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Roll Your Own Management Information System

When it comes to getting serious with IT Service Management, then we need more sophisticated tools than can be built with Drupal alone. It's time to store the basic Project, Tasks and Issues registers in the back shed (along with the typewriters and bundy clocks), and roll out our new Management Information System. But hang on, we don't have a budget for a decent MIS covering the scope of ITSM areas and functions.

We've looked at some Drupal modules and Open Source tools for bug tracking and project management. Whilst there are a number of decent tools that work well, we haven't found any comprehensive, integrated tools that are scoped across the IT organisation's development and support loop. Well, there are quite a few, but they will cost you a bucket.

One of our objectives here at QualityHelp is to slice open and expose our tools and infrastructure, so we can see and understand the components and methods. That's what Process Management is all about.

Whilst many small businesses on shoe-string budgets build electronic record systems in MS Excel, there is a limit to the capability of this very useful tool.  Microsoft Access provides a greater level of functionallity and control over a wide range of data tables and functions, with greater easer than Excel.

MS Access databases now have great flexibility for growth, however it's still important to carefully design the database, tables and tools, to avoid rework.  One great feature of Access is the visual relationships map, that allows developers to do sanity checks and brainstorm their desin with support colleagues and managers (I think it's called Data Normalization).

Linked tables can be separated in to different database files, and this is a sensible approach to managing the many required tables with considerable relationship complexity. Another sensible approach is to build the "Back-End" of the MIS Database first.  As shown in the above diagram, we started with the Company Database, which includes Company (and customer) details, Support staff (including casuals and contractors), and Support (or Project) Teams.

There a number of other tables you would consider for this file (Assets, Service Catalogue, Document and Records Catalogue).  We've added a Job Roles table to ours and will look at the Documents catalogue (or links to our online Catalogue).

Next we built the Projects database (basically a products and services development, along with Task management).  With these core database files in place, and tested, then we can start on the Support Database file, along with its Front Line services tables.

MS Access could be considered a RAD tool in a way, with the ability to quickly add navigation dashboards, data entry forms, search queries and reports.

Finally, from both a Business and Quality management perspective, many useful reports and analytics can be extracted from a well-constructed database system in MS Access.  These could easily take advantage of the charting strengths of MS Excel, which could be configured (with macros) to generate any number of business and performace status reports and metrics.

Another of our objectives at QualityHelp is to demonstrate how useful performance metrics might feed into our online Dashboards.

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