Set Up a Help Desk for Your Network

When I started at Bob’s the extent of our help desk ticket system was Post-It notes that would magically appear on my monitor while I was away from my desk.  This system wasn’t the greatest.  I could misplace Post-It notes, not know who they came from, and I also had a hard time keeping track of bigger projects.

Even though I’m a one-man IT department, I needed a solution.  I looked at ZenDesk and a number of other ticket solutions, but many lacked the functionality I needed, and most of them were designed for bigger companies i.e. big price tag.  That’s when I found SpiceWorks.  It is simple to set up, and offer tools for both me and my users.  Best of all it is totally FREE!

Setting Up SpiceWorks

SpiceWorks can run on any Windows machines on your network.  In our case, I have it running on a server so it is up all the time.  Once up and running users can log into the installation from any computer using the host computer's IP address and a specific port (9675 is the default).  Once logged in, users will be sent to the Help Desk portal and administrators and IT staff to their dashboard.  I used a “web hop” with our domain registrar to set up a custom subdomain for our help desk.  That way users don't need to remember IP addresses or port numbers.

The Help Desk Portal

The Help Desk Portal is where it all happens for users.  It is set up with a tabbed interface that is very customizable.  I have our portal set up with a ticker at the top of the screen showing the latest network announcements (via a Twitter feed), a custom form for submitting tickets, and tabs for local weather (important for greenhouse operators) and network status.  Users may also send tickets to an email address.

On our desktops, laptops, etc. here at Bob’s I used the “Application Shortcuts” tool in Chrome to create a custom desktop shortcut so the webpage appears to open as its own program.  This also allows me to name it as “Bob’s IT Help Desk” and also give it a sweet custom icon.  This goes a long way toward creating a professional image on the user side.

After tickets are submitted and being processed users can view them through the Help Desk Portal and also through email alerts.  Replies via email are treated as replies to the ticket and added to the conversation on the portal.  Completed tickets are also shown on the portal so users can troubleshoot recurring issues themselves.  However, I do purge older tickets yearly to save space.

Awesomeness on My End

On the administrator end is where the awesomeness happens.  If your network is set up as a domain (as it should be), SpiceWorks will get to work scanning your entire network.  The wealth of data it collects is astonishing, and it really makes you look like a pro.  For example, it queries printers and estimates ink usage to send you automagic alerts to order more supplies.  It also monitors updates and the antivirus status of computers to alert you to potential threats before they become big problems.

There are also a ton of plug-ins for SpiceWorks to get it to do other cool things.  For example, we use Office 365 for our email at Bob’s.  There is a plug in that monitors the data usage of each account to let you know who the email hoarders are.  Along the same line there is a plug-in that monitors our shared drives and generates long-term usage reports.  Our data storage needs grows by around 1.33% per week!

Purchasing is also made easy with SpiceWorks.  Need a new widget to complete a ticket?  Easy!  Search for the item on the vendor network, get a quote, get it approved, track it, and mark it as received all from within SpiceWorks.  At the end of the year you can also generate spending reports.  This is very helpful when it comes time to put together an IT budget.

Network inventory and users, the Help Desk, and tons of other data all come together on the SpiceWorks Dashboard.  The dashboard is the “command center” in my office.  In fact, I dedicate an entire screen to keep it up and refreshed 24/7.  Not only that, but with the SpiceWorks iPhone app (available for Android too), I can respond to, created, and close tickets on the go.

It’s FREE

How can this software be free?  It’s so awesome!  SpiceWorks is free because big name companies like Microsoft back it.  The purchasing portion of the system connects in with vendors that pay for the development of SpiceWorks.  Also, on the administrator side of SpiceWorks there are ads that display alongside the dashboard.  However, if your organization can’t stand ads, you can pay SpiceWorks to replace them with your logo.  They are really not very noticeable though, and I’ve actually found equipment via an ad before.

Overall, SpiceWorks is a great system, and I highly recommend it for smaller companies.  I’m sure it would even work for some larger organizations as well.  It does take some time to get up and running, but it is worth it.  Who could argue with FREE?