Looking for an I.T. workflow, ticket tracker, help desk kinda app.

I'm trying to find a .NET app to manage I.T. workflow including job tickets, help desk calls, app deployment, all that. Let's start with the price point to hit: under $1000CAD. That's around $750USD these days. If the features are all there and it looks good, double that might be acceptable, but don't expect it to be. Here's why.

The market situation is that the best-of-breed products are in the $10k range, which is why you see a glut of ugly dogs cluttering the scene, clamoring for a spot at the dish. Quality and price point should leave no reason for a company to build in-house. But right now, the only choices are either high prices or lousy features, so in every company someone is given the job for two weeks to build "something good enough." Hence the glut. Therefore, two weeks wages is the price to beat. Open source freeware will eventually be the price to beat, but given the current state of comparable .NET projects this won't happen for at least six months and possibly a couple years.

On to the wish list. . .

  • SQL Server data store. Eases backup and makes it possible to create custom reports. Should be able to build reports according to parameters for stage (e.g. open/closed), period, project, owner, and assignee.
  • Windows Authentication to recognize current user, Active Directory integration when available. Make use of roles to populate drop-downs (e.g. Assign To).
  • Preferably integrated with Outlook, with WebForms the second choice. The fewer UIs users need to learn the better.
  • SMTP alerts for assignments and completion events. A no-brainer if integrated with Outlook. Should be standard feature, making this feature an add-on is a giant turn-off, but some do it.
  • Flexible workflow model (perhaps templated) to allow for different types of jobs: help desk tickets (question and solution, conversation tracking/notes, FAQ/KB generation doesn't need to be built in, but should be possible to add on), server or desktop deployment (order, spec, build/procure, test, deploy stages), software feature request (request, design, develop, test, deploy stages). Each stage should be assignable to an executor and (where appropriate) to an optional approver (ideally but not necessarily allow this to be a role). Each job should have an overall owner/creator and a status (the stage). Each job should allow attachments.
  • A Web Services layer seems to be a standard request for new apps. I can't justify it in a workflow app for my own needs, but it should simplify construction and maintenance of the app down the line.
  • Not concerned about integration with MS Project. The way PMs use Project does not normally overlap the sorts of jobs tracked in this system. Perhaps a nice-to-have, but not essential to my needs.
  • I don't need a client-facing help desk UI, but most orgs would. I'm the one who wants the info organized, so I'm responsible for that task, not the user. While it's reasonable to expect people to search a KB or FAQ first, or to wait their turn for service, I don't believe it's reasonable to require users to do more than describe the issue they're having in enough detail to permit a solution. For the same reason I refuse to fill out forms to "have a sales rep call me." I don't want a phone call, I want to state my question and get an answer. If there is an option to ask a live person, I won't jump through hoops to do it, I'll find another company to answer the question instead. In the long term, that's a company I'd rather be working with. You wouldn't believe the number of companies that don't post their prices on the site. See ya.
  • Built with .NET. If the UI isn't Outlook, it should be an ASP.NET web app.

Request Tracker, Scarab (screen shots) and GNATS are well-known open-source freeware apps in the *IX/MySQL arena. All have nice UIs and good feature sets. Nothing compares on the .NET side.

This is what my research turned up (prices USD unless noted):

First, my favourite so far. Simply called Outlook Help Desk, it integrates tightly with Outlook, making use of its templates for the forms and such. It's actively developed and has a freeware KB extension. Click the screenshot, there are many more screenshots under there (the bottom row contains the links). Actively developed. Not freeware, but reasonable at $300USD. One shortcoming is that open tickets do not exist in SQL Server (until you do a "sync"), so it's difficult to build reports about open tickets. Item labels aren't always appropriate for the ways such an app will be used, hopefully its easy to customise.

AdminLog is a decent freeware VB6 app. Source is available for $300. Adequate. No Web UI.

Chameleon is a pay version of AdminLog. Also a Windows app, no sign of a Web UI. A site license is $479.

I've used a demo version of Brightwork, and it's nice. It lives as a web app on SharePoint (or Exchange) and has most of the features described above. Reporting isn't as strong as it could be, and it's expensive. Jobs exist in a hierarchy of folders, a nice organizing feature. I don't have a precise quote, but get the sense it's in the $20k range. http://www.brightwork.com

If Brightwork is a Cadillac, TrackRecord is the Rolls Royce. The site makes it impossible to tell whether it's available separately from CompuWare's DevParter app, which is about $2k per seat. It integrates with Outlook, Project, Source Safe and just about everything else. Seems to win the Visual Studio Reader's Choice award annually. http://www.compuware.com/products/trackrecord.htm

I would be remiss not to mention a simple sample app developed with GenericDB for Classic ASP by Chuck Speerly. This is a sample Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) application using GenericDB, enhancements and security from Squeek's site, and some custom work by Chuck. Try it by searching for RMA Number 20001, or login as user@user.com with the password “password.” Download it, unpack all including RMA.mdb into an /RMA/ folder in webroot, and it should work without any editing. Simple open source freeware, easy to rework the fields or redesign the screens. There ya go.

And that's the round-up. Nothing ideal, no one in the running to be the Quicken of this market.

What features are on your wish list? Got an ETA on something everyone should know about? Send your Feedback below.

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