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Track-It!

21 Posts authored by: Benny Morrison Employee
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This week I'm in Europe visiting some of my colleagues here.  Skype is a wonderful tool - however, there's no substitute for looking directly into someone's eyes, spending quality time with your team and understanding how they work in their environment.  It's been a wonderful week so far and we've had a tremendous visit - great food and fellowship have been shared by all.  I'm also taking the opportunity while I'm here to meet people who aren't on the Track-It! team.  I'll be flying back Saturday morning and will be glad to be home with my family, but I will definitely miss everyone here - we've bonded quite a bit this week.  This trip has been a huge success for that reason alone.

 

I've been talking to the team a lot this week about Track-It! and some of the basic tenets of a Help Desk.  How does a Technician do their daily work?  How can Track-It! help them organize their work and optimize their Help Desk performance?  I brought this blog series on getting organized up to the team and discussed the basic premise of the series with them - that some customers of ours are buying help desk software for the first time and don't understand some of the ways that Track-It! can help them get organized and exceed customer expectations.  This morning, I discussed my idea for this week's post - the top 3 myths about organizing your Help Desk - with the team.  It was an interesting conversation and I centered it on coming up with a few key words that describe the essence of each myth.

 

Organizing your Help Desk is easy - there are some companies out there that say that it's easy to setup and run your Help Desk.  Well, it's not.  There's a huge difference between your software being easy-to-use and your Help Desk being easy to setup and organize.  Even following a very specific set of best practices and using Track-It! to manage your Help Desk is not nearly enough to debunk this myth.  It may be very easy to get started in a lot of cases, but best practices are designed to provide initial direction.  Problems seem to rear their ugly head when that initial direction is not pointed where you want to go.  And in that case, the further you move in that direction without any sort of course correction means that you will be that much further away from where you want to be.  I believe in being done before being perfect - however, there are some decisions that directly influence the way that you are able to measure your performance and status that must be made.  A lot of these decisions have to do with initial setup and reference data such as your Types, Sub-types, Categories, Priorities and other fields used as metadata in your Work Order.  Setting these up correctly is very important - you can't report on data that you don't measure.

 

Your Help Desk requires little maintenance - this is a myth of omission.  It is true that on a week to week basis, you may not need to do much maintenance on your Help Desk or your IT software, but you must always be ready to review your setup and find ways to optimize and improve your processes.  This is something that is sometimes easy to overlook for a lot of organizations - however, it might be the most important thing that you can do for your team and your company.  As the size and complexity of your organization changes, you must be ready to adapt.  Similarly, as the skill-level and awareness of your users change, you must also change your approach accordingly.  Failing to do so would mean that you are providing them with services and solutions that are not at all geared to their needs - and your satisfaction scores will certainly reflect that over the course of time.  Reviewing your data and processes on a regular basis will ensure that you are taking into account the changes that are surely coming around the corner and will allow you to protect yourself against failing to recognize just how significant some of them may be to your Help Desk.

 

There is one True Way to organize your Help Desk - no matter what anyone says, I do not believe that a single process can possibly work in every situation.  People and groups are too different in too many different ways to gain the same benefits from a single process.  Sometimes a company finds this out after implementing a new piece of software or process and finding that it doesn't provide them with the visibility into their organization or the ability to adapt to a changing environment that they need.  And sometimes they don't realize this until some time has passed.  Without flexibility in your Help Desk to change how Work Orders are processed, tracked and otherwise managed, you will be stuck in a very bad situation.  It is critical to spend time identifying what your most important needs are very early when establishing how your Help Desk will be organized.  Choosing a solution or process that is weak and rigid in the area that is the most important to your organization increases the risk of failure immeasurably.  Making this mistake can doom a project before it ever starts by not giving you any way of correcting the small mistakes that you are bound to make early on in your implementation.

 

The ease of use and flexibility of Track-It! is a great guard against these scary myths.  And our Track-It! user community is a tremendous resource for your questions regarding how to organize your Help Desk to suit your needs.  Recently I've seen some detailed discussions around this very topic - we're really happy that our customers are starting to get involved in the new BMC Track-It! community.  And I hope you've noticed that we've been jumping into those discussions, too.  After all, we love talking about help desk and asset management software just as much as our customers do - and we really love being able to help you utilize Track-It! to grow into a mature and sophisticated IT organization.

 

Well, another couple of days and I'll be hopping on a plane for about 20 hours of travel to get back home.  I've been Skyping with my wife and daughter but it's nothing compared to being with them in-person.  Of course, that's why I'm here in the first place - to show our team in-person just how much they mean to us.  And it's been well-worth the trip.

 

But I sure am looking forward to some big hugs when I get home...

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I'm leaving in a couple of days for Europe for a work trip.  Many years ago I worked as a consultant and logged my fair share of frequent flyer miles.  However, these days I don't really travel that much at all.  I'm very content to spend my time near home with my wife and daughter - and my evil dog, Dixie.  There was a time when I could pack for a business trip in record time without forgetting anything - but those times are long forgotten.  These days I need a checklist to get ready to go to the grocery store or I will forget to put on my shoes or grab my keys. 

 

In packing and getting ready this week, I used a set of tasks in my organizational system to make sure that I didn't forget anything.  Some things are a bit more important than others - passports and travel adapters being a couple of them - and I could put myself in a bad spot if I forgot some of those critical items.  Task management is something that you can adopt in every part of your life or you can just keep track of certain aspects of what you do each day.  For example, some co-workers keep a very detailed task list for work but they don't try to keep track of the errands they need to run or the things around the house that need to get done.  I keep track of tasks in every aspect of my life - I've come to depend on them to ensure that things that are important to me, my family and my colleagues always gets done.

 

The bottom line is that there is a lot of overlap between a task management system and software used to manage a typical help desk.  The process that you go through to enter, update and close a Work Order can be very similar to the way that you track one-off and repeating tasks for work or in your personal life.  If you consider a Work Order and a task to be synonymous, you can easily see that there are a number of concepts that are very similar when comparing Track-It! to a task management system.

 

Workflow/lifecycle management - In both cases, the key to each system is how each one handles the workflow of information.  The transition of a Work Order from Open to Closed often times mirrors the way that a task gets completed.  For a Work Order, using fields like Type, SubType, Category, Priority and each user-defined field allows you to store many different types of information that can control the workflow through your help desk.  In a task management system, fields such as context, priority, due date, tags, location and notes provide users with the ability to search, group and manage their tasks in many different ways to support numerous types of workflow requirements.  In both cases, the metadata in these fields can be used to provide a number of different views into Work Orders or tasks to show you a clear picture of the work to be done.


Reporting and Metrics - The ability to view trending data and other types of reports is a key component of either type of system.  Often times I have taken the time to determine how long it took me to complete certain sets or types of tasks just as you would measure the average time it takes to close Work Orders in Track-It!  If you can't measure something, you can't improve it - it doesn't matter if you're talking about your Help Desk or your task list for the weekend.

 

History - Being able to search old Work Orders is incredibly useful when researching how to fix a problem or when trying to figure out how many times you've helped a particular user during a specific time period.  I also search my completed tasks in my system to find out when a particular task was completed, how many times a task has been scheduled or other important information that might help me with my current tasks.  Being able to see the Work Order history in the Asset and Requestor tabs in the Work Order Detail window as proven to be an extremely popular feature in Track-It! through the years.  Having quick and concise access to this type of information is integral to being organized and efficient each day.

 

Integration with other modules/systems - Task management systems have long been notorious for not having integration with other types of systems, but things are getting better in that regard.  These days, when evaluating a task management system you are likely to find that it integrates with systems such as Evernote or Springpad to store notes about tasks or with social media sites to provide better visibility into your task list.  Track-It! has always had powerful internal integration between modules such as Help Desk, Inventory, Software License Management and Purchasing as well as external integration with systems to extend the functionality of the product with add-ons.  Having the ability to integrate smoothly with other tools allows us to provide a set of extensible solutions within the Track-It! product family to our customers.  Similarly, I have found that the best task management solutions that I have evaluated give me numerous options for integrating with other web applications that I use every day.

