Making your business run smoothly is a lot easier with the right project management and administration tools. These disciplines revolve around both planning and quick response times to issues as they come up. Tools that help planning (everything from budget analysis tools to project management software) get most of the press when it comes to effective project management. Ironically, it’s the other end of the development cycle – web based task management and issue tracking – where modern software architecture can generate the biggest rewards.
Network based issue management systems have been around since the days of Novell Netware, and have made slow, incremental improvements since then. One of the latest rounds of improvements has been the confluence of virtual private networking and IP networks, coupled with the ubiquity of the web browser. These web based issue tracking systems allow your support staff to offload much of the data entry side of a defect management loop on to the end users.
The usual defect tracking cycle runs through a predictable loop – the end user calls up the engineering team, they discuss what’s going wrong, and if the solution isn’t immediately obvious, it can get escalated to second level support. What web based incident tracking systems allow is for the initial customer to go through a series of question and answer loops covering the basics, while also inputting things like version numbers of software and the like. If the web based support doesn’t solve the problem, the relevant data has already been entered, saving time for the second level support technician.
More advanced forms of web based issue tracking systems put a client out on all of the relevant hardware; this client reports back with full system data to a centralized repository run by your organization.
Once the issue has been logged, including all pertinent information (either by end users entering data, or a software client reporting back to your centralized system), the other benefit of web based incident tracking becomes apparent: Issues can come into a central repository, and be assigned to the relevant technicians by their availability, their level of expertise, or how full their current workload is. As each issue gets escalated or annotated, it’s added to the issue log, which is available to the entire technical services department.
A redacted version of this log can also be made available to your support customers, either by email, or by web login, so that they can see that progress is being made. One of the great slowdowns on IT technical support is that the technicians get asked by customers about the status of pending jobs – and spend enough time answering those questions that the job queue can get unmanageable. By automating this report feature, you can free up both the time for your technicians to solve the issue, and increase transparency on the response loop.
Because these solutions are web based, they also become location independent. This is critical when you’re trying to coordinate the efforts of several staffers over several campuses. Centralizing the reporting solution is a great benefit.
While these software solutions are solid now, there is still room for improvement; most of that innovation is being directed at making the software easier to use for the customers rather than the technicians, so that the customers have an easier time solving their own technical issues.