One of the most common questions we hear when buyers call us for advice about help desk software is, “Aren’t there free systems we can use?” The short answer to this question is yes. Many help desk software vendors offer a free version of their product, in addition to a paid option with more advanced capabilities.
The longer answer to this question, however, is that while any business can literally use a free help desk software, it’s only a good fit for some organizations. Making this determination requires a clear understanding of your support operations, both now and in the future.
Recently, we interviewed three top thought leaders in this arena to help devise key considerations for making this evaluation. This included SysAid Marketing Vice President Ilan Hertz and two experts from Spiceworks, IT Product Marketing Director Nicole Tanzillo and Public and Analyst Relations Manager Adam Schaeffer. They provided six questions you should ask to determine whether free help desk software is right for your business.
Do You Need Advanced IT Monitoring Capabilities?
The best free help desk software programs offer basic features and functionality, such as incident tracking, workflow automation, standard reporting and asset management. (Spiceworks is one exception to this. They offer a full range of features and functionality with their free system – but it contains ads, while the paid version does not.)
In addition to these basic features, most paid programs also offer:
- Problem and change management capabilities – tools that resolve the root cause of incidents caused by infrastructure errors, and use standardized procedures for making changes to IT infrastructure.
- The ability to customize and create your own reports, and schedule them to be sent to specific administrators automatically.
- Support for multiple organizations within the same help desk program.
- Multiple channels for remote control, so that multiple technicians can log directly into multiple end users’ computers (free versions typically have only one channel).
Ask yourself which features are important to you; if all of the features in the bulleted list aren’t needed, a free help desk software will likely accommodate your team.
Is the Volume of Your Trouble Tickets Low and Stable?
Many free help desk software products limit the number of IT administrators to one or two and the number of end users to 100. Based on the number of trouble tickets the typical end user generates and the average time admins need to resolve each issue, most businesses have one admin for every 40 end users, Hertz says.
So if today your company has 40 to 80 end users and you expect that number to remain stable over time, you can use a free help desk system, since you won’t need more than one or two admins. If your ticket volume and number of end users exceeds this capacity, you should opt for a paid program.
You should, of course, consider scenarios where those numbers might change. For example, one scenario for companies that use an internal help desk might be a rapid increase in new hires. Or for companies that serve external customers, they might experience a rapid influx of new customers after a product release. If these cases are common for your business, you might need the ability to add more user and admin licenses that typically comes with paid help desk programs..
How Many Assets Do You Need to Track?
Some free help desk programs limit the number of assets you’re allowed, typically to 100. So you’ll need to consider the number of assets you want to track (computers, smartphones, tablets, and so on) and make sure the software you choose can support them.
By integrating your assets with your help desk software, you can link support tickets to specific devices and include screenshots or initiate remote control with end users; you can also keep track of all your assets at once and enable automation of specific tasks..
Do You Need to Customize the System?
Most free help desk software comes with standard fields and forms that align with common support scenarios. Most small businesses, and others with basic needs, can function with these out-of-the box offerings.
One the other hand, more advanced customizations might include changes to the interface, page layout and content or notifications that require modifying the application’s HTML code. These kind of changes can take a lot of time and additional expertise; so unless your company has an extremely structured internal process that you want the software to map to, a free version will more than likely accommodate your needs.
Additionally, the ability to design branded portals with your company logo and colors is usually more important to a larger enterprise with a widely-recognizable brand name than to an office of 50 to 100 people.
Do You Want Personal Support?
At some point, you’re probably going to need to contact support. Some free help desk software programs do not offer the full range of support options to their non-paying customers. Larger companies with dedicated IT departments may have the technical know-how to work around a limited or non-existent support network. But most smaller businesses will require some sort of assistance.
While free help desk programs may not provide dedicated account managers or telephone support to customers of free systems, most of them do have large and active community support networks. The communities host a range of support forums, where users can get real-time help with specific issues, learn how to use different software features and access knowledge base articles in which users share fixes to common problems.
A Few Other Factors You Should Consider
There are a few other things you’ll want to consider when deciding if a free help desk system is right for your business. For example, most free and paid help desk software offers mobile integration. But make sure the software you choose supports the mobile devices that your technicians and end users will need to integrate with. A robust mobile application is important for IT professionals on the go, allowing them to look up incident records, report problems and complete support tickets when they’re at an end user’s desk or away from a computer.
Additionally, some help desk software, whether paid or free, may not support the operating systems or Internet browsers used by your company. For example, Spiceworks can only be used on Windows computers, and it officially supports Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome web browsers. SysAid works on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, and can only be used in Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome browsers.
There are many options to choose from when it comes to help desk software. If you carefully consider the number of users you have now and expect in the future, the integrations and customizations you’ll require, the support you want and the features and functionality you need, you can find the program that’s right for you – and it might not even cost you a dime.