 

At its core, your Help Desk isn't a lot different from a task list.  You still have individual tasks that must be completed and you need some visibility into them.  Track-It! provides a strong family of products to help you manage your Work Orders and provide your customers with excellent service.  Getting organized always starts by focusing on creating a foundation that you can build on - not shoving toys into a closet and shutting the door or cramming a handful of paper into a drawer and closing it.  As important as your Help Desk is to your organization, you owe it to yourself and your users to build on a foundation that is rock solid.  Maintaining a professional, organized Help Desk starts with understanding why it is important to be organized in the first place.  Once that is clear, it is easy to see the benefits that getting organized with Track-It! can provide for you and your users. 

 

Well, it's time to start working on that checklist again.  And some more laundry.  And more packing.  It should be a great trip and I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone over there.

 

As long as I don't forget all of those chargers...

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There are some people in life that can keep multiple plates spinning in their head without allowing them to drop.  I'm not one of those people.  I marvel at their ability to juggle all types of things without forgetting something.  However, the problem is that - at some point - something invariably gets forgotten.  It might be an important task that was due yesterday or it might be the order in which a few critical things were completed.  No matter what plate gets dropped and crashes to the floor, it is likely that it is an important one.

 

It's easy to see how this translates to your Help Desk.  Forgetting about a customer request, not capturing the details around the solution to a customer problem and not being able to track the progress of an issue to be able to report on it are all signs of disorganization.  And they can be killers for everyone involved - no matter if they are an end user or a technician.  It seems like common sense, but I'm always amazed at how many people and companies say that they are highly organized but when you look closely, they actually have some real problems that can easily be solved.  This type of problem is most often seen in new companies or smaller organizations but anyone can slip up and let complacency slip into their day-to-day work - no matter how large or small their service organization is.

 

So, why is it critically important for you or your group to get organized?

 

Trust from customers - it only takes one fail for trust in you and your Help Desk to plummet - especially if the issue is a high-profile one.  It really doesn't matter what type of problem occurred - a forgotten task or ticket can cause the same type of loss of trust as taking way too long to fix an issue because you didn't capture how it was solved for another customer last week.  The bottom line is that we are all held accountable for failures in the eyes of the customer.  They don't care whose fault it was - only that their problem didn't get solved or that their SLA was not met. 

 

It's too easy not to - with technology available to us today, there is no reason not to use something to stay organized.  And if you have a smart phone, you can access the information that you need no matter where you are if you use the right tools.  There are a lot of different methodologies documented that you can use and if all else fails, you can always use a simple pad of paper and a pen to implement any of them.  You would be giving up a lot of advantages that tools specifically designed to help you get organized bring to the table, but ultimately, the organizational method is more important than the tool that you use to implement it.

 

Clearing your mind - I've always believed that a clear mind is a relaxed mind.  One of the main positives that I noted when I decided to get ultra-organized was that I felt so much more relaxed - even under heavy stress.  Simply keeping track of everything in one place with a single system to keep it organized reduced my stress level greatly.  Before taking the plunge, I always wondered if I was really working on the right task at the moment or if I had captured everything that I really needed to for a given task.  Even keeping a simple paper task list every day didn't help me because I was never 100% sure that it was correct and I couldn't easily pull priorities or areas of focus out of the list.

 

Reporting - let's face it - reporting on what needs to be done or what has already been done is sometimes more important than doing the work.  It allows your boss to see that things are running smoothly and it allows you to see where the gaps are before they become a real problem.  The main issue with reporting off of a set of data is that your reports are only as accurate as your data is.  Sticking with a system and being persistent will make any reports that you generate as accurate as possible and - more importantly - extremely useful to everyone.

 

Clear lines for improvement - without having a well-documented process for your work, you will have a hard time improving on how you do things.  Having an organized Help Desk and understanding what that means allows you to see where you can consolidate steps, do things in parallel and eliminate tasks so that you increase your efficiency and make your customers happy.  Process improvement is about seeing the big picture and validating the current state of your process as a first step.  If you don't have an organized Help Desk and know how your process works, you will likely find it very difficult to show measurable improvement in the way that your organization deals with problems and incidents.

 

What do you think?  Am I way off base here?  Do you run your Help Desk in an efficient manner without any formal process or organizational methodology?  Maybe you're just starting to look at what Track-It! can do for you?  I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments - let me know what you're thinking.

 

Next time I'll talk about why I'm discussing organizational methods and what they have to do with Track-It! and your Help Desk.  I'll show you why there is much more overlap across your personal organizational system and your Help Desk than you think.

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As I've posted before I'm a big-time time and task management nerd.  I used to think that I was organized - but I wasn't.  I used to think that I knew what needed to be done - but I didn't.  These days, I have a very detailed but easy-to-use system that keeps me very organized and lets me easily provide information to others regarding the work that I've completed, what's coming up next and what the priority of my tasks are.  And the other day, I started thinking...

 

That sounded to me like I could have been talking about a Help Desk within an organization.

 

Now, I'm not talking about a Service Desk that's a well-oiled machine.  And I'm not talking about the seasoned, grizzled veterans who have been using Track-It! or another BMC product for a number of years in a really productive environment.  I'm referring to our new customers.  Maybe you are a small company that is just starting to staff up your Help Desk.  Maybe you've been using other tools and needed a change.  Maybe you're part of a new wave of technicians that were hired to revamp the Help Desk for your organization.  No matter what your specific situation is, there is one overriding principle that applies - you have to get organized.

 

Disorganization in the Help Desk can be disastrous to your organization.  When users can't work because of hardware or software issues, you lose productivity that you will never get back.  If your technicians don't know what they're supposed to be working on, don't know what the most important task in front of them is at any one point in time, can't put their fingers on solutions to problems that they know have been fixed before by their group or quickly update Work Orders from anywhere - we can help you. 

 

I've got a series of posts lined up that revolve around questions that our customers might be asking and they all have to do with becoming more organized by using Track-It!  At the end of this series, you will have answers for questions like:

 

  • Why do we need to get organized?
  • Why are you talking about organizational methods?
  • What are the biggest myths about getting organized?
  • What are the pitfalls and gotchas to look out for?
  • What are the important features of Track-It! that can help me?
  • How much should we implement at first?
  • How do we grow and use more advanced features as we mature?
  • Is it possible to be organized from anywhere?

 

I think this series of posts could be a key starting point for customers that just aren't sure how to get started in their quest for better and more reliable service to their users.  The most important thing to remember is that we are here to help.  Aside from blog posts like this, we have documents and discussions on the Track-It! Community that can help you.  We also have our award-winning Technical Support group that you can call as well as our knowledge base of articles and solutions on our Track-It! Support site that you can use.  And you can always connect with BMC Software via social media as well.

 

I'm excited about this series of posts because they have to do with a subject that's close to my heart.  My personal life and work life received huge shots in the arm when I got serious about organizing my life.  I wasn't wondering what I should do anymore and I wasn't forgetting to follow-up on things with people, either.  There is a level of trust involved in relationships with others - no matter whether we're talking about your family, friends or work colleagues.  If they can't trust you to get something done, it puts a strain on that relationship - sometimes a huge strain. 

 

I saw a quote a little while back that I loved - it was "It's not that you dropped the ball - it's that you said you would catch it."  I love that.  Every day, I like to put myself in position to disappoint people - and then I don't do it.  Putting yourself in that position means that you're taking on a lot of responsibility and it also means that you're being a strong leader.  Every single day, your Help Desk is in a position to disappoint your users and your entire organization.  And every day, you have the ability to provide strong leadership for your organization and help them achieve their goals.  I don't believe that you can be successful at these things unless you are highly organized.  And I'm going to show you how Track-It! can help you at each step along the way on that journey.

 

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below - is this just what you were looking for?  Do you have other questions that you would like me to answer in this series?  Connect with us here on your Track-It! community - we will all benefit as we will all end up a little stronger and a little smarter.

 

I can't wait to get started...

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I saw a blog post this morning that caught my eye.  It is by Mary Pratt on ComputerWorld.com called 5 annoying help desk calls -- and how to banish them and it describes how a help desk can deal with 5 specific types of calls.  As I read the post, I realized that Track-It! has some really nice features that can help with these types of calls, too.

 

Password reset - Of course, Track-It! has a Password Reset feature that lets your users easily reset their password.  This is the type of call that can really clog up a help desk and there is no good reason for them.  Let Track-It! take those calls off your plate instead.

 

Office suite basics - These types of "How To" calls can be avoided by building a knowledge base for your company in the Track-It! Solutions module.  Your end users can easily search the Solutions module from Self Service and solve their own problems many times.  If you get your technicians in the habit of creating Solutions in Track-It! as they solve problems for their users, it won't be long before you will have built up a nice set of practical and helpful items in your knowledge base.  And your users will thank you as much as your technicians will.

