Is It Time For New ITSM Tools?

Written by Mark Hillyard

We’ve all been there. The freeware tool we got when there were two people running the Service Desk and 25 users finally starts to crumble. It cannot be upgraded because we didn’t bother following the patching path set out by the original authors, and then it got sold to a commercial vendor and the new version is written in a different language, or the database is no longer compatible, or one of the other myriad reasons that most ITSM tools do not play well with others, even if the others are their successors.

Maybe your situation is not quite so clear cut. Perhaps you have a commercial tool and support for it has expired, or the really great, smaller company that originally wrote and sold it to you got swallowed up by one of the big names and “integrated” into their already bloated tool. Or your tool is missing some key features that weren’t so key when you purchased it three years ago but that the business now wants to incorporate.

Whatever your situation, it seems that the average lifecycle for any ITSM tool is about three years. After that period, most Service Desks either begin to outpace the release calendar, or they are just getting tired of the tool itself. No enterprise software is without its quirks and oddities, even if they aren’t actual bugs, we have all run into limitations that the vendor is either unwilling or unable to correct. So, the great search for the next big thing begins. Sales engineers bring in their shiny, new tools and show you all of the amazing things their tool can do, working hard to differentiate their tool from all the others; and the space really is getting crowded. But the fact is, most tools–as long as we are comparing apples to apples and have narrowed the field to those products that actually match our organization’s needs–offer very similar, if not identical, feature sets. The differentiators are nuanced. This one has a slicker web interface, that one can integrate with more 3rd party software. But, at their core, they all provide the basic features that all Service Desks, regardless of size or maturity, need to successfully provide high quality service to the business efficiently.

What to look for in an ITSM Platform

So, what are some of the factors to consider when shopping for your next ITSM tool? One of the most common places organizations start is with Forrester and Gartner, two of the most recognized names in technology market research. The Gartner Magic Quadrant is a very effective research tool when shopping for a new tool. Forrester’s Wave reports also provide a great deal of useful recommendations based on a wide variety of needs and requirements. It is always a good idea to seek out trusted research firms such as these before making any sort of recommendation to the business. But beyond that, how can we rate the various tools? There are so many available with such similar feature sets, that finding one, or even two or three, that have distinct, powerful differentiators is a difficult quest.

There are a few criteria that should always be considered when looking to replace your current tool.

  • First and foremost, how well does the product implement ITIL best practices?
  • Are all of the processes your Service Desk provides not only represented in the tool, but do they align with industry standards?
  • Additionally, how flexible is each of these processes within the tool?

It is highly unlikely that your Change Management process is identical to every other organization in the world. You want to avoid tools that are inflexible and require that you mold your processes to meet the platform’s design.

Another significant consideration is how scalable the product can be. Remember, you are already replacing technology that no longer meets your requirements, ensure that its successor does not suffer the same fate. Key criteria here include things like whether industry standard technologies are being used. Microsoft SQL or Oracle support is going to be much more “future proof” than a database engine that is proprietary and may not be supported in 18 months.

Speaking of technology, what about SaaS? Does the product offer hosted services? What about on premise? Can you easily switch between models, if you so choose? This kind of flexibility can be crucial down the road, if you suddenly find a need to move from one to the other. And not all vendors offer both models, and even fewer offer a simple path to jump from one to the other and back again.

What does the support contract look like? Do the vendor’s SLAs meet your needs as an organization? The unfortunate fact is that all software has issues at some point, no matter how well it was tested and what type of quality assurance was implemented, there are bound to be bugs. And enterprise software is not often something that can simply be Googled back into shape. If your vendor cannot provide high quality technical support, you will find yourself right back here much sooner than you had hoped, trying to find yet another tool that provides better support.

Finally, something that we all have a tendency to either overlook, or put too little emphasis on is whether the tool will be easy to maintain. Of course, while the vendor’s professional services people are on-site, working hard day in and day out to produce a quality product for your organization, it appears so straightforward. They are jumping from screen to screen, creating beautiful forms and portal pages that your organization will love. But then one day, those developers are gone, and you are on your own. How did they make that radio button do that? Where do you go to change the e-mail templates? There is a lot of work that goes into implementing a quality ITSM tool, and if you are fortunate, you will have experts handling your implementation from beginning to end. But you still have to administer this system once it is live and in use. Make sure that you do not buy technology that you cannot support internally. If you don’t have anyone that is an expert at writing JavaScript, then it is probably not a good idea to purchase a tool that is written and maintained entirely in that scripting language. Additionally, ensure that the training for your administrators is going to be sufficient to keep the system up and running.

One final note on selecting the best possible tool for your organization. Seek out other companies, even competitors, that are of similar size and scope as you, and see what they are using. And, more importantly, find out if it is working for them. If a vendor does not wish to provide references, or has none in your industry, tread carefully. We live in an era of crowd sourcing for everything. Many of us won’t even try a restaurant without first looking up the user reviews online. And how insignificant a decision is dinner compared to the purchase of an ITSM tool that you will undoubtedly have in your organization for the next several years?

There are a lot of tools available on the market today. There are probably several that would fit your organization well. Shop smart and be a tough, educated consumer. Get the platform that will serve you for years to come and make you a hero to both your Service Desk and the business.

Originally published June 06 2015, updated December 12 2019