How to Choose the Best Issue Tracking Solution

By Andy Marker | November 26, 2018

An issue can be anything from an important topic of business discussion to a personal problem. When it comes to technology, though, issues are typically complications or errors with a service or facility.

In this article, we will discuss the best way to manage issues that arise with technology, business services, and projects, and explain how to find the best issue tracking software to fit your needs.

The Rise of Issue Tracking Software

Everyone in every organization, whether in finance, education, government, manufacturing, or medicine, has “issues.” Whether dealing with a software bug or a decision that involves multiple business units, organizations must follow issue tracking processes in order to create a consistent, repeatable structure.

This is where issue tracking comes into play. Initially, issue tracking may take the form of a to-do list; some organizations even use Excel or email to track issues. But as organizations grow and issues become more numerous and complex, advanced forms of issue tracking — those requiring software — are necessary.

Software-supported issue tracking combined with clearly defined processes makes it easier to manage issues that arise during a project or over the course of everyday business. The creation, monitoring, and analysis of issues ensure organizations have visibility into what is currently happening and a historical record of what’s happened in the past.

What Is an Issue Tracker?

An issue tracker is a software solution that provides issue tracking capabilities. These may include the following:

  • Create: The ability to create issues and capture relevant details so that everyone is aware of associated activity.

  • Manage: The ability to manage and monitor the lifecycle of issues as they move from creation to closure.

  • Assign: In order to ensure an issue is worked on and completed, an individual or team must be assigned to it and accountable for all activities.

  • Prioritize: The team needs to know what issues are the most important in order to work on those that require immediate attention.

  • Automate: The ability to set the workflow in motion as an issue moves from creation to closure. Automation allows you to standardize repeatable processes and eliminate human error.

  • Analyze: The process of reviewing and reporting on issue activity and metrics in order to continually improve.

Benefits of Issue Tracking

Businesses want to resolve issues as quickly as possible, avoiding service or project disruption and customer complaints. Ideally, proactive issue tracking — or catching issues before they impact business operations or customer experience — is the best path, but it is not always possible. Nevertheless, issue tracking in and of itself can provide visibility into historical trends. These trends may allow you to proactively prevent issues from occurring in the future.

Take this example: Every December your site crashes due to heavy holiday-season web traffic. You know this because “website inaccessible” and “website down” issue reports have tripled during the month of December for the past two years. This insight allows you to proactively deal with the issue before it occurs by increasing bandwidth when it’s needed.

Additional issue tracking benefits include the following:

  • Reduced costs

  • Identification of trends and repeat issues

  • Focus on high-priority issues

  • Improved productivity

  • Centralized tracking

  • Transparency into issue data

  • Creating a culture of accountability

  • Improved customer satisfaction

  • Reduced paperwork

  • Improved team and cross-departmental collaboration

  • Improved communication

Issue Tracking Software Categories

Every department within an organization has “issues.” Issue tracking software is available for both generic use and department or industry-specific use. The following are the most common applications of issue tracking software:

  • Bug Tracking for Development: Development teams track product bugs from identification all the way through prioritization and completion. Popular bug tracking products include Jira and Bugzilla.

  • Help Desk Software: Customer service departments receive issues in the form of requests and complaints that require tracking from initiation through closure. Popular help desk products include Salesforce and Zendesk.

  • Service Desk Software: Service desk software is used by IT service management departments to track incidents, problems, and change requests in a single, centralized location. Popular service desk software products include ServiceNow, Cherwell, EasyVista, and BMC Remedy.

  • Project Management Software: Project management software may support a form of issue tracking when issues arise during the coordination and management of project workflow.

Who Uses Issue Tracking Software?

Software developers, IT support technicians, customer service representatives, project managers, employees, and leadership across a business will benefit from issue tracking software. Let’s take a look into common use case scenarios for each of these roles:

Developer: A software developer arrives at work and is ready to kick off her day. She opens her bug tracking application and finds she has five issues assigned to her. She starts by tackling the highest-priority bug. She changes the issue status to “in progress.” She fixes the bug, applies the change, and switches the status of the issue in the bug tracking application to “ready for testing.”

