistics chart to mark the moment.

 

The ITSMF effect

 

The “blues compliant guitar” analogy seemed to resonate…

KCS

Knowledge management is, in my opinion, a far more practical and important topic for service management, so it was good to catch up with practitioners on the conference floor to discuss the state of the art.  Aprill Allen, aka The Knowledge Bird always has great input within this field, and I really enjoyed swapping KCS ideas, algorithms and philosophies with Paul Jay.  Paul really knows his stuff (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya22c0hta3I), and speaks enthusiastically about the remarkable changes that KCS principles and patterns can bring to any organization.  Exciting times ahead for knowledge management and the software of the future.

I’m sure if you were to ask IBMs Watson where he thinks the state of ITSM is at, his reply would be something like…”What is KCS?”…for $1000.
 

ITSMFA

Thanks to the ITSMFA team for encouraging and helping PRD Software to attend the conference this year.  Special shout-outs go to Bradley Busch, Justin Gasparre, Barbara Hines, and Kathryn Heaton for their support, help and hard work!

It was great to be part of  ITSMFA again after a 5 year hiatus.  The HelpMaster team have returned with renewed zeal, enthusiasm and some great ideas and business connections going into the ITSM future.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the HelpMaster stand to say hi.


Helpdesk and service desk experiences at CeBIT 2013 - Darling Harbour, Sydney

Australian made help desk and customer support Software

It's been a week since PRD Software returned from www.cebit.com.au, Australia's largest tech show held each year in Sydney's vibrant Darling Harbour. Each year, the HelpMaster team travel to Sydney to exhibit our customer service and helpdesk software to the masses that walk through the CeBIT doors. According to this years summary, approximately 37,000 people attended. That's a huge amount of tech-savvy, business-oriented people in one area. You could sense their enthusiasm, and it was great to learn from each delegate who walked through the door why they were at CeBIT. This is not a passive audience. Each and every person is here with a tech agenda - to seek out and learn what is new and interesting in the world of IT.

With this year's emphasis on IT startups, tech evangelism and funding, the venue was abuzz with all things hardware, software, business, the entrepreneur, the startups, and the upstarts. ;-)

Customer Service Helpdesk Software

That was our branding for CeBIT 2013, and it caught the interest of the delegates. There are just so many businesses out there that are not using any kind of software, or even a dedicated process for their client support, customer service or complaints management. Every business needs to perform these functions to have success.

customer service helpdesk software

Customer Service Helpdesk Software is what we do

As usual, the HelpMaster booth was extremely busy. The PRD Software team did non-stop demonstrations for 3 days straight and met many people who enjoyed seeing the workflow features that HelpMaster has.

A highlight of exhibiting is meeting up with people actually using HelpMaster for their helpdesk and service management operations. This year we met with many clients.

We also met up with the following ITSM / IT industry people. To name a few:

It was good to see a healthy amount of service management consultants, ITIL trainers, business analysts and educators from the ITSM space.  The local universities and TAFEs across Australia are doing a great job.

These are all good signs of a healthy ITSM ecosystem.

Helpdesk software

Rod and Aprill Allen aka the Knowledge Bird

 

Helpdesk and service management people

Without exception, at every trade show we've ever attended, we meet people who use a competing product. This is a great opportunity to compare notes. When people see another product offering in their field of work, they're naturally curious.  With our booth fascia reading "Customer service helpdesk software", we attracted  the attention of a lot of Help desk users.

This lead to the inevitable and predictable questions....

What's different? How much does it cost? What can it do? Does it do this? Does it do that? What about reports...speed...function... Cloud? Database? Support? ITIL, workflow... etc...

This year was no exception. Some of the delegates we spoke to at the HelpMaster booth are currently using the following service management and customer service products:

BMC Remedy (many admitting they're paying a lot of $$ for a "ticketing system".  More of a reflection on how they're using it, than what it's capable of...but you've got to ask...."Why?"

Infra aka Ionix aka VMWare Service Manager -  Quite a few old "Infra" users still out there.  Most we spoke to are looking to migrate to something else after product support will no longer continue for this product.

Marvel, Ran into a few users of MSM.  Always good to show the HelpMaster Email Manager to these guys.

HP Service Manager - See comments for Remedy...add "slow" to the mix.

CA Service Desk Manager - Still going!

Frontrange Heat - Still lots of old versions of Heat out there.

...and then there are those who use Microsoft Excel, Outlook and other "home-brew" systems for their helpdesk...(psst...don't do it!)

This shows a healthy amount of diversity in this space. It is good to see such a variety of solutions being offered and accepted by Australian businesses. What always gets me is the answer to the question "What do you use HelpDesk Product X for?". When the answer comes down to something like "logging and tracking tickets", you've got to ask yourself, "Why am I paying that kind of of money for a ticketing system?".  

