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Usage Generalisation of a Problem Report Management System for Problem Tracking in IT Division

Nicole Crémel , IT/User Support

Following the outsourcing of the IT Computing Helpdesk to an external company in 1998 (see related articles in CNL 232, and "Central Computing Helpdesk - Outlines and Strategy" in CNL-2000-001), the Helpdesk has been one of the first units (together with contracted Desktop Support staff) which required the introduction of a professional "Problem Report Management System" in order to keep track of all interventions. The tool was also needed to measure performance of the company according to the "Service Level Agreement" (or SLA) as defined by the contract. At that time CERN had decided to purchase the product which seemed to be the most appropriate and widely used (also used by the AS division), which is the Action Request system proposed by the Remedy Corp. company.

Using the Action Request toolkits from Remedy, Alan Lovell (IT/TS/IR) built in 1999 a problem-tracking application named PRMS (Problem Report Management System). Initially designed for the Desktop Contract, PRMS was extended in 2000 to become a general tracking system, available to all CERN groups and support lines including User Support. User Support was using (until end-2000) another Remedy-based application fully tailored to their needs. This application was abandoned for PRMS in order to use a common problem-tracking environment inside IT. More information on PRMS is available from the Web pages for the Remedy service.

Some users consider such a product as an overhead, making the dialog between the support service and the user less "human". Indeed the dialog is fully defined by the system, with mail templates adapted to the different situations and problem status (e.g. "Sent to External Analyst", "Requester information", etc.). It is possible to modify and improve those mail templates (according to user feedback), but obviously a unique and "standard" configuration can only be implemented per domain. E-Mails are sent by the system (From: making them look as if a machine is replying. However an important improvement has been made and makes the system quite nice: until the case is definitively closed, it is always possible to reply to the system and to this "anonymous" address. As the problem ticket number should be inside the mail "Subject" line, the reply (and all the dialog between the user and maintainer) is recorded directly into the same case id with all associated data, and the original responsible of the case automatically informed at the same time.

Together with the advantage of tracking all user queries in a unique and central database, for later analysis and searches, another important point perceived by IT division is to promote rationalisation of policies that ensure that all user questions should be treated consistently. In that direction the "Problem Report Management System" (simply called PRMS) already used by the Helpdesk and the Desktop Support contract, will be very soon used by all support lines inside IT division. For this to be achieved, a new domain "IT Services" has already been created. Progressively, categories corresponding to all the different support area in IT will be introduced. Already "Mass Storage", including AFS, Castor and Tape support and "PDP" (for system problem on the Unix central servers) categories are in use.
Note: AFS.Support has used PRMS since the beginning of its implementation to keep track of all queries. The AFS category tree was originally set in the "Desktop Support" domain and has been recently moved, for consistency, into the new "IT Services" domain. This is an internal "cleaning", fully transparent to the users.
The User Support group is coordinating this migration of IT division into a standardised usage of PRMS for all problem tracking inside the division. If you have any comments regarding the usage of this tool, or suggestions for improvement, you can contact the author, or

Very soon, both Oracle.Support and Heplib.Support will be using PRMS. This means that messages sent by users to those e-mail addresses will automatically be registered as new cases in PRMS, with a ticket number associated to them. This ticket number is "the reference" to be used in any further communications related to the same query (e.g. when phoning the Helpdesk to ask for more information, or when communicating by e-mail, the ticket number should always be present in the mail "Subject"). Users will automatically receive an e-mail, acknowledging reception of their query in the system, with a similar template to that written below:

Your query has been received and entered into the IT Problem 
Report Management System (domain ...) with the 
identification number: 
You should receive some feedback or a possible solution soon 
or you may follow the progress of this case using the URL:

Please do not forget to use your ticket number "..." 
in any further communications related to the same query.
In PRMS ticket numbers are always in the form CT00000000NNNNN (all the leading 0s are currently imposed by the system).

Please note: The Helpdesk is using PRMS. When users submit a query directly to the Helpdesk, or any e-mail address that is mapped to them for a first filtering (e.g. Nice.Support, Mail.Support or Printer.Support), either the Helpdesk can provide a direct answer, and then no ticket number is provided, or the Helpdesk will assign the case to the appropriate category (and support line) inside PRMS. Then the user receives the acknowledgement message with a ticket number. It means in practice that, as soon as a Remedy ticket number is provided to users, then the query has passed from the Helpdesk. In case users are not satisfied with the treatment of their query (transmitted to another category and support line) they can phone or contact the User Support group ( who will try to analyse where the fault has occurred, and provide an improved solution. It should be clear that the Helpdesk is not involved any more in the problem treatment, or responsible for it, once it is transmitted to another support line.

About the author(s): Nicole Crémel is member of the User Support group in IT, and she is sharing responsibility for the supervision of operations of the Computing Helpdesk. She is also playing a major role in the Remedy (PRMS) coordination for IT division, in collaboration with the Remedy team in TS group.

For matters related to this article please contact the author.

Vol. XXXVI, issue no 2

Last Updated on Fri Aug 03 12:02:34 CEST 2001.
Copyright © CERN 2001 -- European Organization for Nuclear Research