CA revamps Unicenter help desk software

Computer Associates International Inc. launched new, streamlined help-desk software on Wednesday designed to help end users help themselves, via a revamped Internet interface.

Both Unicenter The Next Generation Advanced Help Desk Option 5.0 and its stand-alone equivalent, ServiceIT Enterprise Edition 5.0, now support popular Linux environments, as well as IBM Corp.'s AIX version of Unix, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT and other operating systems, said Carol Hauser, a CA public relations representative.

CA sells help desk software as part of the suite of applications in its Unicenter systems-management offering, as well as on its own as ServiceIT Enterprise Edition 5.0. Pricing varies, depending on the type of hardware and operating systems employed as well as the number of users in the system, but she said US$10,000 per server was a reasonable starting point for estimates. CA's help desk software competes with Remedy Corp. as well as Peregrine Systems Inc., which bought a service desk suite of offerings from Tivoli Systems Inc. in December.

The software incorporates some new functions, said Arlen Beylerian, CA's group manager for the help desk product.

The software has increased Web functionality, he said. A user with a problem can open up a Web browser interface to report the problem and find a fix, more easily than in earlier versions, he said. "The Web interface is continually being enhanced, so we can push functionality out to the Web," Beylerian said.

CA's software has incorporated natural language search engines and decision trees to guide users and support staff to answers. The software compiles a database of questions asked and answers given, sifting through it to respond to queries. "A lot of problems are unique, and they'll never happen again," said Beylerian. "Other problems are procedural … we don't want to just share that information within ourselves, we want to share it with our user base."

Other new features include the ability to send attachments along with help requests so IT professionals can receive screenshots of problems along with a description, and real-time help-desk monitoring of incoming requests.

"There's an ability to see in real time a variety of statistics," he said. "A manager can see how many priority calls are logged, and when they're coming in." The new function allows system administrators to quickly modify the assignment of resources to specific tasks, allowing companies to reduce their dependence on user support staff.

Jam, juice and jelly company Welch Foods Inc. adopted the Unicenter help desk last year. "We have 1,300 folks in the company, and we probably have 600 desktops," said Nelson Arcoraci, group manager for computer operations. "What the help desk did for us was allow us a single point of entry," for IT managers and users to work out computer problems.

Although not technologically resistant, Welch's tends to be careful about spending money on computer systems, Arcoraci said. It took about six months to fully tailor the software to Welch's needs, but Arcoraci consolidated his staff of eight IT specialists into a single unit after finishing the installation. Before, he had two departments -- one for managing the system and the other for managing user problems.

"We never do technology for technology's sake," he said. " This was a big step."

CA, in Islandia, New York, can be reached at +1-631-342-6600 or http://www.ca.com/.

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