 

About that trouble ticket - When an end user logs into Track-It! Self Service, one of the links on the main page is View my Work Orders.  It couldn't be much simpler for them - unless they didn't have to login at all.  If you setup Windows Authentication for your users, they won't even have to login with any Track-It! credentials to get to Self Service.  And once you setup your notifications properly within Track-It!, they will get e-mail notifications for any events that you choose - that will keep them up to date on all of their Work Orders.  And that's a great thing.

 

Enterprise app woes - The post describes a couple of companies that built web sites to track training for their users.  It's a good thing that Track-It! has a Training module that lets you do just that - you can track training classes for your end users and record information about each class that is taken as well.  It's a great way to ensure that your users have gone through any type of required training that you have available to them.  And that will result in fewer calls to the help desk.

 

Outage reporting - The Announcements feature of Track-It! allows a Track-It! administrator to create announcements that will be displayed for their end users.  They can even set a date and time when they will expire so that they don't stick around after they are no longer relevant.  It's a simple feature, but an important one.  When we rewrote Self Service last year, we even had a goal to make sure that announcements were very prominent for both users and technicians within Track-It!.  They can so important to your company - why hide them or make them difficult to find?  Doing that just invites more calls where users report that they didn't know about the new application that was just rolled out or about the system downtime.

 

These are just a few of the ways that Track-It! can help you and your organization fight the help desk blues.  You can't anticipate all of the calls that your help desk will receive, but this is a really good list of the ones that seem to occur over and over again.  The good news is that Track-It! can help you reduce that noise and in some cases even eliminate it.  And that will free up your technicians to spend quality time on those difficult calls so that they can provide excellent service for your users.

 

Isn't that what it's all about?

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This past weekend my7 year-old daughter came up to me and asked me the question that I've dreaded since before she was born.  The one question that I just never knew how I would answer.  The one that I really have no sane answer for whatsoever when talking to anyone outside IT.

 

The question?

 

"Daddy…  what do you do?"

 

Sigh.  Now, she has asked me this question plenty of times before - but this time was different. I could tell by the furrowed brow and curious look on her face that my standard answer - "Well, Daddy works with computers and helps make the programs that run on them" - wasn't going to fly that day.  Her response was, "Well, yes sir…  I know you say that.  But… how do you do that?  How do you make the programs?  And how does the computer run them?  I don't understand what you mean by 'run them'.  And what do the other people that you work with do? And who uses the programs and how do they help them?"

 

I'm NOT making this up.  All of that to digest in 20 seconds.  I knew that I needed to help her understand - I just needed a  way to relate the information.  Since I'm a huge fan of asking others to put themselves in someone else's shoes and using word pictures when discussing things with people, I searched the deep, dark corners of my brain for something - anything that I could use.

 

Then it hit me.  I realized how I could help her understand what Track-It! is.  And the conversation went something like this:

 

Me: Well, I can tell you about part of that.  Where you asked me who uses the programs that we write and how they help them.  You know that my team is responsible for Track-It!, right?  Do you know what Track-It! is?

Her: No, sir.

Me: OK.  So imagine one of the books you read when you were really little - like the Three Little Pigs.  Do you want to know how they would use Track-It!?

Her:(Enthusiastically) Yes sir!

Me: So those pigs -they had to build those houses, right? How do you think they did all of that work and still were able to keep up with where everything was?  They had to track things - tracking things just means to keep up with where they are and what they had. 

Her: OK.

Me: That's what Track-It! does - it lets you keep up with all of the stuff that your company has - like computers, desks, chairs, printers - things like that.

Her: And books and paper?

Me: Sure - if you want to track your books and paper, you can do that in Track-It!  Part of Track-It! is something called the Inventory - that is where all of this stuff is kept on the computer so they know all about it.  The pigs might have kept their straw, wood and bricks in there along with their tools and paint and anything else that they had for building houses .  Now, those pigs - they had to order a lot of that stuff, right?

Her: Yeah - probably from Home Depot or Wal-Mart.

Me: Maybe - well,Track-It! has a part we call Purchasing. If you have Track-It! you can use Purchasing to keep up with orders that you placed for different things.  And when the order comes in, you can add the stuff that you ordered right to the Inventory.  So if the smartest one of the pigs needed a tool to help him lay his bricks, he could use Purchasing to order it and then add the tool to Inventory when it comes in - easy peezy.

Her: Cool - andanyone could use it?

Me: Yeah - and the other pigs could see when it was ordered and everything about the tool,too.  That would help them understand if they wanted to use it.  But what if one of the other pigs didn't know how to use the tool?  They might need to take a class, right?

Her: Right!

Me: So they could use Training in Track-It! to setup a class and make sure that they all took it so that they knew how the tool worked. And someone else could use Track-It! to see who had taken that class or to see if any one of the little pigs had taken it yet.  There's also a Library part of Track-It! that would let them setup their tools and check them in and out…

Her: Just like when we go to the library and check out books, right?  Then they have to bring them back or they pay a fine?

Me: Well, I don't know about the fine part, but you're right - a pig could check out the new tool and use it for a day.  The other pigs would see that the tool was out and would know that they would have to wait until it was returned before they could use it…

Her: And they wouldn't have to go way over to the other pig's house just to find out that someone else was using it.

Me: Exactly.  So what would happen if a pigs house got blown down?  If the wolf ran away, the pig might need some help rebuilding their house, right?  So they might be able to use the Help Desk in Track-It! to get some help.  Companies have a Help Desk to help their employees with problems - so if my laptop at work quits working, I would go ask the Help Desk to help me fix the problem.  And every time someone asks the Help Desk for help, they enter something called a Work Order - it just describes what the person is asking for.

Her: So one of the pigs might've asked the Help Desk to help them put their roof back on.

Me: Exactly.  And when they put in a Work Order into Track-It!, they would enter all kinds of information into it that described what they were going to do and how they were going to do it.  If they don't know how to put the roof back on, Track-It! has a part called Solutions where you can search for answers to problems that you don't know the answer to - like attaching a roof.

Her: Or how to put up a new wall because yours got blown down.

Me: Yup.  And when you're done with the work you were asked to do, you can type all kinds of information into Track-It! that describes the work so that someone else can see what you did, how long it took and all sorts of cool stuff.  And if you were asked to work on something that's in your Inventory - remember the Inventory? - then you can put that in the Work Order, too.  So later on you can look at something in the Inventory and see all of the times that someone had to do some work on it.  Does that make any sense?

Her: (With an exasperated look on her face) Yes - that's easy.  What else?

Me: What if one of the pigs wanted to change the way one of the houses looks?  He might want to add a new room to his house- he could use another part of Track-It! called Change Management to track information about the change that he wants to make.  And you can set things up so that someone has to approve the change that someone wants to make - if it's not approved, you can't do it.  That helps a company make sure that people have to follow a set of rules before certain things can happen.

 

OK.  So I used a little creative license in explaining what a Work Order is or how the Help Desk is used.  But I think she got it.  We were talking later that night and she was giving me other examples of how the pigs could use Track-It!  And she was correct.  I talked to her about everything from administrators to notifications to Mail Monitor to Directory Importer to Event Policies by relating the concepts to her in a way that she could understand.

 

We have customers that run the gamut from huge educational institutions to small businesses with one IT person.  And Track-It! fits their needs.  The power is there for the more sophisticated user and the ease of use and quick startup time is there for the smaller shop that might be taking the plunge into their first Help Desk application and away from paper and pencil or a spreadsheet. You can trust Track-It! to help you manage your IT department from top to bottom.  And as you and your organization grow, BMC has other solutions that you might grow into as well -which is a great thing.  You should never have to look anywhere else for your IT solutions needs.  We've got you covered.

 

Sometimes we just have to think about things in a different way. I kind of think that's my forte. I love figuring out new ways of dealing with problems at work just as much as figuring out how to explain a difficult topic to my daughter.  She's a smart one - it usually doesn't take much of an explanation to get her to understand what I'm talking about.  And I sure do enjoy hanging out with her and trying to answer those tough questions. In the end, that's what she's probably going to remember most about our time together.

 

And that sounds good to me.

