InverseFlow Help Desk System

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, send e-mail
Published by: InverseFlow, go to the web site
Requires: Software - UNIX, Linux, FreeBSD, Microsoft Windows NT (NT, 2000 and XP) server. Apache, Netscape or Microsoft IIS web server. MySQL or mSQL databases. Microsoft Access is not supported. MySQL (version 3.23 or higher). PHP (version 4.2.3 or higher) when possible. Crontab is helpful but not required. Hardware - AMD/Pentium 300mhz or more. 64 MB RAM (SDRAM preferably. Other - remote access via telnet/shell is helpful during installation. FTP access is helpful during installation. Time-run limitations are hurtful but not fatal to the script. Crontab is not required. Reviewed on: Linux, Apache server, PHP, and MySQL.
MSRP: $264.96

Unfortunately there are no such things as foolproof, perfect software or computer systems. The more features and complexity we introduce, the better the chance of problems. When people have problems they usually need help to solve them. Providing effective and efficient help is essential to any business with products. Inverse’s Help Desk System seeks to provide these folks with a web-based help environment that accomplishes this mighty feat.

The Help Desk System (HDS) allows you to set up a web based help/ticket system that allows users to post tickets which can be subsequently addressed by technical support folks all through online or e-mail based interactions. The beauty of the program is that this process is accomplished with an elegance that provides both sets of users the key ingredients required to create a successful solution.

Installing the HDS system on my Linux server required some basic knowledge of my database system such as logins, paths and passwords, but other than this the installation and a subsequent upgrade were virtually painless. In reviewing the Windows instructions I imagine the same could be said for an installation on that platform.

I've had some experience in the ticket system area having worked with a number of customized ticket systems as well as developing a specialized one myself and I can say with some confidence that this product provides all of the essentials and then some. If that were not enough, you get a key ingredient with every license - the source code. With each license you have the legal right to customize the source code and even remove the copyright information if you so choose. Now how often do you get that as part of competing packages?

Although the rights to change the code are part of your license, you will probably find no burning need to adjust the programming. Many of the functions within the system have a customizable interface as well as additional options that can be adjusted directly from the web-based interface.

To detail all of the features of this system would take more space than allotted for this review, but let me touch on some of the basic and advanced features that I found most compelling.

The core features in HDS that make it work are the ticket creation system, a friendly way to manage ticket lifecycle, and the information associated with a ticket fix. There are several features that make this particularly good: customizable e-mails, automatic replies triggered by department and or keyword options, a trigger to send an online survey form when a ticket is closed, and statistics telling you about response frequency, speed and quality.

Workload for ticket responders is eased not only by the clear interface and notices, but also by providing these users with the ability to create generic replies that can be selected on the fly for common problems and modified appropriately for a specific response. Responders can also flag different tickets and assign a priority to them or transfer them to another person or department.

For users one of the neatest advanced features is the ability to register tickets via e-mail. When users send an e-mail to a specific address the ticket system can be set up to manually or automatically collect and process these e-mails and turn then directly into tickets.

Some additional features of note are the ability to add attachments, both public and private (only staff can see them). Get a lot of the same questions? HDS has a searchable knowledge base which can be set up to provide users with the option to self-help. Ticket closed prematurely? A user’s reply to a closed ticket will automatically re-open the ticket and inform the group responsible for solving the problem.

In terms of cons, I really could not find many. Sure your business might be slightly different, but the base provided enables you to address most any problems, in some cases much better than other systems I've used. Perhaps the only feature I would have liked to see changed was in the auto replies. When a generic auto reply is added as well as one with keywords, the generic one is used automatically and overrides the keyword one. It would be nice if the keyword replies could be set to override the generic ones when appropriate.

Overall I felt that HDS provided a truly helpful solution to a troublesome problem - how to provide online help efficiently. With the added bonus of the ability to modify the source code at will, it is hard to see how one could go wrong with this product.

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