As commercial software vendors changed from free support to fee-based service contracts, many still felt the need to provide some level of free support to their customers. A large number of companies began making available to their customers the same database of problems and solutions that their help desk analysts had access to. This benefits not only customers who had not purchased a support contract, but it also saves a great deal of time for those paying customers who are looking for solutions to known problems.
Typically, access to the problem-solution database is made from the Internet using a standard Web browser. However, several vendors make this database available on CD-ROM, often with a proprietary interface (and usually at a cost). In addition, a number of third-party vendors provided problem-solution databases for a wide range of products. You are also going to find that the more-advanced help desk software products provide Web or even email access to the problem-solution database.
By a standardizing HTML as the document format for your help desk, you can make available the same information to all of your users and not just to the help desk staff. Using active server pages that use ODBC to connect to an SQL Server or MS Access database allows users to generate their own problem reports as well as search for solutions and even check the status on existing problem reports.