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I remember my first cell phone very vividly.  I was working at my first IT job in the mid-90's at a small engineering company in the town where I went to college.  The pay was bad, but the job and the domain I was working within was very interesting so I got a ton of great experience there.  Not too long after starting there, they asked me to wear a pager.  Someone told me about a deal that a local company had that included a car phone and - gasp! - a detachable handset that didn't come with a briefcase to power it.  I approached my boss with the idea and the cost was about the same as a pager would be, so he agreed to let me get the phone.

Back then, all I expected out of my phone was to be able to receive calls regarding work emergencies.  I made a few personal calls from time to time - that I had to reimburse - but they were few and far between.  Of course, there was the one time right after I got it that I took it on the golf course with me and called a friend stuck at work so I could put it down next to the ball and torture him with the sound of me hitting a perfectly struck 5-iron into the breeze to nestle next to the pin.  But I digress.  The rest of the time I got mundane calls about server issues or how someone just deleted a set of data and needed help recovering from their mistake.

It didn't have an email client.  Nor did it have a PDF reader, an SSH client, a Web browser, a camera or an image viewer.  It didn't even have SMS capabilities and it certainly didn't have Angry Birds available for it.  It feels like I'm talking about how I used to hike 10 miles uphill in the snow both ways to school every morning, but this beast was used for one thing - phone calls.  And it did its job well.  When I had a signal, I remember how stable and reliable it was.  Of course, the coverage map wasn't exactly the equal of today's carriers, but I could be in most places across the area where I worked and know that I could receive a call just fine.

Fast forward to today.  In today's world, a smartphone allows you to work on documents, handle expenses on the road, handle your email, VPN into your work computer and basically work on things in a manner that is within sight of a laptop or other computer.  There are limitations but they are getting fewer and further between with the advent of peripherals such as the webtop docks for Android phones or other keyboards that connect to your phone.  We put up with dropped calls and less than stellar battery life because the functionality we get with our phones seems like a pretty good trade-off.  Except for the times we find ourself sitting in our car with a dead battery in our car AND phone.

It looks like the future of the cell phone is to be more of a device that happens to make phone calls.  This device will integrate with content and push it to your TV, sync with the proverbial cloud to make every byte you've ever collected available to you and figure out what information you want to consume and collect it for you to browse at your leisure.  My phone is much more powerful than my computer was at that first job and it's not even one of the latest models that are out that are more powerful still.

This doesn't even take tablets into consideration.  These devices, though not much more powerful - if at all - than the most powerful smart phones, offer a tremendous experience because of their larger screen size and subsequently better Web browsing experience.  I have an Android tablet that I bought cheaply on eBay to throw a custom ROM on and play with.  When the right tablet at the right price point that I've been waiting for comes along, I'll most likely get one but for now this works well for most tasks when I'm traveling.

We've been thinking about this new connected world and the devices that do the connecting for a long while here on the Track-It! team.  Most of us here are heavy users of smart phones and tablets.  A colleague of mine even used to go up to the Apple store near us at lunch and play with the iPads there to test our new Track-It! Web interface well before we announced or released Track-It! 10.  They might have even left a bookmark or two on the devices to a Track-It! Web demo install so that we could see if anyone checked it out and contacted us.  I really couldn't say one way or the other.

We are excited about where we're going with Track-It! and how it fits into this new world.  I think everyone will be happy with the things we are working on and I know we're using our experience in this realm along with feedback we get from customers to drive what we're doing.  The Track-It! family is all about providing solutions for customers and not just throwing some pieces of technology together to see what sticks.  I think our customers in the Track-It! beta program are already seeing this in what they're testing.  If you'd like to sign up and become a beta tester, you can connect with us on the BMC Track-It! Community to find out how to sign up - we'd love to have you in the program!

Well, I'd better run - my cell just chirped at me.  I just got an email from work.  And a DM from Twitter.  And a couple of Google+ messages.  Plus, I've got to check my RSS feeds.  I think there's a new show in my Hulu Plus queue and someone just sent me a link on Facebook to a movie that I need to add to my Netflix queue - or maybe I'll just stream it on my phone.

Sigh.  I've got a lot to catch up on.

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A while back a production crew was in the office to shoot some interview footage for a Track-It! promotional video.  They were extremely professional and I was very impressed with all of their personnel as they made it a very pleasant experience.  When it was my turn, I went into my normal interview mode where I was trying to touch on certain things when answering the questions.  In that situation, there is no way that I will remember my answers even five minutes after they turn the cameras off.  It's not like I'm used to being interviewed, though I've given my fair share of them through the years - but not nearly enough to be completely comfortable in front of the camera. 

A few days later, I got an email with a link to a short video clip with the portions of each of our interview that they were going to use for the video.  I watched it and was pretty pleased with how it turned out, but I was especially struck by one phrase that I used in response to a question regarding how we interact with our customers.  In the middle of my answer, I paused for a moment and then continued with, "This is our baby..."  Our baby? 

I'm the proud father of an amazing little 7 year old girl.  She is the apple of my eye and she wows me every single day with her sense of humor and intelligence.  But I still remember vividly not so long ago when she was a diaper-wearing, screaming little ball of fury.  I remember the late nights spent changing diapers, feeding her bottles at 2 am and cleaning up messes that had no business being made in the first place.  At the time, I would've much preferred to head back to bed to get some sleep, but that was simply not an option.

Is Track-It! our baby? 

Well, I remember plenty of late nights trying to solve problems or design components properly so that it would be easily maintainable in the years ahead.  I remember being in countless meetings where we fought for our point of view because we cared deeply about the product and the direction we wanted to take it.  I remember sitting in interviews where potential new co-workers nervously answered questions so we could gauge how well they would fit into the great team we had assembled.  I remember thinking more than once that implementing a particular feature was a daunting task and that we needed to hit a home run for our customers with it.

So, yeah - looking back on those days and all of the hard work that we've put in collectively to put out the best software that we possibly can...  Track-It! is our baby.  We've watched it grow and mature into a very successful product in this market.  I'm as proud of the team as any Papa could be and I'm always proud to read glowing feedback from customers, writers or reviewers.  I like demoing and talking about Track-It! to prospective customers just like I enjoy showing pictures of my daughter to other people.  In fact, I just got a visit from our practice leader of Training while writing this and ended up showing her a few pictures of my daughter in addition to our quick Track-It! discussion.  I gave her some exciting news about an upcoming Track-It! release and she was as fired up about the news as she was seeing the pictures, I think.

It's not hard to think about your product this way - we spend so much time thinking about work in this day and age that it becomes a part of our lives.  In essence, we are all part of the Track-It! family and we care about the direction of the product very deeply.  And that level of caring extends into every facet of our work day as we seek the stability, usability and performance in Track-It! that our customers demand.

Thankfully, these days we're on manageable project schedules and there aren't many 2 am feedings going on for Track-It!  But sometimes it's nice to think in those terms just to remind us of how far we've come and just where we are heading.  We've just released Beta 2 of the new version of Track-It! and we would love to have to be a part of it.  Just visit the BMC Track-It! Community to join in all the fun and see what's coming up around the bend.

Maybe I'll just have to start showing friends and family screen shots of our Track-It! baby along with pictures of my daughter.  They won't think that's weird...  will they?

Benny Morrison

What is Track-It!?

Posted by Benny Morrison Employee Mar 21, 2012
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This past summer, I took a vacation with my daughter as my wife had to handle some family business back home.  This gave me a chance for my daughter and I to hang out for a while and visit a few people to catch up with them.  We finished up the trip by visiting my buddy Jason and his family.  We go way back - we met in our first year of college, worked at the school together, worked at our first job after college together and he ended up being the best man in my wedding.  When we get together, we pick up wherever we left off - that's what makes it an easy friendship.

 

Invariably, we end up talking about our jobs and what we're currently doing whether we want to or not.  He is in an IT group that provides virtualized services for a large communications company.  In the distant past, we both worked at the help desk at the college we went to.  Of course, back then, there was no software that kept track of tickets to speak of.  There might have been a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet that we worked off of, but mainly I think we kept a list of current tasks on paper.  I didn't go out on calls that often, as I was mainly responsible for writing software that the faculty and staff used to access systems that they needed for work. 

 

Since then, Jason hasn't worked at a true help desk, but since he is in the industry, he has heard of Track-It!.  When I started at Numara and mentioned the product name to him, he knew it immediately even though he wasn't very familiar with the product.  So it was interesting late one night when he paused for a moment and asked, "So... what is Track-It!?"

