Earlier this year the school’s maintenance department came to me with a challenge. They wanted to replace their ageing Web Helpdesk set up with one that would allow for them to not just update how they handled tickets, but improve their overall workflow.

It could have been really easy to throw a pile of money at the problem and make it go away, but that isn’t always the best answer. I would rather keep that money in the classroom, and then design a solution using existing software the school already had access to. The requirements were simple;

  • Maintain the ability for staff to email in tickets.
  • Allow for on-the-go adding by maintenance staff when they encounter issues.
  • Assigning of tickets to maintenance staff.
  • Project Management abilities.
  • On the go access.

For me I found that the best option for the maintenance department was to use Microsoft Planner, the ICT Department had been using it for several years to handle our holiday workloads so I knew how it worked. I also knew from a Professional Development Workflow (post coming soon) that Power Automate allows you to also link to Microsoft Planner.

So I started building the system, it was a lot simpler than I had done for the PD system.

  1. User emails maintenance and an item is created in MS Planner.
  2. Maintenance staff can assign the ticket to the right bucket/staff member.
  3. Maintenance staff conduct the work.

The advantage of this system is that as the maintenance team are on their way around the school they come across issues that need to be fixed all the time, in the past, they would achieve this by sending themselves an email or writing a note that they would action later.

Now with the new system, we got 4 iPads, clipped them into LifeProof cases to be tough and waterproof, then installed some apps and they were ready. For the maintenance team, it has created a simple and effective workflow that they can easily use to keep on top of their tasks. It has even been expanded from there, where they used to just use their Helpdesk system to just handle the issues that come up, they also now use it to control their workloads including their holiday projects.

Since it isn’t a fool proof plan, the iPads also have Outlook and the maintenance email account on it. This allows them to access the emails if something goes wrong, though we haven’t had an issue yet. Some of the staff have also liked the easily accessible mobile apps and loaded them on their phones so they have more access than just the iPads. And since we have excellent wireless coverage they have access to the requirement applications across the entire campus.

So, can you use free tools to create your own Helpdesk? Yes and no, yes you can but it depends on what you need from the system. For an ICT department this wouldn’t be a good fix, however for a maintenance department or other similar small departments this may be the solution you need.

You can see a diagram workflow here;

I only have one remaining area to fix, however for us they are a low priority so not something we are actively working on.

  1. Email the submitter when the task is finished. Staff didn’t actually mind knowing whether something had been fixed or not. Nine times out of ten they know it’s fixed because the Maintenance team resolve it.

So you can see it worked well for us, I’ve included two photos of our workflows below. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.