Help Desk IT Platforms

Dear Management Doctor:

PAS just received a request from a planner in Xenia, Ohio regarding the use of 'helpdesk' - oriented IT platforms such as Spiceworks for tracking zoning permits and code violations on a limited budget, and I'm wondering if you or your readers might have some experience or information on the specifics of software to share?

I'm trying to develop an electronic tracking and recordkeeping systems for zoning permits and zoning/property maintenance code violations with a very limited budget. My IT department has suggested a platform they use called Spiceworks, which is designed to be used as an IT device inventory and helpdesk management system. It seems to have some promise, it's free, and my IT department can provide full support for it. However, I've never heard of another local government using it for this purpose. Are there other examples of communities who use Spiceworks or another similar 'helpdesk' oriented system for violatoin and permit tracking? If not, what are the most popular platforms?

I know that you have already covered this general topic on your site at http://zuckersystems.com/Management_Doctor/M_to_Z/software.htm, and would understand if this question is either too repetitive or too specific for consideration - but I would appreciate any further information you might be able to provide on this topic?

Thanks in advance,

Ann Dillemuth

Dear Ann,

I asked my technology expert, Mac Birch, about this and here is his response:

  • Free I.T. help desk software products like Spiceworks were created for and intended to address the specific needs of I.T. management. Their features are somewhat similar to those of a permitting system in that they manage and track service requests and provide good reporting capabilities on the status of these service requests. They also provide for some degree of customization to accommodate the specific processes of the I.T. department. That said, these systems would do little more than track intake dates, assignment to lead staff, and status reporting. Important features such as inspection tracking, interdepartmental approvals, document attachments, notification letters, GIS map interface, and fee permit fee calculation are not handled.
  • Making the necessary work around changes to accommodate basic permitting needs would require substantial investment in configuration time and training. Because staff time is usually a valuable commodity, these types of “temporary” systems have a way of becoming permanent. It would be better to spend more money up-front to install a system that better meets the department’s needs.
  • For smaller jurisdictions, low-end permitting software products are available that would likely be superior to repurposing other types of tracking products, using a spreadsheet, or writing programs for databases such as Microsoft Access or Filemaker Pro. The cheapest permitting software package, PTWin32 by Black Bear Software, is no longer available since the company went out of business last year. A few companies, such as Paladin and IWorQ, are now offering inexpensive products aimed at accommodating the large PTWin32 user community. I am not familiar with the details of these two mentioned products, and it would be worth some further investigation to find a good fit for your jurisdiction.
  • There are some companies, IWorQ among them, that are offering cloud-based services rather than providing the software for local installation. For some, this would be a favorable alternative due to lower costs and ease in installation. This mode of software deployment is definitely up and coming.

I hope this helps,

The Management Doctor


Reader Responses

Microsoft Access is a very simple program to learn. It does not require a lot of maintenance, and is well-suited to develop a simple permit/violation tracking system. It may be possible for the city to use an intern from a local community college to compile the entry forms and backend. Years ago, I made a simple template in MS Outlook (and I’m talking pre-2000) for tracking violation follow-up and used Outlook tasks. For a small town, this may be all that is necessary. Outlook alarms provide the tickler results.

If budget and time are really tight, and volumes are relatively low, tracking permits on a spreadsheet works just fine. I write for an A/E/C trade publication that is a couple of years old. We publish 25-30 articles twice each week, and use a tabbed spreadsheet to track articles. The advanced search feature meets our needs. The city could use a different tab for each month or even each year. Just keep the data on the same spreadsheet. Although Excel is limited in the number of entries, the limits are in the thousands and thousands of entries. Additionally, spreadsheets are readily converted to a database back ends.

If someone doesn’t have the skills for an intermediate experience level spreadsheet, there are books, online courses (Lynda.com), or community college online courses. I’d recommend the one from the Maricopa (Ariz.) Community College District (we have 11 schools in the district; most offer Excel basic, intermediate, and advanced courses online).

Eric Jay Toll
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