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5 Questions and answers about helpdesk and ticketing systems

What are the benefits of helpdesk / ticketing software?

Ticketing systems are a central component in (enterprise) service management and are extensively used wherever transparent and structured communication with internal and / or external clients is required. Customers can submit their service requests to a central support team via phone, mail or customer portal and receive assistance within guaranteed response times.

This is precisely why OTRS was developed: to automate and provide greater transparency for service processes and with the greatest degree of flexibility. Whether as part of traditional IT support, external customer service, facilities management, human resources, fleet or compliance management, OTRS provides all the elements customers expect of a professional service support solution. Using its integrated process management features, approval and / or RMA processes can be easily managed and documented. As a result, standard procedures for vacation requests, credit approvals or security-related messages can also be configured.

A key feature of OTRS is that it gives different service teams the ability to share a single installation, but remain clearly separated from each other thanks to OTRS' powerful user role and authorisation design. So, for example, sensitive HR data remains protected from the prying eyes of unauthorised individuals in building management, even though they carry out their work on the same system.

OTRS was originally implemented in the IT service sector according to ITIL standards. Today, these ITIL processes are being applied more and more to service-oriented business sectors. This is why OTRS has become a popular tool across all service-related business areas.

What software environment does OTRS use?

OTRS is a web-based, royalty-free, open-source solution based mainly on Perl and JavaScript. The user, however, only sees dynamically generated web content, as service staff access the system via their browsers. The software itself is installed on a central Linux server.

Users can communicate with customers either by email, telephone or via the customer portal. Tickets can also be created by fax or by using a document scanner. A generic connector for third party systems via web services using REST and SOAP is also available. This is useful, for example, for integrating ERP systems such as Navision (for more information see our use case  "Optimised customer service in E-commerce"). However, for most projects the existing interfaces are used, e.g. the i-doit/OTRS Connector. This significantly reduces project costs and allows all configurations to work with future upgrades.

Which interfaces are useful or even necessary for a ticketing system?

Customer communications must be recorded in tickets with no possibility of this information being changed once saved. OTRS works like a mail client: emails are collected from a given mailbox and converted into tickets. For this reason, the company email system should be fully integrated with the OTRS system. New tickets are either created or emails are attached to an already existing transaction. The status is then automatically set to "open" and the designated member of the service team is notified. Outgoing communications via email or telephone are also documented directly in the ticket.

Any and all connections to existing CRM systems are also important, because the last thing you want to have to do is maintain your master data in more than one place. OTRS can include up to ten external customer databases. OTRS supports LDAP / AD, MySQL, MariaDB, Postgres, MSSQL and Oracle systems. Using the provided connector via web services, which we mentioned above, is also important for many projects.

Should customers be granted direct access to the ticketing system?

Customers want to be able to submit queries to a central address (such as service@company.com) without the need for a login, going through "captcha" procedures or other annoyances. However, such an approach causes considerable work for the service desk team, because a number of questions need to be resolved first. For example, is the customer even entitled to receive support in the first place? Which service is affected and what SLAs (if any) apply? Has all the relevant information been provided?

By raising a ticket via the customer front end, the customer can – after logging into the system – choose from a list of affected services or issues and select the relevant process. Depending on the configuration implemented, required information can also be requested when the ticket is raised. This provides for the automated assignment of tickets to service teams or the setting of response times.

Plus, the customer can view and add updates to the processing status of his tickets online. This reduces the number of customer-generated status queries and saves support staff from carrying out unnecessary work. It's also often a good idea to enable the creation of tickets via the customer front end so that further communication can then take place by email and telephone. The tickets, however, continue to be visible in the customer portal.

How do you implement a ticketing / help desk software solution in a company?

The guide „Implementing a Help Desk and Ticketing System“ briefly and concisely explains how to carry out a best practice-oriented OTRS implementation. Below is a description of the specific steps that it-novum follows when approaching a help desk project.

The first – and sometimes last – step is a project-specific evaluation. Working together with the customer, a number of questions are addressed. For instance, with the system fulfil the customer's functional and technical requirements? How much effort will be involved in implementing the system? Once these initial questions have been answered, the project is then progressed as part of a conceptual workshop. Here, an experienced OTRS consultant records all customer-specific requirements and, taking a best-practice approach to the system's configuration (services, processes, automation, selection of text blocks and boilerplates, modules, roles and permissions, etc.), sees that these are included in the most advantageous way.

The OTRS system is then installed and configured based on the results of this conceptual workshop. Finally, after training has been provided to system users and administrators, the new installation is turned over to the company for commissioning and use. If required, it-novum can also provide optional support contracts and further consulting or training days for the new live system.

Although the sequence of events involved in the design, installation and configuration, handover and training is the same for all projects, the actual time needed for each individual implementation can vary considerably. This can range from three days for smaller projects up to 100 days for very complex systems. The exact amount of time and effort required is laid out by it-novum during the evaluation stage of the project.

You can find out more about how OTRS can help improve your customer service and online business in the brochure "Customer Service in E-Commerce".