Process, Procedures and Tickets – Taming the Helldesk

Process, Procedures and Tickets – Taming the Helldesk

So last week I was obliged to take over managing the organization Helpdesk. Actually, managing is a bit of a stretch – I WAS the Helpdesk (but the term ‘managing’ sounded better). A month or so ago we were made aware of some unsatisfactory comments and ratings regarding the organization Helpdesk, and since we’re trying to grow our customer footprint that news is the last thing we want to hear.

I’m methodical, logical, and very much a process-driven technologist. Less flattering comments are anal-retentive and OCD. But because of how the organization was initially set up there was no real process requirements, and things grew organically (that’s tech-speak for haphazard and unplanned). There’s not really a lot going on at this time, so I was voluntold to take the Helpdesk policies, procedures, tickets, FAQs, and knowledgebase and make sense of things so we could manage and meet (and exceed) customer expectations.

The first part, establishing a ticketing system, was already in place. The only problem was that our Helpdesk guy was pretty young and not really well-versed in a smooth-functioning ticketing system. What we had was a hodge-podge system of emails, phone messages, meeting notes, and a couple tickets. In short, there was no real rhyme or reason to how things were being handled. Not to knock our Helpdesk guy, but he didn’t like interacting with customers a lot (mostly because while they were smart and had loads of college degrees, they were also pretty dumb), so his preferred medium was via email. I prefer email too, but our Helpdesk Inbox was overwhelmed, and email chains went back weeks and months, and in a couple occasions a year.

So when our Helpdesk guy left the week before last suddenly I had carte-blanch to establish a system that I felt made sense. With the support of our team and government PMs I began asking customers to submit tickets rather than email the Helpdesk. Any emails that did come in had a ticket created for them and an automated response sent to the customer within the SLA period of 4 hours during the business day. There are, in fact, only two SLAs for our project – 4 hours for a response to any assistance request, and 24 hours for account creation once we have the approved documentation.

In the lead-up to this I’d already pushed for a template email to be sent to all new users that covered a lot of the services we offered, how to change their password and unlock their accounts, and how to submit trouble tickets. This actually had a huge effect right off the bat, and was probably one of my more successful (and intelligent) suggestions. Now people began to understand what it was we did and how we could assist them, and more importantly how they could reach out for additional assistance.

One of the more hard-fought battles was getting our government PM to understand that even though we were small now, that wouldn’t be the case all the time, so it was necessary to establish customer expectations early. He wanted to do something along the lines of a concierge service, where we reached out to customers whenever we saw an alert or email notice. I pointed out, and was backed up by the team PM, that such a level of service was time-, resource- and manpower-intensive undertaking not suitable where all three are severely constrained. It was also totally unnecessary – we already had an automated system in place where users could recover lost passwords, change their passwords, and unlock their accounts. To answer general questions we’d also established a Wiki that we constantly update (a suggestion from our government Program Manager which I strongly backed). For everything else there’s the Helpdesk Inbox and the ticketing system.

One additional benefit to the ticketing system is that you can append attachments to the tickets. Since we require form DD-2875 for all account creation requests we needed a means of securely holding and tracking those forms in the event we ever got audited. Now, whenever a creation request comes in I create a ticket, append the form, assign the ticket over to our government PM for him to check it for completeness and sign, and then once he notifies me it’s good I re-assign it to myself and process the request. Usually from the time the request is received to the time I send an email to the new user regarding their account only an hour, maybe two, has passed. For the government, and especially the DoD, this is moving at light speed.

There are still some bumps to smooth over, but for the most part I’m pleased with how things are developing. Frankly, even small one-man shops can benefit greatly with a clearly-established policy in place and a ticketing system to track issues. And cost should not be a roadblock – the system we use is actually free and open source software (FOSS) and is just as capable as some of the big ticketing systems like Remedy, Altiris Helpdesk, and ServiceNow (which I’ve all used). In many ways, I actually like the ticketing system we use, which is called osTicket. It’s not a one-size-fits-all system, but for smaller organizations and groups it’s effective and beneficial.

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