As his company began to outgrow its small business roots, Merrill Raman realized the firm would also soon outgrow its simple IT Service Management (ITSM) software.
"Four years ago we were a really small company, just 25 people on staff," said Raman, director of technology at public relations firm Penn Schoen and Berland Associates.
Raman said his Washington, D.C.-based company had been using an ITSM product built in-house that relied on a simple Microsoft Access database tied into a form to manage help desk requests.
"Everything was done manually. We've grown significantly, to almost 200 people. It was time to invest in a robust, comprehensive asset management software."
Lisa Erickson-Harris, research director at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo., said there are nearly 100 vendors offering some form of ITSM technology, such as asset and help desk management. Many of those companies are targeting the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market.
"I see vendors picking and choosing functionalities in their larger solutions and bundling it so that a smaller business has a compact but complete set of capabilities," Erickson-Harris said. "So that service desk solution might not have a full-blown asset management solution, but it might have some abilities to track assets. And it might not have a full-blown change management system, but it still has some ability to track changes.
"There are a lot of small solutions available for the help desk," she said. "I think many small businesses do have a system. Small companies need something that is easy to use, intuitive to learn, that doesn't take a lot of training. That's probably the most important thing. And they need it at a price point that is very low so they can get approval for it."
Erickson-Harris said most small companies will trade functionality for price, and they want to limit the amount of consulting services required to get the software up and running.
Raman adopted Alloy Navigator, a service desk management suite from Alloy Software Inc. in Nutley, N.J., that bundles help desk ticketing, incident and problem management, knowledge management, task and workflow management, and service level management. He said the system's robustness, ease of use and low price were key factors.
Raman said his peers have had problems with other technology that requires a steep learning curve. "The company actually had to send people for training, which sounds pretty ridiculous given how my staff was able to pick this up out of the box and learn it in a couple days."
Raman said having a formal service management suite has changed how his organization operates.
"The IT environment has been completely changed," he said. "We're no longer looking at assets individually. Rather, we're looking at them collectively, especially by tying in help desk and incident reporting."
Raman said he can look at a series of IT assets and figure out when it's time to replace them. He also knows when an investment was a mistake.
It helped me judge the quality between vendors and helped me decide that I probably would not buy HP this year.
Merrill Raman, director of technology, Penn Schoen and Berland Associates
"I recently invested in 20 desktops from a different vendor," Raman said. "We usually use Dell for all our hardware needs, but we decided to try Hewlett-Packard. We deployed 20 HP desktops throughout the firm. I found a month later that the number of service requests for those computers started piling up. For the same number of Dells, we didn't have nearly the same number of requests. It helped me judge the quality between vendors and helped me decide that I probably would not buy HP this year."
In the past, Raman said, all the information that would have helped him make that decision would go into a "giant black hole." With a service management suite, where asset management and service desk management are tied together, he had the information produced in a report right in front of him.
Erickson-Harris said a good service management system will allow you see a pattern in service requests. "If you can see a particular networking device, a router or something, isn't working that well. … It's happening every Friday at a particular time, you know you need to make a change. Or you see that 50% of all user calls have to do with the accounting system. You know you have to address it, either the software or the server it's running on."
Raman said most small businesses he knows of have not yet adopted service management software suites. But as they become more affordable, he thinks his peers will adopt such products.
"I did not realize how streamlined my business decision-making process would be with this software," he said. "I can look at several metrics and make informed decisions quickly. Usually it would take me several days to gather up information and make a decision."
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