is a type of business application known as a PSA
, which for the uninitiated means Professional Services Automation. If you are in the business of providing professional services then a PSA is what you need to basically run the whole show. CommitCRM is a PSA focused on the IT services industry which is of course right up our alley, this being a blog about tools for IT services! This article ended up a bit longer than planned, mainly because it’s about something which I use and depend on so much. If you’re in a hurry, here’s the tl;dr
It’s good, it’s affordable, it does the job well and I recommend it.
There are a few other PSA tools around but CommitCRM is well worth a look at and in fact they offer a fully functional free download so you can “try before you buy” which is certainly a good thing, taking into account the rather significant costs typically associated with PSA (and other business) software. Having said that, this particular PSA is considerably more affordable than the others I’ve looked at and has served me well for a few years now.
Download & Installation
Installation is a painless process and can be done on a standalone PC (running Windows – this is not a here today/gone tomorrow cloud service) or on a server which can then be accessed by clients on other PC’s (the client installation in this case is just a shortcut to the server). It is free to download and use for a month at least (quick tip: officially the site says “30 day free trial” but after you login to your app and go to the help menu you can actually extend the trial for a while longer). For testing the trial you can do a standalone installation on a laptop even. All you have to do is run the installer and select a folder… pretty simple really. When using it for real of course you would want to run it on a proper server or PC in the office. Upgrading too is always a very simple process.
The accounts section is one of the key parts and is where I keep track of all my customers, employees, subcontractors, partners, suppliers etc etc. basically anyone and everyone I want to stay in contact with (or avoid)! From here I have instant access to things like creating a new ticket for the account, adding an asset, making an appointment on the calendar, sending a message to one of the contacts, exporting data to Excel. I can also quickly create an invoice in QuickBooks and sync my contacts, tasks and appointments with Outlook. Pretty much everything you could ever need to do is all right there within a click or two which saves loads of time and is a massive productivity and efficiency booster. The whole thing is effectively the nerve center for my business.
Managing accounts is fairly self explanatory – click Accounts in the left column and it opens the accounts window. Here you can click New to add a new account, you can see in the list all your existing accounts and they can be sorted/filtered in various ways. Click on an account in the list and you will see a load of tabs for the different types of data you may add for the account such as preview, general/address, contacts, history, relations and more. You can customize the field names and even add your own custom tabs if you feel the need so that it really fits your specific business.
From the accounts window you can use the ‘more actions’ menu to quickly create new tasks, tickets, assets, history notes, charges and more which are then linked to the account currently selected.
The tickets window shows all my tickets, as you’d expect, it also offers a ‘more actions’ menu similar to that available in the accounts window, which allows me to create various entries related to the ticket selected.
When a ticket is created by one of my users (or me/an employee) it ends up here in the tickets window. The ticket itself could have been created by the customer sending in an email or through the web site or by an employee directly in the desktop client if for example a customer phones in. So there are various ways it can happen and there is a series of steps, a workflow if you like, which a ticket usually goes through from here until resolution.
In the tickets window I can browse them all and update them, set or change due dates (which can be automatically calculated based on a Service Level Agreement, aka SLA), mark for dispatch to a technician, change priorities or whatever else and eventually mark it as complete. I can also do things like create a quote based on the ticket and send off to the customer – no more rummaging around the office for a quotation form and faxing it off to a customer (or posting snail mail!), just click click click from a ticket to the quote and off it goes by email. The customer can even accept the quote online through the web portal! *ka-ching*
Also in the tickets window is the labels menu where I create and manage all my coloured labels used for assigning to tickets. Once a label is created it appears in the list in the left column where I just drag & drop tickets to quickly label (or re-label) them to suit my preferences.
A useful feature is the ability to define default labels so as I said before, when tickets are coming in from various places, email/web/rmm/etc, I can have them automatically labelled so I can see at a glance where they came from which really helps make the interface appear less cluttered and become even easier to work with.
There’s also an alerts server which handles the job of keeping everyone informed. In other words it notifies staff of new or updated tickets, and notifies customers about opened or closed tickets. It can for example send an alert if the ticket priority is changed which ensures that my staff know immediately when a ticket has been updated to high priority. Exactly who gets what in what circumstances is all configurable as well so it’s not like everyone gets alerts for every ticket or every account, only the right people and only if they actually want to be alerted!
Technicians can be easily dispatched to handle ticket related tasks with the integrated dispatcher and calendar which I find it to be an almost effortless process. To do so I only have to go to the dispatcher window and then drag any ticket from the list and drop it in the appropriate column for the employee I want to schedule at whatever time slot I want and that’s it, job done. The alerts server will even notify relevant staff of the new appointment. Setting the amount of time needed for the appointment can be changed by clicking and dragging the edge of any appointment. Moving it to another time slot or another employee only requires a click, drag and drop. There are tabs for daily and weekly dispatcher which show the columns for each staff member, as mentioned above, but there are also tabs for daily and weekly calender views and others for appointments and tasks so you can see where things stand at any point, what needs to be done, who is doing it, when it will happen etc.
Using this dispatcher interface makes the whole process of scheduling appointments for all employees and managing their time, ensuring that tickets are taken care of and labor is charged for and much more, dead simple.
Like probably any IT service business I have to keep track of an ever increasing array of assets (and sub-assets) for my clients. This is where I store stuff about clients server configuration, routers, firewalls, printers, as well as tracking the different software they use such as Exchange, Office and QuickBooks and other such things which have all sorts of different data and configurations associated with them. CommitCRM provides a comprehensive asset management system so I can keep track of all that stuff, including things like warranty expiration dates and detailed configuration notes (basically a way to define and store custom data for assets), which is just as well because assets have a habit of piling up and being neglected if you’re not careful! Also the assets system keeps a service history of all past issues and resolutions related to the asset so you can always see what has been done with it before. From the assets window I am often generating tickets, tasks, quotes and various other things directly from the assets which makes it a hell of a lot easier to effectively manage all the routine maintenance tasks that I have to deal with for my growing list of clients.