 

Wow.  Not being in sales, I'm not used to answering that type of question. I'm typically in discussions with people who are familiar with Track-It!, though they may not be intimately familiar with certain aspects of the product family.  It was a great exercise for me - I needed to drill down to the essence of what Track-It! is and find the key points that would satisfy his question.  Of course, he knew what Track-It! was on some level - his question was a way of eliciting some detail as to how it fits within the industry and how it is different than other software in this market.  I answered him by talking about a few key points.

 

First of all, Track-It! is a product family.  Starting with version 10, released earlier this year, the focus on Track-It! has shifted to more of a family-oriented approach for organizations.  The Track-It! software with modules such as Help Desk, Inventory, Solutions and Change is the core product in the family along with other add-ons such as Remote, Barcode, PC Migrate and others.  You can talk to our Sales organization and discuss your IT management problems with them with confidence that they will be able to recommend a solution that will work for you.  You can also rest assured that the Track-It! family will continue to grow and evolve to continue to meet the needs of you and your organization.

 

Track-It! allows small-to-medium sized businesses to quickly get their Help Desk and IT Assets in order.  We are very focused on this market in everything that we do with the Track-It! family.  Typically, businesses in this market need a product that just works out of the box, not one that requires a lot of setup and configuration time.  Track-It! is extremely configurable and is successfully and happily deployed in some very large customer sites, but typically Track-It! is sold to small to medium-sized customers who need something that has very little initial cost in setting up the software for their organization.  With Track-It!, you download and install the software, go through the simple four-step setup wizard and... that's it.  Afterward, of course, you need to put some thought into certain things such as ways of classifying your Work Orders or what you want your priorities to be for your Work Orders but there's really not much more that you need to do to begin using Track-It! within a half hour of downloading the software.  As you begin to get familiar with using Track-It! you can define Change Management policies, Event policies and other aspects of Track-It! that will make your life so much easier.  However, the beauty of using Track-It! is that you can do that on your time while you're already using the product - you won't be slowed down a bit while you decide how to use some of the more advanced features in the software.

 

Track-It! has other modules that help you manage all facets of your organization.  Everything from Purchasing to Software License Management to Training to Library modules exist to help you and your customers simply get your work done rather than struggle with IT processes or different pieces of software that don't work together that you may currently use to handle these aspects of your organization.  Our new Track-It! Web interface was developed after we listened to our customers as they wanted a browser-based way of working with their Help Desk tickets and managing their Assets.  Our newly-designed Self Service module has gotten rave reviews from customers who love the look and feel as well as the new functionality that it provides.  And stay tuned - we're continually improving all aspects of Track-It! as we strive to provide an absolutely best-in-class solution to our customers.  You can go to the BMC Track-It! Community to find out more about what our customers will soon be raving about in Track-It!

 

Finally, Track-It! is reliable, stable and is very customer focused.  Our customers say it best when I talk to them - Track-It! just works.  They can take advantage of the performance improvements and stability that Track-It! has become known for over the last few years.  Our focus is always on our customers - we solicit feedback from them constantly and use that information to help drive where we go next.  Features such as Track-It! Change, our revamped Web and Self Service interfaces and recent Solutions module improvements are a direct result of us listening to what our customers were demanding and responding to it.  If you couple that with the fact that we've always got our eye on the industry and what potential customers are looking for in an IT Operations Management (ITOM) or IT Service Management (ITSM) solution, then you'll see that for us, it's all about the customer. 

 

There are times during a release cycle when things can get hectic - especially when you're trying to get those last couple of issues resolved so that the new release is as solid and stable as you can make it.  It's helpful sometimes to step back and think about the bigger picture - Jason's question was a hard one in some respects, but it's always nice to be able to step back and think about the bigger picture.  I have to say that I was glad, however, that the next hardest question he asked that night was about where we were going for lunch the next day. 

 

Actually, now that I think about it - I think it took longer to answer that one...

 


Benny Morrison

Following the Crowd

Posted by Benny Morrison Employee Mar 21, 2012
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When I was a kid, my Uncle Bob and Aunt Irene were larger than life to me.  I don't know if it was the lake house they owned that we used to visit during the summer that made me feel that way or not.  To be honest, it might simply have been the fact that everything they owned was red and black - my favorite colors.  I don't mean that they had a lot of red and black things... EVERYTHING they had was either red or black.  There were red and black rocks lining the driveway leading to the lake house and the dock was painted red and black.  The pool table in the basement had red felt on it and every plastic cup in the kitchen was red or black.  It was awesome.

I remember excitedly opening a gift from my Aunt Irene one Christmas in my teenage years.  I don't know what I was expecting to get, but I remember being completely puzzled when I opened it.  She had given me a large, plush blanket with a fierce tiger on it that was pawing at the air.  I just assumed that it was an accident and that she had meant to label it with someone else's name - she sensed my disappointment and frowned as she said, "Don't you like it?"  I replied that I did but that I was curious as to why she gave it to me.  She then told us all that she had been at a store and saw a long line leading around a corner.  She went over and got in the line without knowing what was at the end or what it was for.  When she got to the front, they were all waiting for the chance to purchase one of those blankets and, in her words, "If all those people were waiting that long for them, there had to be something at the end of the line that I had to give somebody!"

Besides the fact that this points out how ridiculously sweet my Aunt was by thinking of giving that blanket to someone instead of buying one for herself, I often think about this story as we define each Track-It! release and brainstorm about what's coming up in the future.  Following the crowd can be a good thing or a bad thing - it really depends on who is in it.  Blindly following the crowd has never been our thing here on the Track-It! team.  Track-It! has been around for over 20 years in a few different incarnations and part of the reason behind our longevity has been our innovation and commitment to challenging ourselves when it comes to technology choices and making our customers happy. 

If you're talking about the crowd as defined by our market space or our customers, then we definitely follow the crowd - at least to some degree.  This especially holds true with our customers.  We listen carefully and do our best to frame our releases so that they impact as many customers in a positive way whether you're talking about new features, smaller IOU types of things or fixing defects that affect our customer base.  We gather feedback from our entire customer base in one form or another and one way that's catching on in popularity and is yielding positive results is asking our beta customers about the future direction of Track-It! If you'd like to pitch in and help us by letting us know how you use Track-It! and what is important to you about where we go in the future, you can connect with us via the BMC Track-It! Community.

We are also always looking at the small to medium business market when determining how to implement Track-It! features.  Our customers in this market segment want solutions that get them up and running quickly with no hassle and no fuss.  We believe that we offer a fantastic solution for them with the Track-It! family of products and that's no accident - we focus on those high-level goals as we think about how Track-It! will evolve with each release. 

One area in which we definitely do not blindly follow the crowd, however, is technology.  We believe in careful research and in finding technologies that make sense for BMC and Track-It! - not reading about the hot new trend and jumping in line before we have a clear picture of what's at the end of that line - sorry, Aunt Irene.  That's not to say that we don't use the latest tools and technologies, because we do - we just have very concrete reasons for making the choices that we do.  In some cases lately, we've chosen directions that at the time might have seemed like they were going against the grain a little bit.  However, the rest of the software industry is now headed solidly in some of the directions that we chose to take.  We didn't jump in the back of a long line that we couldn't see the end of - instead we were near the front because we could see the benefits of those choices and knew that they were the right ones for us.  In the near future, I'll be able to talk about some of these choices and I'll definitely be blogging about them here.

In the end, I don't even believe my aunt was really following the crowd in a lot of cases - she always did what made her and her family happy.  She was a lot of fun to be around and I remember her so fondly.  I kind of like to think about the Track-It! team in that way, too - we work very hard here but my team and I have a lot of fun every day.  It's easy to think in those terms when you get to go to work and do what you love to do - and we love to write software that helps people.  It's also been a lot of fun as we've ventured more into social media.  I've enjoyed getting to share my thoughts on life and Track-It! with everyone and that's definitely made me happier.  I imagine that some people here are happy that I'm spending some time writing and not talking their ear off about Track-It!, too.

Got any stories about how you or your company resisted the urge to follow the crowd?  Or how about a time when following the crowd turned things around for your group?  How did that work out for you?  Post in the comments - we'd love to hear from you!

