Review of Tracker/3000
Shawn M. Gordon
Have you ever wondered how all those software companies (and HP) keep track of your call’s and look up similar problems and resolutions? Well they may not be using Tracker/3000, but they are using something like it. Many of us work in shops where we have to slap together fixes for problems or answer questions. The problem is when you don’t write it down because you figure it won’t happen again, and then it does, and you can’t remember what it was you did.
While the above is a very specific scenario, it is just one of the many types of things that Tracker/3000 can help you with. These are the events and applications that can be monitored according to the documentation.
Automation of MIS department end user requests
Automation of customer service/help desk requests
Creation of trouble tickets
Distribution of work load
Prioritization of requests/problems
Monitoring of individual/departmental performance
Identification of future problem areas
Documentation of future problem areas
Tracking of equipment related problems and service history
Data communication/telephone related problems and service history.
I performed the review on an HP 3000 series 957 with 192 MB of memory and about 18 GB of disk. I had 60 users online at any given moment and 4 jobs. I used GLANCEXL to monitor the performance of the software on the system.
The software includes a UDC called TRACKERINTRO that does an online/interactive introduction of the software. I found it to be very easy to use and go through, it gave a good overall idea of how the software worked, and how information flowed through the system. Each step of the intro would have a screen that described the upcoming screen and explained how to use the various options in it.
The software comes pre-loaded with some users, so you can go in as one of the system administrator ones to set up your own entries. The first thing that needs to be done is configure names in the system so you have some sort of meaningfull people to tag things on. This is option 2 on the menu (see figure 1 for main menu).
See figure 2 for an example of the add name screen. This is all pretty self explanatory, and straight forward. It will take some time for you to collect the data and get it entered, but once that task is done you will be set to start keeping track of things and solving problems, which brings us to the next section, problem solving. This is option 1 from the main menu.
The Problem sub-system let’s you generate a description and an assignment for a problem. As you can see in figure 3 there are many different ways to define, assign, and track a ‘problem’. The on-line help can start tocome in pretty handy at times like this when you are presented with so many options, figure 4 shows an example of the on-line help window.
Once a problem has been resolved you can track it in the ‘Resolution’ section. Figure 5 shows you how much information you can keep here to help cross-reference your ‘Problem/Resolution’. The only real trick to all of this is to be as verbose and accurate as possible, this makes it easier to find an old ‘Resolution’, and understand how it worked.
I don’t want to overload this review with screen snapshots, so the rest of this will be descriptions of the various functions inside of Tracker.
One of the other main features of Tracker is the ability to inventory materials and services, and then use this information to do charge back. Within this relm you can also set up ‘Accounts’, which seem kind of like Customer/Vendor lists. What is slightly different here is that you can assign the accounts to individuals so you have some sort of responsibility matrix. You can also configure Materials with descriptions and a Charge Back Price, this way you can assign the Material to a person or department, and get other people paying for your budget. Charge’s can also be added where you can assign them to a problem and an account number and then issue a charge to the area that it applied to. This whole section is very comprehensive, and it gives you a nice ability to Charge Back of resources that other HP 3000 charge back systems don’t.
There is a whole ‘Reports’ section that is divided into categories with descriptions. From here you can generate a report on anything within the Tracerk system that you could possibly care to.
The ‘Hardare Menu’ allows you to add hardware, define relationships between hardware, specify the location of the hardware, and keep track of hardware contracts. This area probably has more information than you are going to need in many situations, but I don’t think that you will find it lacking.
The ‘Software Menu’ works in much the same way as the ‘Hardware Menu’. There are some real advantages to keeping all your software vendors in one place like this. For example when you are going to do an operating system upgrade and you want to make sure with all your vendors that they don’t have a problem with the next release. Just whip out a report, and start making the call’s. No more scratching your head, looking for business cards, or endless ‘Report’ commands to find and decrypt the accounts.
The last thing in the Tracker system that I want to touch on is there E-Mail system. They have a very rudimentary electronic mail system within Tracker that allows you to do basic electronic mail functions. It also interacts with ‘Problems’ so you can mail problems and solutions around and have them post into the Tracker system. This was a nice addition to an already robust product.
Usability (also installation)
I liked the fact that a loose sheet with the installation instructions was included, it made finding them much easier. While the installation goes smoothly enough the install instructions are to weak to allow a non-technical person the ability to install the product. I would also like to see them put in a note of how to stream their install job if you are using STREAMX from VESOFT, since this is a such a prevalent tool. I was glad to see that their install process purged it’s own files instead of leaving them out there to rot of old age. It’s a small gesture, and simple to do, but it is appreciated all the same.
I’ve had to write large projects that required the tracking and cross referencing of data, and I know how difficult it can be, so I have to say that Tracker is an extremely solid and bug-free product. All the features work, and they work the way that they are supposed to. This product has been around for a number of years now, and it is obvious that it has become mature and solid.
It’s a block mode application so what can you say about performance? This is mostly a think time kind of product, it isn’t doing any sort of huge manipulation of data, it is just a data repository basically. So performance was great on my system, I would say very little impact at all. Going from one function to another inside of the program is very quick, so the internal performance of the software is also very good.
Supportability (including Doc)
The documentation comes is a pretty hefty 1.5″ thick manual, it is very complete and it is easy to read and get through. This is a big product and it requires a fair amount of documentation to cover all the different functions. Although I had little need of the tech support, they were very responsive when I did call, even at really odd-ball hours.
The software allows a lot of information to be collected, tracked, and acted on. The ability to create and link problems with resolutions coupled with fairly extensive search capabilities give Tracker a very robust environment for reducing redundant work. I know that I find myself wondering how I fixed something, because I figured it would never happen again I never wrote it down. If you have something like Tracker, and you make it policy to keep everything in there, you will find yourself being much more effecient with your time.
The context sensitive help facility is really a nice touch. I know it takes a lot of work to put that together, but it makes the software so much easier to use. The addition of the macro builder is an added bonus that gives you even more control over how to make the environment work. I also liked the way you could jump around from one sub-function to a main function without having to back all the way up and then going back in again. This was a great time saver.
I do have one complaint, and this is just my opinion, but, I would like to see functions integrated a little more. For example, if you were browsing names and then decided you needed to modify one of them, you would have to back out of the Browse function and go into the Modify function. They will display the last name you entered here and you just have to hit ENTER, but having to back out and go in is a little tedious. You can kind of jump around by changing the COMMAND, but you have to do it BEFORE you enter a name, you can’t do it after it has been looked up.
One thing I didn’t talk about because it wasn’t it the demo or the documentation that I got, is an add on product called PC Pager. What this is is a PC that is connected with a Dialogic board to an Asynchronis port on your HP. You can configure it so when certain types of events come into the Tracker system it will send a message to the PC where it will be cross-reference to a number and event. It can then dial a phone number and deliver a voice message to you, your answering machine/voice mail, or to a pager. This is kind of a neat option and is in the spirit of one of the call back packages available from several vendors. It might be useful if they could actually just integrate with one of those systems so you could kill two birds with one stone so to speak.
Tracker/3000 version D.01.B4
GBS Consultants Inc.
6179 East Otero Dr.
Englewood, CO 80112
Call or write for information and/or demo
Price ranges from $4,500 to $10,000 with support being 15% of the purchase price, the PC Pager add on product is $2,400. A 20% discount is available for government agencies.