Choosing the right IT Service Management software for your organisation is a difficult task at best, and if you’re embarking on the evaluation/purchase process for the first time, the chances are you won’t have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Combined with the reality that you probably won’t be able to properly try out any software that you’re thinking of buying (even with the Software as a Service offerings that are starting to become more prevalent, you won’t get an accurate feel of how the software will work for you in your normal work situation) means you will find yourself in a really tough situation!
I’ve gone through this loop a few times now, and I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the top 10 essential things to look for. So, (in no particular order) here goes:
- Email alerts/notifications - emails are a critical part of a Service Desk – they are the link between the software and the Users/Customers. Look for a solution that has configurable email alerts so you can control what information is supplied within the emails. So often you just receive an email saying something like ‘your ticket has been updated – please click here to see more info’ – this doesn’t really add any value if you then need to click through and log into the software just to check if any action is required.
- Integration to other tools - as discussed in my previous post (One Tool to Rule Them All) if you are using more than one tool in an organisation, it is essential that these tools are integrated so that information automatically flows between them. Often ITSM vendors will claim that their software can integrate with other systems, but when you start to look into the detail you will realise that there is work needed to implement the integration. In some cases you may have to write an intermediary system to manage the integration. Ask to see the integration working for real so you know it’s possible, and dig into the system to see how much work is required to do the integration before making the purchase decision.
- Audit trails - not only are audit trails of all activity carried out within the ITSM software essential for helping someone work out who has done what to the ticket when they view it, they can also be a legal obligation (e.g. if your company is subject to Sarbanes-Oxley regulations). Ensure that all tickets have audit trails, and the history attached to a ticket is easily accessible (and in a comprehensive, readable format).
- SLA monitoring - one of the failures of many Service Desk implementations (in my opinion) is that they don’t allow for easy calculation of the Service Levels – i.e. how long has a ticket been open, has it been open longer than the SLA specifies, and how long has someone spent working on the ticket? Without substantial SLA monitoring in place, the tool doesn’t help improve your service. One other thing to clarify is how the Service Desk measures time – does it use ‘clock hours’ or ‘office hours’? This will determine how you word the timing in your SLA documents.
- Relationships between tickets - pretty simple really. Does the tool allow you to create and maintain relationships between tickets of the same type, and of different types? For example, can you raise a problem ticket from an incident ticket? Can you link more than one incident ticket to the same problem ticket? Can you link multiple incidents together?
- Reporting capabilities - I’m often amazed at how badly I’ve seen this is implemented in both the software, and the companies that use the software! If you’re spending a load of cash on ITSM software to improve your process efficiency and quality, then please take the extra few steps to check that the software comes equipped with decent reporting capabilities, and then USE THE REPORTS! I’ll include in a future post a list of the basic KPIs that I would expect to be included in ITSM software reports. Also if it’s an option, try to go for an offering that includes a real-time dashboard so you can see activity as it happens.
- User management – this is an area where you must decide the most appropriate approach for you. Do you want your Users and Customers to create new, separate accounts for the ITSM system, or do you want to integrate the accounts with your existing user management system (e.g. Active Directory for Windows networks)? Note again that magic ‘integration’ word – a lot of vendors will boast how they can integrate easily with external user management systems, but please ensure you understand what work needs to be done (and by whom) in order to facilitate that integration.
- Workflow configurability – pretty much all ITSM systems are built on ITIL processes (most are now V3, although there are still some V2 vendors out there) and the theory is that by buying the tool, you’re actually also buying the processes. However, you may want to have the ability to define your own workflow with a tool, and if so does the tool allow the workflow to be changed? This may not seem like a big deal if you’re just starting down the ITIL/ITSM road, but it will become an important factor when you’re trying to tweak processes to make them work for your organisation.
- Usability - a difficult one to measure, but it makes a huge difference to the success or failure of a Service Desk. I’ve seen and used software that looks like it was written in the 80s, and I’ve used software where each click opens a new window, and by the time you’ve raised an incident you have to spend a few minutes clearing all the opened windows! Use your judgement; get some Customers and Users involved at an early stage to see what they think of the usability. If they don’t like it, and it doesn’t feel that great to use, then the chances are they’re not going to use it…
- Knowledge base - IT Service Management is all about managing systems and the human knowledge that surrounds them. Knowledge Management is in my opinion implemented badly (if at all), and as a result organisations are missing out on a huge wealth of information. Again, you should make a decision either to embrace Knowledge Management or not. If you decide to embrace it, then really DO it – go for a tool that has a solid Knowledge Base solution that can be implemented and maintained easily, and that you believe actually adds benefit to your organisation.
A final word – with IT Service Management, as with life, you will never achieve total perfection. You’ll never find an ITSM solution that ticks all your boxes, so you should understand the areas where you’re prepared to compromise your requirements a little bit, in order to achieve the best fit in the most critical areas for your organisation.
I hope these requirements help you a little in your hunt for ITSM software that works for you. As Dr Rumack often said in Airplane – “Good luck – we’re all counting on you…”