-- As always, you can reach me at benny_morrison@bmc.com or on twitter (@BennyMorrison) --

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There are a lot of parallels that have been drawn through the years between creating software and creative outlets such as painting, writing, music and other forms of art.  I couldn't agree more with this as time and time again I've been a part of teams that were made up of engineers who spent a lot of time in other pursuits in their free time.  I've also been a part of teams where the majority of team members simply didn't have any creative outlets that they enjoyed.  The difference in productivity and quality was palpable, to say the least.  Creative teams tend to consistently produce better solutions and are especially productive when they have a chance to foster their creativity during the course of a project. 

There are a number of reasons why this holds true - first among them is the fact that a creative developer sees their development environment as a canvas.  Just like a painter sees a blank canvas before they get started on their next masterpiece and a musician sees the air around them as an opportunity to fill it with song, creative coders love to start new projects with new technologies and tools.  If their project has been in maintenance mode for a while or they have been working on the same code for a long while, the opportunity to write something new carries the same rush as writing a new song or taking photographs of a new setting.  This mindset generally leads to an explosion of new ideas and unique designs for the new project - that blank slate can get filled very quickly

Another way that creative pursuits help in development is that they allow the coder to rest and relax their brain during critical times.  It's one thing to take a break, close your eyes and think about nothing - and that might work well for some people.  However, I tend to want to do something passive when taking a break that still stimulates my mind.  For me, that means picking up my guitar for a few minutes or writing about something else entirely when I take a break.  If I'm working on a project plan or trying to refine a large process, after a while my brain wants to shut down completely.  At that point, I might switch gears for a bit and write something creatively - maybe a blog post or even just brainstorming ideas for future posts or other forms of writing.  When I used to write code constantly, I had the same routine - I would take breaks during long coding sessions and play a little guitar or write for a little bit.  I always came back refreshed and ready to get back to the work at hand.  Of course, people who don't consider themselves artistic or creative have outlets as well, but I think those who have them would agree that creative outlets translate very naturally to developing software.

Creative developers also have very natural ways of handling stress by channeling the energy that they get from their other hobbies.  Software development can be a very stressful profession with tight deadlines, changing priorities from day to day and pressure to learn and increase your skills at the same time that you're getting a lot of work done.  Handling the stress that comes with this is the difference between being very successful and dreaming of a new career because of the pressure involved.  I've unfortunately seen this time and time again through the years and I've always noted the special ability of some people to remain calm and centered even during the most stressful of times.  When asked what their secret was, in a lot of those cases it was their creative pursuits that helped them manage their stress.

Finally, developers are more likely to see and react to other solutions if they are used to thinking quickly and improvising in a creative way.  Often it is difficult to solve new problems without new thinking - especially in the technology arena.  Many times the technology that was the obvious and best choice for a solution 6 months ago is obsolete today.  In addition to technology concerns, businesses come up with new problems to solve every day as well.  To be effective in solving these problems in a flexible and precise way many times takes a lot of creative thinking.  That creativity might be the difference between winning the business and losing out in this economy and has never been more important to a software team than right now.

The Track-It! team is very diverse.  Our team is centered here in Tampa, FL and we've got team members who are US natives from Florida, the northeast and from tiny towns in the south.  They've also lived everywhere from Seattle to Philadelphia to Singapore and Thailand.  We've also got team members who are originally from Poland and Ukraine.  Between all of us, we enjoy creative pursuits such as playing guitar and piano, photography, writing music and other creative writing.  We even have a team member who grew up in the northeastern US and played in a Russian balalaika band with his family as a kid.  Now, that's eclectic! 

This mix of personalities, cultures and creative energy makes this a great place to come to work every day.  What this team has accomplished over the past few years alone with the Track-It! product is just tremendous and we're about ready to unleash even more great functionality on the world.  We can't wait to share it with you, but don't worry - it won't be long now.  In the meantime, we're working on even more cool stuff for Track-It! and we'll keep strumming, tinkling the ivories, taking lots of pictures and writing about all kinds of things to keep us motivated and relaxed. 

Hmmm...  you don't think the team has to do all of this just to be able to deal with me every day, do you?

Benny Morrison

Track-It! 10.5 is here!

Posted by Benny Morrison Employee Mar 21, 2012
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This was originally written for the Numara Track-It! blog on release day of Track-It! 10.5 - it's worth re-publishing here.

Well, today is a very exciting day - Track-It! 10.5 has been released!  We're very excited and very proud to bring you the next version in a long line of tremendous Track-It! releases.  You can now check out the online demo at http://Demo.TrackIt.com to see what all the fuss is about! 

Our code name for this release was Volans and it includes some great new features for our customers as well as some important defect fixes.  In fact, the top three features in Track-It! 10.5 are the top three things that have been requested by our customers as tracked by our Product Management and Support groups.  We are committed to listening to our customers and the proof is in the pudding - being able to provide these features just 5 months after releasing Track-It! 10 makes me very proud of what our team has been able to accomplish.  In fact, we were able to get a beta of Track-It! 10.5 into the hands of our beta testing group a little over two months after Track-It! 10 was released in early May.

Track-It! 10.5 has some powerful new features to help our customers deal with their IT problems every day:

Retire Asset - you can now retire Assets in your Inventory while maintaining retired Assets in your database indefinitely in a read-only state for record-keeping purposes.  Retiring an Asset will free up an audit license for use and is something that customers have been asking us for so that they can deal with Assets that have been discarded or otherwise outgrown their useful life in their organization.

Email Conversation Management (ECM) - you can now use Track-It! to record all communication about your Work Order between the end user who requested it and the Assigned Technician - plus other people can be involved in the conversation as well by carbon-copying them on each message.  We took this feature past the point of simply building functionality to allow one to reply to emails and created the ability within the Technician Client and Track-It! Web to compose messages without the need for an email client to be installed on your machine.  This will make it very easy to use ECM via Track-It! Web on remote machines where the Technician might not even be logged in as themselves or where a supported email client is not installed.

Track-It! Mobile Web - yes!  It's finally here!  We've been thinking about mobile devices for some time now and with the release of the new Track-It! Web in Track-It! 10 we laid the foundation for the future  in both your desktop browser as well as your mobile browser.  Track-It! Mobile Web is the first step in implementing our vision of how our customers use their mobile devices every day.  More functionality will be on the way, but in this release we wanted to hit the core functionality that a Technician would need every day - creating, editing, copying and deleting Work Orders and Assignments.  You can also fully edit a Work Order - not just the few fields that we thought were important to a user.  This was very important to us and when we spoke to our customers about it, they confirmed that it was essential for them to do their jobs effectively.  After all, what good is a mobile client if you can only edit part of your Work Order?  You can also search Track-It! to view Work Orders and Solutions, easily go to a specific Work Order and use our gorgeous mobile-formatted help that fits in nicely with the look and feel of Track-It! Mobile Web.  We're thrilled with this first release of Mobile Web and we hope that you are, too. 

Track-It! Remote update - we also have updated our Track-It! Remote add-on to a new version in this release.  This has some very important defect corrections for our customers and solves some particularly sticky Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 issues that have been causing our customers some pain.

I'll be writing some blog posts over the next few weeks that will dive much more deeply into these features. I'll talk about some of the rationale behind some of the technology choices that we made as well as design decisions and other interesting topics around each feature.  Stay tuned for those and if you have any suggested topics or other questions, please post a comment - I'd love to hear from you!

I want to send out our thanks to our beta customers - your feedback was invaluable in helping us test Track-It! 10.5 as well as tweaking some of the new features to ensure that they were spot on.  If you don't want them to have all the fun, consider joining our beta program and getting in on the action yourself.  We've got a lot of great stuff coming up and could sure use your help!  You can get involved by visiting the BMC Track-It! Community - come join us!

Internally here at Numara, we had a couple of bug bashes for this release - one consisted of just our outstanding Quality Assurance department and the second one was open to the company as a whole.  I want to send my personal thanks to everyone that participated - our bug bashers found some things during their testing that we were able to fix for the release before our customers had a chance to see them.  This was so very helpful to the Track-It! team and taking time out of your busy day to help us with the bug bash was very much appreciated. 

Finally, I want to thank my incredible Track-It! team.  Our developers, QA engineers, shared services, Technical Support and Product Management team members just knocked the ball out of the park with this release.  I can't thank each of you enough for the hard work, the meticulous attention to detail that you all had and, most of all, the great fun we all had on this release.  We work hard - very hard - but we also play hard as well.  Getting along as well as we do goes a long way toward success on a project like this - and my Track-It! family is a joy to be around. 

