From"Observer & Community Support for Spitzer - Lessons Learned" by Silbermann, Rebull & Storrie-Lombardi, 10 Oct 2007:

Helpdesk Our Helpdesk is the AIM software (Unix/Windows) that ingests incoming emails from, creates ‘tickets’ out of them by assigning them a ticket number and leaving them in an ‘open’ status for the Helpdesk operator to review and answer or assign to other staff as needed. The software can also be configured such that users have to fill out a web form to submit a ‘ticket’. We thought this an unnecessary hurdle for people to ask us questions. Just send us an email and we would take if from there was our feeling.

Volume: The Helpdesk can receive over 700 emails/month during the busiest times (ingest of approved programs). December is the quiet month with about 200 emails.

Helpdesk Operator
  • Knowledgeable helpdesk operator (w/database/info access!).
  • Answer questions, assign others to appropriate person.
  • One email address for (just about) everything.
  • Prompt response to queries (within 2 workdays) very important!
  • Operator sends reminders to staff starting on day 3 for unanswered questions.
  • Notification of submission of modified program via email to Helpdesk.

Helpdesk software (wish list)
  • Easy identification of pending tickets, easy response mechanism; tracking of who said what and when.
  • No limit to the number of staff who can use the s/w.
  • Ease of configuration of the software; i.e. add/change categories, staff members assigned to tickets, assign categories separate from staff, etc.
  • Ability to search for keywords in subject/body of tickets or date sent, etc.
  • Ability to respond to multiple people.
  • Ability to see all email addresses of who the email was sent to.
  • Ability for Helpdesk Operator to see status of all pending tickets, not just the unassigned ones (to track unanswered ones).
  • No limit (or larger than AIM’s 8 kb) on incoming email size.
  • Response appended to top of body of ticket (not bottom as in AIM) and archived in the ticket.
  • Ability to tell if you have closed out a ticket without responding to it.
  • Handle attachments.
  • Easy generation of statistics.
  • Must do spam filtering (in Helpdesk or in front of it).
  • Ability to upgrade over course of mission.
  • No ‘automatic’ confirmation of receipt of email (turn this feature OFF).
  • Backup inbox to catch ALL emails just in case...

  • Inadequate Helpdesk software and/or hardware; AIM software we use claimed to run on Unix and Windows but it clearly has issues with Unix.
  • Software is VERY SLOW, PAINFULLY SLOW now that we have tens of thousands of tickets in there.
  • Spam volume and filtering; early spam filtering would capture real emails, now use Can-It; we’ve gone from zero to about 120 spam emails/day – now a significant amount of time is needed to deal with it.
  • Maintenance of software (ISG helps us but we don’t have a knowledgeable person on the team).

Lessons Learned:
  • All packaged Helpdesk software has many bells/whistles that are unnecessary. Remember the bottom line of Helpdesk operation: capture the question(s), answering them, and archive everything for later use (‘I’ve answered this before....’)
  • Too busy for years after launch to have time to look at new/better software. So choose wisely.
  • To attempt to avoid spam do not put your complete Helpdesk email on web pages (break it up or put it in a gif image) or require the use of a form (not my preference; and spam now comes through those anyway).

  • Do they use a commercial helpdesk package (which one?), or did they write their own (in what), or do they just use a regular email program (which one)? Pros/cons/lessons learned (would they do the same again). How much overhead in working with outside contractors?

A: AIM software

  • How Do users interface with helpdesk? Simple email, or Do they have a web interface, or both? Anything else? have the solicited user input on How they like the system?

A: email to The software can also be configured so that users have to fill out a web form to submit a ticket.

  • Do they have a triage process, and if so How Do they manage it? Does the triage person spend a lot of time on each ticket, or quickly assign it to someone else?

A: Yes, a Helpdesk operator w/database info access. Answers questions if possible, or assign to others. Queries get response within 2 working days. Operator sends reminders to staff starting on day 3 for unanswered questions.

  • How do they decide who to assign the ticket to? By specialty, or round-robin, or ??


  • Do they have diagnostics that the manager/triage person can use to help assign tickets? e.g., no. of tickets per support person, average time to respond, etc.


  • How do support personnel communicate with users? Personel email accounts? Webpage? Combination? Do all correspondances go through helpdesk? Are the all logged? If so, how and why? Can they provide concrete examples of when having the entire email chain has been useful?


  • How often do users get email notifications? Is it too much/too little?


  • How many tickets do they get in a day, and how many people are needed?

A: From 200-700 emails/mo (7-25 per day). 200 in December, 700 when deadline.

  • Do they also have any face to face support? How much?


-- JohnHibbard - 07 Dec 2007
Topic revision: r2 - 2008-02-21, JohnHibbard
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