Sunday 21 August 2011

Configuring Drupal and some modules for ticketing emails

We at the Secretariat receive enquiries via helpdesk[at]gbif[dot]org, portal[at]gbif[dot]org and info[at]gbif[dot]org, everyday, or I would say, almost every hour. Some of them are provider-specific questions that need special attention from staff, while some others are FAQs. We have been thinking about better managing questions/issues, so by adding a little bit structure in the collaborative workflow, we can:

1. Make sure questions are answered with satisfaction; 2. Estimate how much man hours have been spent, or evaluate performance; 3. Improve efficiency on helpdesk activities.

To achieve these, we need softwares that meet these requirements:
1. Case management for incoming emails;
2. A Q&A cycle should be completed by solely using email. Web forms are good but not necessary in the beginning;
3. Easy configured knowledge base essays;
4. Graphical reports shows the helpdesk performance;
5. Automatic escalation of case status.

We looked for options from Open Source Help Desk List. While most of the sounding choices are tailored for software development cycle, some are commercial packages/services that indeed designed for enterprise help desk needs. While evaluating a few of those packages, I also found with Drupal and some modules, a solution that just meets our need is pretty out-of-box ready. The result is quite convincing and I can imagine the transition won't require too much learning of my colleagues.

Here is the recipe.

Materials and methods:

1. A mail server. All right I admit this is not something easy if you're not a system administrator. We use Dovecot to provide IMAP access to emails.
2. A Drupal installation. Installation instructions are here. As a wimp I choose version 6.
3. The Support module. Downloadable at
support_deadline, support_fields, support_timer, support_views, support_token, and support_nag are relevant modules that fit our purposes.
4. The CCK module. Downloadable at http://drupal/project/cck.
5. The Views module. Downloadable at http://drupal/project/views.
6. The Google Chart module. Downloadable at Not "charts", which is a different module.
7. The Date module. Downloadable at
8. The Admin Menu module, for your administrative pleasure. Downloadable at
9. The Views Calc module, required by Support modules. Downloadable at
10. Download all necessary modules to [drupalroot]/sites/all/modules directory. Enable them at [baseURL]/admin/build/modules.
11. You should see a "support ticketing system" menu by now. You need to

  1. Add an email client with an email account you set on the dovecot mail server;
  2. You probably want to change the email template at [baseURL]/admin/support/settings/mail;
  3. Go through the general settings of the ticketing system at [baseURL]/admin/support/settings.
12. Send some testing emails to the testing email address.
13. Visit [baseURL]/admin/support/clients/1/fetch, see if the system retrieve email and create tickets successfully.

14. After more testing emails have been sent to the address and fetched. You can visit [baseURL]/admin/support/charts.

These are just some facets of my explorations so far. Some details are not covered, like permissions in Drupal. Probably a newbie would need a crash course of Drupal to start, but after that things will be easier and faster.

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