In the grand scheme of things, I've been talking for a long while about the two releases of Track-It! that ended up being Track-It! 10 and now Track-It! 10.5 being a 1-2 punch with the inclusion of Track-It! Web and now Track-It! Mobile Web.  These two releases are our foundation for where we want to go and they now provide a starting point for even more functionality that will be coming in future releases.  So today we're firing up the band and celebrating.  Tomorrow we'll get back to what we do best - working hard on the next release of Track-It!.  The code name for the next release is Hercules and we've got some really exciting things planned for it.  We look forward to having everyone come along for the ride.

It's going to be a lot of fun...

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In this post, I will dive a little more deeply into the Track-It! 10.5 release by starting with a look at the new Track-It! Mobile Web.  In the next few posts I'll be answering some questions about this new feature including why we chose to go with a mobile web site instead of a native application, why we made some of our decisions around the Mobile Web and some things about the feature that we think are cool and may not be apparent at first glance. 

I starting thinking last night about the very beginning of the planning for this feature.  Our Track-It! Product Manager, Cris Coffey, and I went away for an afternoon and camped out at my house.  We were being pulled in several different directions at work and hadn't been able to sit down and simply work through the screen flow and form some initial thoughts around the look and feel of the Mobile Web.  So we took a road trip - albeit a short one, but an important one nonetheless.  The only negative thing about our afternoon (at least for Cris) was that he was forced to share our TV room with my evil little Boston Terrier, Dixie.  I could (and should) have a separate blog solely dedicated to the evil that is Dixie, but for now, just know that she is an 11 year-old terrier that has more energy than any puppy you've ever seen.  And she barks constantly.  And very loudly.  I spent the afternoon apologizing to Cris for any number of Dixie's transgressions - he kept grinning and saying not to worry about it, but deep inside I know he wanted to run out the front door screaming - she has that effect on people.

We started out talking about different aspects of the problems that customers have and how we could solve them with a mobile solution.  Eventually I went into my home office and grabbed a stack of printer paper and a pencil and started sketching out screen mockups.  We had them laid out all over the floor and kept rearranging them to create the screen flow that we were looking for.  Of course, the other reason that I was constantly rearranging them was because Dixie kept running through them, scattering the sheets of paper to the wind - or at least the breeze from the ceiling fan. 

Several hours later - we both stepped back and smiled.  We were finished.  And we were very happy.  This was one of those times when compromise was easy and the decisions seemed to flow steadily from both of us.  We had our initial screens and screen flow.  Satisfied, Cris grabbed his bag and ran for the front door with Dixie barking and nipping at his heels.  Hmmm...  he hasn't been back since that day, either.

Fast forward to two weeks ago before the release of Track-It! 10.5.  We were in the very last stages of testing the release and while I was shuffling some paper around in my office I stumbled upon those original mockups for our Mobile Web screens.  My first reaction was to smile big and start thumbing through them.  I imagined that as I looked through them I would realize how different our final screens were from those original mockups.  I was surprised to find that we actually were extremely faithful to the original sketches.  In some cases, eerily so.  But in this case, it made sense.  The Mobile Web was one of those features that just seemed to manifest itself over a period of time.  It wasn't something that changed a lot as we developed it and it wasn't something that was marked by constant discussion about how to implement certain aspects of it or whether or not we were heading down the right path with it.  I think that is because we all are heavy smartphone users here as we have some iPhone users and some Android users.  It was apparent to us what we wanted to do because we use mobile web applications every day and taken along with our Track-It! experience, we very quickly saw how to expose the proper Track-It! functionality in an easy-to-use way for our customers.

Here are some of the original screen shots along with their final counterparts - I thought it would be fun for you to see for yourself how close the end product ended up to those original sketches. 

This screen ended up being very much the same - just a couple of things were changed like the refresh button and the grouping of the list of 'My' and 'All' Work Order views.

This screen also ended up nearly identical to the original mockup.  I laughed as I saw that the buttons at the bottom even ended up being the same ones as in the mockup plus they are in the same order - that's a rarity.  We planned on having a UI to customize this screen in some fashion but that was cut from this release.  However you can edit a configuration file to change the information shown in each Work Order view - what do you think?  Would you like to see a UI that you could use to customize this screen in the future?

The details for each Work Order in a list change depending on the Work Order view that you're looking at to show you the most appropriate information for that view.  For example, we don't show the Assigned Technician for the 'My Open Work Orders' view - you know who those Work Orders are assigned to so we can show some other, more relevant information instead.  Of course, you can still configure that view to show whatever information you want - it's up to you.  We also tweaked the formatting of these lines when compared to the original sketches, but they're actually not to far off at all.  Basically we thought having the labels on the information below the summary was important and that we should have them on separate lines.  We think it looks very elegant and is easy to read that way.  What do you think?

This sketch is a tough one to read as we were planning to have the View Work Order and Edit Work Order screens be very similar at that point.  We decided to split them up for a number of reasons - one important one was so that we could make the View Work Order screen configurable in terms of the order of the fields shown.  We also wanted a very visual distinction between the two screens - this is a very common practice for mobile applications and we feel that it works well in the flow of Track-It! Mobile Web.  One other change that we made to this screen was that we went away from the original idea of using a carousel and swiping to go to each section of a Work Order when editing it to a more traditional approach with tabs at the bottom of the screen.  We quickly found that the swiping was cool and intuitive, but having to swipe 4 times to get to the Change Management section of a Work Order wasn't very user-friendly.  We think the tabs work much better and will be easier to use consistently as we add more to the Mobile Web in the future.

Finally, the Search screen is nearly spot on when comparing these two images - take away a 'Go' button to tap (you just hit enter on your keyboard to initiate a search now) and tweak the pagination a bit and voila!  You have our search screen.  We think it works really well and is consistent across the application - for example, you see this same screen when you need to insert a Solution into a Work Order in the Mobile Web (Yes!  You can do that!).

Thanks for stopping by - hopefully this was an interesting look at some of the history behind the planning for Track-It! Mobile Web.  You can take a look at the demo site by visiting http://Demo.TrackIt.com from your mobile device or you can use your desktop browser to take a look at the full Track-It! Web.  This should lay the foundation for some of the other things I want to talk about for this release.  For the next post in this series, I'll likely talk about our decision to create a mobile web application instead of a native phone application.  There are some great reasons for this and I'll dive right into them with you.  Well, either that or I'll write a post about Dixie and how she is plotting to destroy our house, one square foot at a time.

 

Don't let the cute picture fool you. This was from before she learned all of her evil tricks...

-- As always, you can reach me at benny_morrison@bmc.com or on twitter (@BennyMorrison) --

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This is the second in a series of blog posts that will dive a little more deeply into the Track-It! 10.5 release.  Today I want to take a look at a very important question that we faced regarding our mobile solution for Track-It! - do we go with a native application or a mobile Web solution?  Things are never as clear as they seem and there are always shades of gray in every situation.  We looked at a lot of technologies and weighed this decision carefully early on in the planning for Track-It! on the go - we believe that we have a very strong solution for our customers as well as sound reasoning for the direction that we took.  You can take a look at the new Track-It! Mobile Web by going to http://Demo.TrackIt.com on your mobile device.

First of all, we had to make the correct decision with respect to the team and the resources available to us.  With unlimited resources things might be different for any team, however we always have to balance schedule, capacity, dependencies and quality when planning any project - no matter what the effort entails or what business you're in.  We actively work on the Technician Client (a thick, Windows .Net application), Track-It! Web and now Track-It! Mobile Web and this pushed us to find the right mobile solution to ensure that we were able to continue to deliver powerful solutions for our customers in a timely fashion. 


It was not appealing to me to look at putting all of the work into designing, planning for, building and testing a native iOS application only to turn around and do it all over again to build an Android application.  Oh, and by the way - what if Windows Phone 7 really takes off - we better build a Windows Phone application after the Android project is completed.  And then in the corporate world, Blackberry devices could gain ground again and we would need to build a native Blackberry OS application.  And by then Motorola may have introduced their own mobile OS that we would need to support.  It would also be difficult in these timelines to look at updating the native applications that were already in the hands of our customers.  In leading the team here, I saw quickly that we would be setting ourselves up for failure if we chose to go down this road - if not failure, then at the very least we would be raising the potential for disappointing our customers.  That's not in our vocabulary.


