Why your ticketing system should not be accessible to users

April 21, 2009

Here's a thesis:

The problem I see with making ticketing systems accessible to users is that you periodically need to have a genuinely private conversation among the sysadmins in response to user requests. I'm not sure how often this happens in typical organizations; ours is somewhat atypical in how we structure support, and possibly as a result it seems to happen fairly often here.

If your ticketing system is (internally) public, then you can't have these conversations in the ticket; you have to find some other place for them. The best option is probably to have them in email that is not copied to the ticketing system, but even that means that your ticketing system is no longer the single place where the entire issue is kept track of, which raises the question of what it's for.

(Per OptionalTicketing, I don't think that it should be the official place that users interact with the sysadmins.)

Arguably your ticketing system can still be your tracking mechanism, but I think that it's going to be a relatively weak one; at best it can remind you of what's still in progress (and how important or urgent it is), since you may have to go to your email to find details. (You probably don't want to even mark tickets as 'we're having a private conversation', so you will also have to remember that you need to check email for the full status for particular tickets.)

The other problem of starting to use email for some conversations about tickets is that it is easy for such a conversation to wind up covering things that probably should be in the ticketing system so that the user can see them. In turn, this is going to frustrate either or both of you and your users (you as you have to copy information into the ticketing system; your users as the ticketing system no longer really reflects reality).


Comments on this page:

From 72.253.129.84 at 2009-04-22 00:50:18:

Fully agree. Our inhouse dev team altered RT to create public and private queues. Sysadmin was a private queue, any tickets that we needed to handle the support teams had to promote, a custom function (instead of just move). Promote would take a transcript of the ticket, and put it into a new ticket in our queue. We could comment on it to our hearts content, and then when we resolved the ticket it would take the content of our closing update and put that back on the original ticket.

Two advantages there: We could discuss in technical detail what was going on, what we'd done and others could chip in suggestions. Support teams couldn't see our tickets, but they still retained control of the original. If original had been sitting still for too long then they could contact us and chase, find out if we were making progress, rather than forgetting about the ticket.

From 131.251.143.210 at 2009-04-22 06:24:25:

Properly designed ticketing systems allow you to only address comments to a particular group thereby allowing the private conversation. At my last place of work we used RT in exactly this way.

At my current work we are beginning to use Jira and it too has this functionality.

From 209.131.62.115 at 2009-04-22 11:14:05:

The support in RT for private comments is very comprehensive and easy to use via email. You just set up a separate comment email address and ticket mails to that address are visible only to admin users. Regular users never see any indication that this separate comment system exists.

The only risk here of course is that you send an email to 'ticket@' instead of 'ticket-comment@' and accidentally send the comment to the ticket requestor. In practice this is pretty easy to avoid with a minimal amount of ticket admin training.

To take this a step further, I also recommend using a private sysadmin-only area on your wiki. With twiki this can be done with a 'private' web. In practice you need a private collaboration area on the wiki for much the same purpose as you need private comments in your ticketing system. There's always a need to hide information from users. Even in a relatively open company environment users don't need specific technical details about things like the configuration of your routers.

Phil Hollenback

From 83.145.204.27 at 2009-04-23 01:14:41:

If e-mail is preferred, maybe something like GNATS could help here?

Disclaimer: I know that many people hate GNATS, but it fits quite nicely to situations in which the ticketing system is only open for a small group of people, not the whole wide Internet.

- j.

From 203.59.125.206 at 2009-04-30 02:37:36:

We use Atlassian JIRA, which under every comment you enter has a combo box "Viewable by", where you can select predefined groups. Easy.

JIRA has other foibles (clunky interface is the root of many of them!), but with regard to comments, it's peachy.

Written on 21 April 2009.
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