It's a wrap!

Overall, CeBIT Australia is the best IT show we've ever done, and we'll continue to do it.  We love the long days of custom product demos, especially that moment when someone realizes that their customer service can be so much better, as well as the satisfaction of getting to meet face-to-face with so many users of HelpMaster.

Thank you to everyone who came up to the HelpMaster booth to say Hi, and a special thanks to all our clients and business partners for your support at CeBIT. You are the reason we keep doing what we do.

See you next year!

helpmaster help desk software

Scott and Rod from PRD Software


2012 Year in review for PRD Software and HelpMaster help desk software

Helpdesk software developments

2012 was another great year for PRD Software and HelpMaster.  Here's some of the highlights.

v12 of HelpMaster released

A big release that included lots of new features, including the time-zone awareness.  For any software developer who has ever attempted to work out daylight savings time, UTC, multiple times zones and database storage, you know that this is a huge and complex task.  The PRD Software development team spent many hours and many whiteboard diagrams to get this right.  We're pretty proud of what we came up with, and the way we went about it.

UTC timezone DST

Check out the release notes here.  http://www.helpmasterpro.com/Products/What-is-new-for-HelpMaster-v12.aspx

Social media!

We Tweeted, we Facebooked, we blogged, we discussed

Join in!  HelpMaster 2013 will have even more social collaboration features built right-in to the feature set.

More to come.

New clients using HelpMaster

Throughout 2012, many new companies from around the globe selected HelpMaster as their helpdesk software of choice.  Each year, the helpdesk software market gets more congested and more competitive.  There are just so many choices available on the market to cover everything.

To all of our new clients who purchased and have implemented HelpMaster during the year (including our latest client on the 24th December!), PRD Software sends out a big thank you!  We look forward to working with you in 2013 and helping you to help your clients.  Please keep sending in those feature requests - none of them are ever dismissed.  Remember to check out the HelpMaster roadmap to keep up to date with what the development team are up to.

HelpMaster European consulting

Members of the HelpMaster consulting team traveled to Europe for training, consulting and client visits in 2012.  We met with clients in Italy, France, London and The Netherlands.

 

 

What an experience!

It's great to see how HelpMaster is being used in such a diversity of industries and application.  It was great to put a face to names that we have dealing with for years.

Whilst in Europe, Rod Weir of PRD Software endevoured to catch up with as many industry folk, Twitter and Facebook persons as possible.  It was great to catch up with Barclay Rae from www.barclayrae.com (ITSM consultancy), Angus Gregory from www.biomni.com (Service Catalog), and others.  Pat Bolger...next time- we'll meet one day, somewhere in the world!

Signed up new resellers of HelpMaster

PRD Software are always willing to work with partners around the world to resell our helpdesk software.  2012 was a great year for this.  Several new partners were established, and we look forward to bringing you more news about this in the new year when all of the paper work has been finalized!

Exciting stuff!

Australian consulting and training

PRD Software and HelpMaster is an Australian made product, based in the nation's capital, Canberra.  During 2012, we spent a lot of time working with local clients and look forward to some big projects in 2013.  Notable work included API integration with HelpMaster, database synchonizations with Active Directory and custom report writing.

CEBIT 2012 - Darling Harbour

CeBit this year was just fantastic.  3 days of non-stop product demonstrations and with an estimated 30,000+ people through the door, that's exactly why we attend.  Great to catch up with HelpMaster clients, industry analyst and old friends.

Catch HelpMaster at CeBIT 2013 - we'll be back!

Office re-organization

After 12 years in the same office, PRD Software decided to re-organize and optimize.  As hard as it was to do, a lot of software development and helpdesk industry information and nostalgia was cleared to make way for a the way forward.

Read about The bookshelf that helped create helpdesk software

We also ensured that each developer got 3 monitors.

software development requires 3 monitors

Australian National University (ANU) international business plan competition

This year, PRD Software, worked with student from one of Australia's finest universities in the annual international business plan competition.  This was a lot of fun, and a real eye-opener.

Read all about it here on the PRD Software blog.  http://www.prd-software.com/Blogs/EntryId/111/ANU-International-Marketing-Business-Plan-Competition-2012.aspx

PRD Software will be implementing a lot of the suggestions and insights that came out of this unique exercise.  Thanks ANU!

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone that helped make 2012 another successful year for PRD Software and HelpMaster.  We've got an amazing release coming up early in 2013, and we're really looking forward to seeing what 2013 brings and how we can continue to develop and improve HelpMaster to suite your helpdesk needs.

Thanks to our clients - you're the reason we code and exist.  Thanks to our developers, our staff and our partners. 

Happy holidays everyone.

See you in 2013.