by October 1, 2005 0 comments

Managing a few machines on a network may be easy, but what happens as you add more machines, or upgrade the existing ones? Not only do you have to keep track of all the new hardware, the number of calls to the helpdesk also increases significantly. Managing both of these can become quite cumbersome, which is where ServiceDesk Plus comes into picture. As the name suggests, the software is meant to help your IT helpdesk become more efficient, and at the same time, keep track of all inventory. It’s a Web-based software, so you can access it from anywhere on the network with a Web browser. There’s a free as well as commercial version of the software available. The free edition can handle up to 50 nodes on a network, with the limitation that only one person can login to it. For additional licenses and unlimited assets management, you’ll have to purchase additional licenses. 

The entire interface of ServiceDesk Plus is neatly categorized, making it fairly simple to use and understand. But before you can start using it, you have to customize it according to your organizational structure. So you have to create user accounts (called requestors) and service executive accounts (called technicians). One drawback we found in this was that all user accounts have to be created manually, which is quite cumbersome, even if you have a small network of about 50 users. It would have been nice if the software could import accounts from a server, or an open standard, LDAP compliant directory service, or even from a simple CSV formatted file. Once you’ve created users’ accounts, you need to associate workstations with them. Here, we’ll digress into asset management part for a while. 

The software can scan either Windows domains or a network and show you the list of workstations

A user gets a neat Web-based form to enter his complaint and also categorize it properly

In asset management, you can add products and product types, as well as all the vendors you interact with. You can then assign products to product types, eg associate the product ‘IBM ThinkPad R40’ with the product type ‘notebook’. On the vendors’ front, once again, we missed having the facility to import a vendor list from elsewhere. It has to be entered manually as well. 

The good thing is that this software also helps you keep all your contracts and purchase orders in one place. You can upload any contract documents you may have in this. You can keep track of which contract has been given to which vendor, for which assets, for how long, and at what value. Speaking of value, the software uses dollars as the default currency, which is a problem in India. Coming back, you can enable notification in case a contract expires, and assign it to a particular technician as well. The funny thing here is that you can create such a contract even if you don’t assign any assets to it. 

On the inventory front, you can collect information about your workstations and other assets. You can also enter information about all the software being used. The good thing here is that the ServiceDesk lets you scan for workstations in your Windows domains as well as other non-windows machines on your network. A disadvantage here is that it requires a username and password for either the network or the domain in order to initiate the scanning. It might have been better if the software could automatically discover all machines on the network and then do deeper scans for their configurations. Today, any network-scanning software, including some available free of cost can scan your entire network and give you lots of useful information about all the nodes, so there’s no reason why this one shouldn’t. One limitation this software (like most network-scanning software) faces is that of firewalls running on the nodes. The firewall blocks all requests from such scanning software, so you’re not able to collect all the necessary information. ServiceDesk requires that all workstations have DCOM running. Interestingly, DCOM is a Microsoft protocol, meaning it’s largely meant for Windows workstations. In our tests, when we tried scanning non-Windows machines (running Linux), it was not able to give us machine information with the message that DCOM has to be running on them. Another interesting thing is that you have to enable Telnet access for your non-Windows network as well as the machines in order to scan them for inventory. 

Keep all your purchase orders in one place for easier management

You can customize your installation from a single, easy-to-use management console

Coming to the helpdesk management part, we found a couple of good things in it, apart from some limitations. The goodies are that users can submit their complaints according to categories you’ve defined. If a user is having trouble browsing the Web, he chooses the Internet category to lodge the complaint. Similarly, the request could be for hardware, networking and printing. The complaint goes to the technician who’s been assigned for this category. At one glance, the technician can know which user has sent the request, which machine the user has been assigned, and even find out the specs of the machine. All this happens remotely without the user having to go anywhere. This way, the technician has all the basic information required to help the requestor. So now even if the technician has to go to the user’s machine, he will go prepared with all the necessary information. Otherwise, the technician can hunt for a solution from the solutions database, or notify another technician to help through e-mail, Web, or SMS. Now the limitation-you can’t have a threaded conversation between a requestor and technician. If a requestor submits a request, the technician has to provide a response and that’s it. The requestor can read the response, but not respond back to it. The requestor has to generate a fresh request after this. Of course, the technicians can club answered queries as solutions into a central, well-categorized knowledgebase, which can be referred by anyone later. Lastly it allows you to create lots of reports on a variety of things. You can see the number of requests received by date by technician, category, priority, mode (phone, Web form, or e-mail); and the number of requests closed. Everybody who logs into the ServiceDesk gets a home page that gives a dashboard with an overview of the situation. 

Bottom Line: Overall a good software, which can help a company streamline its assets and support. It has good contracts and purchase-management features. The helpdesk process is also pretty well-defined. There are some limitations, of course, which need to be taken care of.

Anil Chopra

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