IT support technician: A staff member calls the IT service desk to report that he cannot connect to the printer in his department. The technician creates a request (or support/trouble ticket) in the service desk software, assigning himself. He remotely accesses the staff member’s computer, identifies the problem, and connects to the printer. The staff member tries to print again and is successful. The technician chooses the “resolved” status and saves the issue.

Customer service representative: A customer initiates a chat with support staff through the company website. The customer service representative (or call center representative) discusses the customer’s issue, gathering all relevant information, including the customer’s name, address, email address, telephone number, and issue. The customer is unhappy with their purchase and demands a refund. The customer service representative creates an issue in their help desk software, assigns his manager, and explains to the customer, via chat, that the manager will have to authorize the refund. The representative provides the customer with a tracking number and receives an email (sent automatically from the help desk software). The manager also receives an email notification that she is assigned to a new issue. The manager reviews the details of the complaint and approves the refund. The customer service representative and customer receive an email notifying them of the approval.

Project manager: A critical project is underway, and an issue that could delay project delivery arises. The project manager creates the issue in the project management software, associating it with the specific project. He inputs the date the issue was identified, a description of the issue, the priority, the person responsible, the due date, and the status. He is able to monitor the status of the issue as the assignee works to get the project back on track.

Stages of Issue Tracking Workflow

Each organization’s issue tracking workflow will be unique, but regardless of business unit, issues follow through stages, or statuses, that are equivalent to “open,” “in progress,” and “completed.”

When it comes to the IT service desk, for example, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) provides a framework for everything from service management processes to team member structure, as well as workflow statuses to help align IT services with customer and business needs. Incident management (issue tracking in ITIL terms) follow the following workflow stages:


Stages of Issue Tracking Workflow

Choosing the Right Issue Tracker for Your Organization

Your industry vertical and departmental usage plays a large role in determining the right issue tracking solution. You may find the perfect open-source solution, your budget may require a pay-as-you-go SaaS solution, or your security requirements may bind you to an on-premises solution.

Issue tracking is a very saturated market. Some vendors provide simple, generic, and cost-effective solutions that are easy to set up and use, while others supply industry-specific solutions that can be implemented in many departments, support industry best practices and regulations, and require a dedicated team to manage.

First, you need to determine who will use the solution and what your ultimate goals are. Use these parameters when evaluating vendors and their solution offerings.

Whatever your business demands, consider the following features, payment methods, and delivery models as you evaluate the numerous solutions available.  

  • Delivery method (cloud vs. on-premises vs. hosted vs. distributed)

  • Payment model (subscription vs. up-front)

  • Architecture (client-server vs. web-based)

  • Support for industry best practices or regulations (e.g., ITIL and HIPAA)

  • Configurability vs. customizability

  • Ticket creation and management

  • Assignments and escalations

  • Knowledge management and FAQs

  • Incident management

  • Request management

  • Problem management

  • Change management

  • Analytics dashboard

  • Service catalog

  • Reporting

  • Historical audit trail

  • Automated workflow

  • LDAP or customer database integration

  • Authentication method (two-factor, OpenID, open authorization; Oauth, LDAP, Shibboleth single-sign-on, form based)

  • Customer surveys

  • Service level agreements

  • Bug tracking

  • Integrations (API support) with testing, asset management, revision control, notification, chat, artificial intelligence, big data HR, directory, and other essential business solutions

  • Multilingual (unicode support)

  • Ability to configure or customize workflow, fields, and forms

  • Searching and reporting (full-text, indexing)

  • Mobile access and interface

  • Email support (submission and notifications)

  • Web access

  • Time tracking

  • Easy to use and learn

Issue tracking is an essential element of operations for small businesses all the way up to the largest enterprise. Finding the perfect solution is not an easy feat, but with a little guidance and a strong understanding of your organization’s needs, you can easily weed through the masses and find the right fit.

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