DAILY INSIGHT: Help us help our customers, please!

By Steve Young, CIO Advisor

While this may seem a mundane topic, I want to talk about the stalwart backbone of most IT departments: the help desk. The busier my wonderful IT staff gets, the more devices and schools they support, the more we are increasingly needing a robust system that can support the increasing demands placed on our busy staff.

Like many school IT departments, we never allocated a lot of budget funds to the help desk. We have used a few different systems, which to some extent always seems to be "just OK" or "good enough." Maybe we got a deal on the software, maybe we could not afford something better, or in the case of our current system, the help desk came as part of a larger software bundle. It was easy to justify using something that we basically got free as part of another department’s larger software bundle purchase. But at the end of the day, we now know that the software indeed was a very insignificant part of the software package. It has basically been ignored by the company for years, in spite of many customers’ requests for features we feel are needed for increasingly hard pressed IT staffs.

After doing some looking around at what is being offered currently in the help desk market, there are a lot more players and options to choose from than there were 10 years ago. SaaS and the cloud have had a huge impact on this market. There are many very affordable cloud based systems available that might be a great tool for IT departments. Here is a decent (but by no means comprehensive) list of some cloud based systems: 10 Great Online Support and Help Desk Apps. There are still many traditional hosted systems as well, which can be very attractive offerings and competitively priced.

And from my research, cloud does not at all necessarily equate to a help desk being inexpensive. One of the most comprehensive help desk systems I have seen, which offers a plethora of advanced features for change management, etc., is incredibly expensive and probably not within the reach of most school IT departments.

So what does our IT department need in a help desk? Well …. good question. I have started a long list of what we would like to see. While the list is not done, it gives a pretty good idea of what we want. And my guess is that many other IT departments, in schools and other industries, would probably like an affordable help desk system that offers this same set of features. The features list is available on my CTO Technotes blog.

Steve Young is CTO of Judson ISD in Texas and founder of the San Antonio Area Technology Directors group. He blogs at CTO Technotes, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @atemyshorts.