Billing is without a doubt one of the more important aspects of any business and of any PSA which claims to automate business processes. CommitCRM provides a good way to keep on top of billing of various kinds (for example charges/fees for labor, expenses or products you may sell) and the contracts, accounts and tickets they relate to. You can quickly add charges from anywhere you need to throughout the application, for example from an appointment or a ticket. You can also start a timer and then convert that time to a charge at the click of a button. You can even add charges which are defined as billable or not-billable depending on requirements at the time or the type of contract you are working with.
There is built in support for several types of contract such as ‘block of money’, ‘block of tickets’ and ‘block of time’. So if I have a ‘block of time’ contract with a client for say 20 hours labor in a month then any time I add a charge for labor that number of hours is deducted from the contracted block. The labor charge itself is marked as not-billable by default in the case of a block of time while any charges for expenses or parts would be billable.
If you’re anything like me you probably have to charge for all sorts of odd things from one off product purchases or service (fixing or installing something for example) to recurring maintenance or some other kind of service. Being flexible enough to to deal with such things without messing up is decidedly useful and this PSA provides a solution for this. It can produce billing reports internally and it can also seamlessly integrate with QuickBooks to send all your charge data there for accounting and invoicing purposes. There’s also an 3rd party mod for Sage 50 and it is also easy to export data to Excel for importing into other accounting systems.
Before you need to worry about billing your clients, you need to actually have some clients! Fortunately CommitCRM also provides a number of useful features for managing the sales process by means of the opportunities module and the quotes module. Whenever needed I can create a new opportunity for an existing account or create a new account in the process and store all the pertinent data such as type of opportunity, relevant contacts, amount of money involved, important dates, status (open/won/lost) etc. Once an opp is opened I can create tickets, tasks, contracts and more right from the opportunities window.
There’s a built-in quotes system which can be used to easily create quotes for sending to potential customers and through the web interface they can even choose to accept/reject the quotes so the whole process can be managed online and remotely. Using the quotes module allows me to instantly convert a won quote into a ticket, contract or charges, in fact I can even convert it right into a quickbooks invoice! The opportunities module also integrates with QuoteWerks so creating a new quote in QuoteWerks instead is only a click or two away.
Since IT services often involves visiting customer premises to do installations or repairs it is really essential to have a way to remotely access your PSA system while on the road. If you are a “one man band” you could perhaps bring your laptop with you with your CommitCRM installed on that. However for various reasons it is more likely you would be accessing it on your server remotely instead and CommitCRM provides several easy ways to do that – first of all there is the web interface which comes in both customer and employee flavors and has a mobile interface which works nicely on my ipad. This is what I prefer to do as I’ve pretty much always got web access these days via WIFI or 3G wherever I am so it makes sense to access my PSA through the web. When on site I can quickly pull up the ticket details, do the job and produce a service form in PDF format which can be signed right on the tablet and printed or emailed to the client immediately.
If you use the CommitCRM back-end SQL engine you can also use RDP or terminal services for remote access. So in general, wherever you are you should have no problem accessing and working with your PSA data whenever required.
There is a built in report generation system which includes a bunch of pre-made report templates for all the different sections of the PSA, such as Ticket Details, Technician Service Form, Account Charges, Contract Details and much more. I certainly don’t use them all but it is nice to know they exist. In most cases I use a customized template for each type of report I need and the report designer does actually enable me to make reports with calculations, QR Codes, customizable layout etc. Having said that there is room for improvement with the available calculations which could do with being a little more advanced but when I need something like that I just export the data to Excel and crunch the numbers there instead.
Being able to integrate with other applications and systems used in your IT services business is a fairly important feature for any PSA and CommitCRM doesn’t disappoint here either. It offers direct integration with popular RMM (remote monitoring & management) systems such as Continuum and GFI MAX, as well as QuoteWerks, QuickBooks, Sage 50 (via a 3rd party plugin) and of course Outlook. I’ve used Continuum since back in the old days when it was called Zenith and the level of integration now with CommitCRM is great but I’ve heard from others in the field that GFIMAX is also decent. Outlook sync is also pretty great and I have all my staff sync their appointments/calendar automatically so they are always up to date.
There is also a full access API so you can easily create custom integrations with anything you want. All it takes is a little coding and they provide comprehensive docs for the API so it shouldn’t be too hard for any decent coder (which excludes me, although I do dabble) to get up to speed quickly.
Besides the above, CommitCRM also provides easy import/export functions for all the different sections so you can for example easily export ticket or charges data to excel where you can process it further or import into other applications.
CommitCRM has a new version released quite recently, one of many over the years so it is certainly actively being developed. It has been around for a good long time now, since long before I found it in fact and has matured into a comprehensive and stable system which my business now relies heavily on every day and I’m not sure how I would ever manage without it at this stage! They have always been responsive to my support requests and the buzz online seems to be overwhelmingly positive which is always a good sign.
In terms of pricing I find it very affordable and fair. I also like that all the pricing is up-front and transparent with no hidden surprises to worry about and I didn’t have to bother with (or be bothered by) talking with sales reps to get a quote.
While there’s always room for improvement (such as the aforementioned advanced calcs in reports), it is still a great app overall and one which gets better with every release and so gets the Tools for IT Services Seal of Approval! http://www.commitcrm.com/
Professional Services Automation (PSA) software for IT service providers.