How to build your helpdesk using Request Tracker
Discussion on the UKRiders mailing list lead me to investigate the use of Best Practical‘s Request Tracker (RT) to manage FreeCharity.org.uk’s help desk functions. Whilst I’ve been a user of RT for quite some time now, I’ve never taken a serious look at one extension, Request Tracker FAQ Manager (awkwardly known as RTFM). RTFM integrates with RT and allows you to extract and store useful information for later use in other tickets. As well as allowing you to quickly respond to common requests, you should find yourself documenting knowledge previously existed only in the mind of a single staff member. My experiences follow…
Installation and Configuration
RT is Free Software and available as a free download for a number of platforms but most use some distribution of Linux. Ideally it is run a well specified server but is usable on an average server for small installations. Numerous user interfaces are available but the overwhelming majority of users will only be interested in using RT by e-mail and the web, making the system usable from most platforms, including mobile devices.
Installation on Debian Linux using the Debian provided packages and documentation was straight forward but some experience of configuring Apache and MySQL databases was advantageous. Installation of RTFM was also simple but I did need to be careful that I installed the request-tracker3 package. The more recent request-tracker3.4 package may not be compatible with Debian’s rtfm package.
Integration with your e-mail system requires a little knowledge of Unix mail systems, mail aliases need to be configured for e-mails intended for RT to be piped into RT’s e-mail gateway. RT is customisable and and tweaking the configuration to get it just right will require some time and reading of the documentation. I added a new queue, gave “everyone” permission to create new tickets in that queue, created a group for support staff for access to those queues and modified a few “scrips“. Scrips are actions carried out by RT when particular events occur – I disabled the auto-response e-mail that is sent to users upon starting a new support ticket.
After such a simple installation I had expected RTFM to just work out of the box and was encouraged by the appearance of forms to allow you to search RTFM whilst updating a support ticket but I was left a little puzzled when I tried to create a new article on RTFM and was only presented with options to create a title and summary for the article, but no actual article. A quick read of the documentation revealed a need to create custom fields to contain the body of an article and then everything worked as expected and I was able to create articles from existing documentation and also my replies to support requests.
I’ve installed and successfully used RTFM but what difference has it made to my work? It’s to early to tell but I think the most testing part will be the discipline required to create and use articles rather than respond anew to each request. Thankfully there’s been little to alter in my existing work flow, with much of work done through the e-mail interface. For end users, nothing has changed apart from the e-mail address used to contact us for support.
RT itself has been useful in pure management and prioritisation of support requests, ensuring they are resolved promptly and not lost in an e-mail inbox. If you’d like more information on RT and how it can be used to help your organisation please feel free to contact us.