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IT professionals attend daily to the chaos that IT support involves. Help desk software can ease some of those administrative burdens while increasing end-user satisfaction and productivity and lowering the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the enterprise. To achieve these goals, the software's feature set must align with your organization's support activities. In some cases, Help desk software must integrate with an existing support system.

The listings in this Buyer's Guide detail the variety of features available in Help desk software. On the front end, some products offer end users multiple ways to request help, such as using the telephone, the Internet, or an email trouble-ticket generation process. After a user reports a problem, the Help desk software should streamline assigning, tracking, prioritizing, and escalating support tasks. Although you can handle such details manually, some feature-rich products in this Buyer's Guide incorporate intelligent workflow capabilities to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks in large-volume support organizations. Planning workflow operations requires a significant investment of time, so you should verify that the planning is useful to your organization before you commit to implementing a Help desk software package that is feature-rich in this area.

If you're away from your office most of the time, you might want to consider a product that offers a Web interface. A Web interface to the Help desk application makes updating job-status listings easier. In addition, a Web-based solution with multilevel access lets end users check the status of their requests without involving a support person. Some applications that this Buyer's Guide lists even let end users employ a Web interface to resolve problems. A Web interface in combination with knowledge management tools is very useful in helping you maintain a database of problems and resolutions to refer to. An effective knowledge management tie-in to Help desk software can expedite your Return on Investment (ROI). Some of the products provide built-in Web capabilities, and others offer Web access as an add-on. You should investigate the comprehensiveness of the Web-access features. Some products include means for tracking employee moves, additions, and changes. You might also be interested in preventive-maintenance scheduling, asset management, and customer-satisfaction tracking.

Companies that have invested in a systems management platform (e.g., Microsoft Systems Management Server—SMS) should look for a product that leverages that investment. Large organizations should purchase a scalable Help desk program. To accomplish scalability, some products in this Buyer's Guide support enterprise database back ends, such as Microsoft SQL Server.