Any service-oriented business must provide a means to support those that it serves. In Information Technology this is especially crucial, as time is money. The more technology-dependent the corporate world becomes, the more necessary it is to provide the uptime required to maintain continuity of business.
One statistic I recently heard was that if the NASDAQ Technology Stock database responsible for the management of stock trading were to fail, stockholders and traders would lose over 1 million U.S. dollars every hour the system was down. And though the typical Web developer mightn’t carry responsibility for the NASDAQ database on their shoulders, as service providers in the technology sector, our work is of the same time-critical nature. It’s absolutely crucial that we’re able to respond quickly and effectively to correct problems that our customers experience.
On a project with which I was recently involved, the team reviewed a number of options for the tracking and management of trouble tickets. We knew from experience that customers would encounter service difficulties, and they’d need to be able to contact us for support.
The Project Requirements
As we wanted to fit the ticket manager into our existing front-end design, we sought a package that was easy to configure in terms of colors and fonts, etc. It had to be intuitive enough for the customer to use, and powerful enough to prevent miscues and lost tickets.
The team looked through numerous software applications and free scripts, but couldn’t find one that suited these requirements. Many scripts were overly complicated, and performed so many duties that they missed the point altogether, while others were so basic that they weren’t even worth a second glance. Others were perfect, but expensive — costing between $500-$2,500 …a sacrifice our budget couldn’t take. Finally, we discovered the solution.
IsolSoft Support Center v.1.5
IsolSoft’s Support Center was one of those products that leapt off the page: in an instant, there was a mesmerizing bond between us and the software! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I can truthfully say that the product seemed instantly to meet all the criteria we’d set forth.
In fact, with a three-tier user interface, Support Center went beyond our requirements. In the user control panel, available to customers, the user could view all tickets ever submitted and sort by open tickets, closed tickets or search all the tickets for a given issue.
The staff control panel delivered considerable administrative power to support techs, giving them the means to:
- close tickets that had been assigned to them,
- leave comments and a
- get a listing of dates and times when tickets had been opened and the actions performed on them.
- Staff could also reassign tickets to others. Upon reassignment, the trouble ticket would automatically appear in the new staff member’s ticket list.
But the most powerful user-level belonged to the admin, who possessed total control over the software. The admin could configure the board’s stylesheet, including header and footers, which gave us the flexibility we needed. In addition, email templates (for standard customer emails) were easy to set up, although, had we wished, we could have chosen to use the defaults that came with the software (and were actually quite good).
The admin could also add new staff, and was able to review all tickets and the staff member to whom each had been assigned. He or she could also make responses, and intervene in the ticket process at their discretion.
As far as I’m concerned, balancing cost and effectiveness, this is the best product on the market. The whole software package is written in PHP, which was the preferred choice on our Apache-enabled Linux server. Installation is a cinch — with a handy browser-executable install script included in the package.
Once installed, the product’s easily integrated into the site. We’ve configured the service to modify a few items that we felt were unssary to our particular service (such as the ability for new users to sign up on their own — we wanted to allocate each a userid that corresponded with other software we use) and this configuration was quick and easy.
The three-tiered support system also makes it extremely easy to track and maintain trouble tickets in practice. Every change in the status of the ticket causes an email to be sent to the ticket author to make them aware of the progress of their ticket.
We discovered that the Support Center script had not yet been updated to use PHP 4.2, which raised a number of security questions. As of yet, I haven’t been able to determine exactly when a patched version of the software will be released. We were, however, able to modify the code to work in our secure environment.
The Wrap Up
Price: US$99.95 (includes upgrades and patches and free support for 1 year)
For More Information: http://www.isolsoft.com
Aaron Brazell is the senior technology manager for b5media, a new media network. He is a well known and respected voice in the world of blogging and social media and has a passion for written communication. He has been developing in PHP for six years and has been actively involved with WordPress for nearly three years. He writes on his blog, Technosailor and is available for WordPress consulting