Choosing a new ITSM tool

I thought it might be useful to share our findings after we carried out an exercise to choose a new ITSM tool. I will not name and shame vendors as you can make up your own minds about the tools you require, rather it will point out the benefits and pitfalls of some tools. I have created a spreadsheet for evaluating the tools it is available on the following shortcut here.

Last year we looked at 14 different ITSM tools, a month of webinars, demos and POC’s, painful in the extreme. The reason for starting with this rather than evaluating functionality was that look and feel was key for us. However, DO NOT look at 14 different tools, instead read reviews, speak to your peers in other organisations or join ITSM social networking groups, it will save a lot of time and effort.

First steps

If you don’t already know what your users think of your current service, then send them all a survey to complete. Take it as an opportunity to ask about the whole service you run, not just the Service Desk.

They may feel there are issues with the service, which may be very different from what you perceive or your view of what the user wants.

Collate all the information regarding departments, categories, sub categories, portal items you want to offer, ahead of choosing a tool. You may want to do things that the tool just cannot do such as sign off of requests from your portal.


A key thing is to map out your requirements, but you should also rate each requirement out of five and separately rate it as to how essential or desirable it is, or is it just desirable, record the pros and cons of each as well as there may be downsides?

For example, we initially thought it would be a good idea to have a skills matrix tool so we could assign calls to the engineer with the right skills. However after some thought we felt it was more advantageous to have an automated round robin assignment function so a call was randomly assigned to an engineer, if they weren’t sure how to resolve the issue then they ask another engineer and ensure that a knowledge base item was created. By doing this we both up-skilled our engineers and increased the items in the knowledge base.

One key requirement was a user friendly portal, we had a lot of feedback following our survey regarding the user portal and how unfriendly it was.


We wanted to include a chat function with any new tool we bought, we saw this as the way to go, combined with Canned Responses it would allow us to service more users concurrently whilst giving a quality service.

As we had a physical space constraint limiting the number of Service Desk agents we could have we had to push as many calls through the self-service portal. To further enable this we did not offer an email channel for users to log calls as this would result in unstructured data and the best automated bots in the world cannot figure out where to put a call where the user has just put “It’s not working on my computer”.

I would also recommend getting an alerting system, if you don’t want to have your service desk hammered if you have a major incident then this is essential, announcements are all very well but only if the users have your self service website open, you need an in your face pop up notification system.


Automation is key for providing a better and more reactive service. We have around 130 automated rules in our ITSM tool, these ensure that when a call is logged it goes to the right team first time. This has helped drive up our First Contact Resolution percentage from around 60% to an average of 92%.

Users realise that it is quicker to log a call via the portal and have the right team deal with it straight away so Portal use goes up.


Whilst the language of ITIL makes perfect sense to your IT team, it can alienate your user base. So ensure that the language on any user facing pages/applications can be modified to make them user friendly, for example

ITIL                                                                                                        User

Please log a ticket for any incidents               =                      Its broken or not working, please fix it

Please log a service request for XX                  =                    I need something new

We changed the language on our user portal and immediately saw an overnight increase in the use of the portal to log tickets.

Keep it simple

Keep the forms for ticketing and other items within the tool as simple as possible, just capture the bare minimum of information you will need to resolve a ticket.

Don’t assume you can capture a lot more information from users, if the process is onerous then neither your users or IT staff will want to fill out a form with 20 or more fields. As a result, users will buck the system, grab engineers in the corridor or hammer your helpdesk phone lines rather than log a ticket via self-service.

By keeping it simple we are now logging more tickets each month and so are more confident that the entirety of work is being captured.


Reports are the lifeblood of a good IT Service.

Any good ITSM tool should have the reports you need straight out of the box, so all you have to do is change the date.

A live dashboard is also essential but do not fill it with a view of fifty different metrics, to run a desk you only need to have a view of a short period of time.


Ideally the tool should be able to be customized without affecting the underlying code. This ensures that any errors with coding can be quickly reversed and that when new versions of the software are released that you don’t have to have any add on having to be rewritten.

Look and feel

What is very apparent is that some of the vendors have not worked on the look and feel of their tools, issued we found:

  1. Tools that only used icons for different parts of the tool, so you have to guess which icon does what, RTM? yes but we are techies, we don’t read manuals.
  2. Poor reporting platforms with one tool having a page with around 30 fields that had to be filled in to run a report, get any one field wrong and you can’t find the ticket you are looking for.
  3. Some portal designs were poor and would not be a good experience for our users
  4. Some tools were over complicated with up to 20 panes showing different items on one page. Too much information, dilutes any message.

Obviously look and feel are difficult to measure and are subjective to the tester but it was very clear early on as to which vendors hadn’t updated their tools for some years.

The best way to test look and feel is to get your agents to log tickets and respond to tickets without referring to any manual or having guidance, if they don’t have a clue what to do then it’s the wrong tool before you even get it near your users.

A vendor may say that their web app can be used on any mobile, however its far better to have a proper mobile app so it can integrate the camera and email solutions if required.

The vendor

Whilst there may be some companies that will make a big thing of how long they have been in the industry, be mindful of the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

Certainly a number of the old school now offer SaaS for their products, however these are not true SaaS and are merely the same software running on a platform hosted by them rather than on premise.

Going with any new vendor will always carry a level of risk as they could go out of business leaving you at best with an unsupported tool in the case of an on premise solution or with no tool at all in the case of a SaaS solution. Check their Dun and Bradstreet rating to give you a level of confidence around their financials.

Have they formed from previous acquisitions, if so there is always a risk that this could continue and the software will change leaving you with the cost of migration, change and training.

Ask for reference sites from existing customers, if you are given these then ask what they did well and also what didn’t go so well. However, in Government procurement exercises you cannot take this into account when shortlisting.


Does the Vendor have a development roadmap that they are willing to share and a user forum where new functionality can be requested?

Both of these show the level of maturity of the vendor and also that they are keen to work with their customers not just dictate on what functionality is to be developed.

Ease of implementation

If you are looking to purchase a new tool and you have been told it will take many months to implement, then look elsewhere. If you don’t get it up and running within a month then you will not realize all the benefits.


I have not include costs measurement into my spreadsheet as every company or organisation has a different way of measuring this.

My only tip is set your budget before you look, ensure you calculate Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over at least five years. Try to include yearly maintenance costs and implementation or upgrade costs and training costs if there is a change of tool.

And finally…

My feeling is that some of the older tools will disappear in the near future unless they evolve and move with the times, or through acquisitions they will be killed off, or should that be euthanised and put out of their misery.

Don’t be scared about changing ITSM tools it really isn’t difficult, as long as you have defined all your data to go into the initial set up, such as workflows, automation or categories then you can easily switch within a month or even less. But you will need the right partner.

This post was originally published by Grant Harris  on Linkedin.

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