Implementing a Service Desk Application, Part 1

In this multi-part series on planning and implementing a Service Desk application, I start with identifying the characteristics of the tools.

Tool Characteristics

Service Desk applications usually support at a minimum the ITIL® V3 processes of Service Request Fulfillment and Incident Management, Problem Management, and Change Management. They frequently also support Release Management, Service Catalog Management, Service Asset and Configuration Management. They less frequently support Capacity Management, Availability Management, and/or Asset Management, but the tools may support integrations with other products in these areas.

In a nutshell, a Service Desk application is a mechanism for tracking tickets. I am sometimes asked what do Service Desk tools do that cannot be done in open source bug tracking applications Bugzilla. Without commenting specifically on Bugzilla or other products, Service Desks usually have a few requirements not supported by those tools. In general Service Desks require support for multiple processes, each with different fields, statuses, priorities, workflows, and approvals, and they require integration of ticket flows between those processes. For example, an Incident can initiate a Problem, which can initiate a Change. An Incident should be held Pending until the Change is complete.

Service Desk applications usually provide some capabilities to develop workflows. They are not true workflow engines, but provide lightweight workflow development capabilities consistent with the needs of Service Desks. Usually they provide configurable priorities and statuses. Often they provide configurable fields. They usually provide the capability of one or more drop-down dependency trees for categorizing the tickets. Usually there are workflow rules around, for example, how long tickets can spend in a particular status, and what should happen if that time period is exceeded. They usually provide approval workflows.

Service Desk applications also need to provide some reporting capabilities, which can come in a variety of manners. Some provide built-in reports. Some provide built-in capabilities for reporting configurations. Others provide templates with 3rd party tools, such as Crystal Reports or Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Service. The reporting may also include exporting of ticket information for consumption, manipulation or presentation in a tool like Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access.

It is also important to have methods of interfacing the Service Desk application with other systems. In order to automate the population of customer information in the ticket, the Service Desk tool needs to import or input data from a corporate repository such as Active Directory or an HR database. Ideally this data will be imported dynamically or real-time at the time the ticket is created, but some tools will replicate the data into its own data store. The most common method is to interface with Active Directory via the LDAP protocol. Service Desk systems might also provide the capability of importing other data into the tickets, such as asset data from a 3rd party SQL database. Some tools allow dropdown or multiselect field choices to be imported from a data table. If the application includes a CMDB, then it should also provide methods to import or confederate data from multiple 3rd party data sources.
Some Service Desk systems use a “fat client” that is installed on the machine. The issue with this is having to install the fat client on every machine which will be used for the service desk and or its customers. Other Service Desk applications support user interactions via a web browser, so there is nothing to deploy on the clients. Others support a hybrid model, whereby limited or customer interfaces are provided via the web, while assignee and/or administration functions are provide via the fat client.

Most tools provide email interfaces in which agents or customers can create or update tickets via email, and updates to tickets can be sent to agents and/or customers via email. In addition many tools provide API’s and/or web services interfaces for programatic updates to tickets. Finally, most tools provide role-based access to the tool. For example, customers have fewer rights than agents of the tools. Depending on the role, some people can approve tickets at certain times, or others can enter certain information depending on the status, for example.

Next week I will outline some steps to prepare and plan for the selection of a tool.

  • Good Article, I enjoyed reading it!

    I would really appricate it if you can highlight the need for a more scalability in terms of customers’ requirments, why should companies pay more for things they don’t really need?

    a service desk can be anything form a small aoolication that offers tickit tracking and some forms of automatic notifications to a system that has all the ITIL concepts in place (Change Mgmt, CMDB, KB, ..etc).

    Can CA, Remedy, HP, etc provide such scalability? surly they can’t.

    thanks