When I first started looking at potential solutions for a mobile solution for Track-It!, mobile web sites were still showing signs of strange old technologies like WAP and the stink of being an afterthought for a lot of companies.  In fact, even today one company whose software I use all day every day has a mobile web site for their cloud-based product that is completely hideous - it is completely and utterly useless and makes me want to find another solution every time I look at it.  Over the last couple of years, different technologies have matured to the point where creating a mobile Web solution isn't just viable for a company - it represents a real alternative with advantages over a native application.  We use JavaScript libraries from Sencha in building our Track-It! Web and now Track-It! Mobile Web solutions.  In doing this, we take advantage of common elements of their different solutions for the web and mobile web and reduce our development friction and time to market significantly. 

 

HTML5 and Sencha Touch provide powerful and rich tools and technologies that enable us to provide a very native-like experience on any mobile browser that Sencha Touch supports.  Right now that includes iOS and Android devices but soon they will support other mobile devices as well - and so will we without having to write a completely new application for each of those new devices.  Plus we've now written a platform that we can use to develop new mobile features relatively quickly - just as we did with Track-It! Web.  I went on a customer site visit earlier this year to one of our large customers and they brought up their need for a mobile solution for Track-It! without being prompted.  When I talked to them about my thoughts regarding a potential Track-It! Mobile Web solution instead of a native application, they loved it.  They actually look for vendors with mobile web solutions instead of native applications due to the ease of support and lack of deployment headaches.  Without getting into managing mobile devices and what we're thinking about in that area, our plans for a mobile web application were just what they wanted.  And the more customers we talked with about this potential solution, the more positive feedback we received.  It became clear that we were on the right track.


Another benefit to building a mobile web solution is that it brings consistency across devices and across our web platforms.  Different native applications potentially have very different UI guidelines and specifications - if you don't follow those, you may not be able to get your application in their application store or market.  Track-It! Mobile Web is modeled very much after an iOS application but where we felt we needed to, we deviated from UI standards to provide what we feel is a very consistent and powerful interface that also mimics the way that the Track-It! Web is designed.  Our customers won't have to deal with some technicians using one device and other technicians using another - with different user interfaces and even different functionality.  Also, providing some familiar workflow and information for functionality in both the web and mobile web platforms should make for an easy first look at the Mobile Web.  In fact, I was most proud of the fact that during a bug bash for Track-It! 10.5, we had some participants from other products within Numara who had never spent time using Track-It!  They reported that the Mobile Web required no introduction or training - they had no problems using it with zero questions about any functionality or how to do anything that they were asked to do during the bug bash.  We were all beaming as that is what we were going for - simple, easy-to-use and powerful functionality. 


Delivering a mobile web solution also gives our customers flexibility in how they may want to deploy Track-It! Mobile in their organization.  If we chose to develop multiple native applications on different mobile device platforms, we very likely could have run into technology issues that would have made it more difficult for our customers to deploy our solution in their environment.  With Track-It! Mobile Web, they have a couple of decisions to make and one application to deploy - and that's done via our Web installer instead of having to worry about some new step in the process of installing and deploying Track-It!  We feel that this represents a great value proposition for our customers just as Track-It! has for many years - zero to Help Desk in no time flat.


Finally, there is still the potential for getting a Track-It! Mobile solution into the iOS app store or the Android Market down the road.  There are technologies that fill in the gaps in doing this and we plan to explore them to see if that is an option for us or if our customers even would want that.  It would give us more exposure to new customers and that would be a good thing - we just want to make sure that it would make good business sense for us to do so.  The great news is that making the choice to initially go with a mobile web solution over a native application does not preclude us from taking that step at some point. 


Hopefully this gives you some insight into our thinking as we made some of the decisions around developing Track-It! Mobile Web.  It may answer some questions that you may have about native applications and mobile web applications - but it may also raise other ones.  That's great - I'd love to hear from you - you can leave a comment or contact me via any of the methods listed below.  Now it's time to get back to work - there are lots of shiny new technologies to look at and play with.  And lots of planning to be done for future Track-It! releases. 


Sounds like a lot of fun to me...

 

-- As always, you can reach me at benny_morrison@bmc.com or on twitter (@BennyMorrison) --

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With the release of Track-It! 10.5, the introduction of Track-It! Mobile Web is probably the feature that has customers more excited than anything else in the release.  We have plenty of customers that are jumping up and down with excitement over Email Conversation Management and Retire Asset as well, but I have to say that the new Mobile Web was probably my favorite aspect of the new release.  Today I wanted to talk about my 3 favorite things in the new Mobile Web - I'd love to hear what your favorite 3 aspects of the new Mobile Web are as well.  Post a comment below or contact me via any of the methods listed below - I'd love to hear from you!

Being able to edit all fields of a Work Order

To some, this might not sound like the most important aspect of the Mobile Web and certainly not one to get excited over.  However, for me, this was a big goal when we started working on Track-It! 10.5.  Being able to structure the Work Order Detail screen in a simple and easy-to-use way so that we could include all data entry fields for a Work Order gave me a great deal of satisfaction.  This has already resulted in very positive feedback from customers who realize that having a mobile solution for Track-It! wouldn't be very useful if we didn't give our customers the ability to edit ALL of their data.  What if you use a user-defined field to store some very important information for each Work Order?  If you can't edit that field, you won't be very happy.  And we love happy customers.

Being able to configure the fields shown in the Work Order grid

We also thought it was very important to expose the right data on each screen that you visit in the Mobile Web.  But, as always, our interpretation of what the "right data" is might be very different from yours.  We decided early on that we wanted to build a foundation for configurability in the Mobile Web and this carried over into the Work Order grid.  When you tap on any one of the views on the Help Desk dashboard screen - such as All Work Orders - you are taken to the Work Order grid which displays all Work Orders in the system.  By default, this grid view shows you the Assigned Technician and Requestor associated with each Work Order.  However, as in my previous example, what if the most important piece of information about your Work Orders is always stored in a user defined field?  How awkward would it be for you to have to tap on each Work Order, scroll down to where the user defined information is, review the data, tap the Back button and do it all over again?  Rinse and repeat. That didn't sound like much fun to us, so we made the information shown below the Work Order Summary configurable - you can put any two fields contained in the Work Order there.  So reviewing your Work Orders in the Mobile Web just means scrolling through your list of Work Orders casually as you review your data.  Configuring this information is as easy as editing the configuration file for the Mobile Web on the Track-It! server.  And you can configure each grid view separately - so that you can show the specific information that you need to see no matter what list of Work Orders you may be reviewing.

Being able to insert a Solution into a Work Order

Mobile devices are getting more and more powerful every day and it seems as though everyone in our industry carries one with them wherever they go each day.  In my mind, there are some use cases that seem tailor-made for a small form-factor device - and this is one of them.  Imagine a Technician at the desk of a customer facing a deadline that is drawing ever closer.  They are having trouble printing from their laptop and the cavalry has been called in to save the day. 

Before Track-It! Mobile Web, the technician might have to search the Solutions database from their desk before heading over to see the impatient customer.  Once solving their problem, the technician likely would wait until they got back to their desk to resolve the Work Order and potentially insert the Solution that helped them from the Solutions module into the Work Order.  That doesn't sound so bad - until you think about a situation where the technician might be away from their desk all afternoon in another building or at a data center.  Then getting that information into Track-It! in a timely manner seems difficult. 

The Track-It! Web released in Track-It! 10 helps greatly in this area, but in this particular example, the user has a laptop, a deadline and an itchy trigger finger.  They aren't about to let the technician use their laptop to resolve the Work Order before they go.  Using Track-It! Mobile Web, the technician can easily:

  • View and edit the Work Order
  • Search the Solutions module for any solutions that might help them solve the customer issue
  • Easily insert any of the solutions into the Work Order as a Resolution Note
  • Edit any other pertinent information in the Work Order
  • Change the Work Order status to Closed
  • Smile and grab a doughnut from the box next to the coffee machine that they normally don't even see because they are in a rush all of the time


Simple and effective.  Sure - you could wait to associate the solution with the Work Order until you get back to your desk, but why wait?  The Select button is right there while you're viewing the Solution.  And that's why it's one of my favorite things about the Mobile Web - because it's another example that shows how our mobile solution helps you solve customer problems - not just your own.

 

Let us know how Track-It! Mobile Web is working for you.  Is it helping your technicians get more done on the go?  Has it helped you get out of a jam while you were away from your desk?  Let us hear from you - we'd love to hear your story!

-- As always, you can reach me at benny_morrison@bmc.com or on twitter (@BennyMorrison) -- 

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