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Changes to support, bug reporting and feature requests

George Peppard

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Hi all,

You may have noticed (especially if you are staff) that there have been some trials ongoing recently to determine how best to support our VAs (and to a lesser yet still important extent, their pilots). We are pleased to announce that we have completed our trials and have provisioned the required systems to make the necessary changes, which are detailed in this announcement.


VA owners and staff may have noticed the trial of a live support chat in Orwell. This was received very well, with the members that used it reporting a high level of satisfaction with it. Unfortunately, after careful deliberation, it has been decided that such approach duplicates existing Discord functionality (which is free) and does not add anything of value (like ticket management) for the cost such chat service provides.  Hence we regret to inform that we will not be pursuing live chat support options on vAMSYS at this time. We will continue to evaluate this method of support going into the future, and if possible, we will consider bringing it back.

Our review into support systems has, however, led us to reevaluate our current platform. For around a year, we have been using Zendesk to provide ticket-based support to VA staff and some pilots. This platform, whilst looking nice, has given us plenty of headaches in keeping staff and owners synced. In addition, the cost of the platform compared to the benefit over competing solutions has led us to the conclusion that this service no longer economically makes sense. For example, the most popular request from users was the ability to be able to see and respond to their tickets via a web interface. Were we to offer this, our subscription fees to Zendesk would increase by over £60 a month.

Therefore, we have installed a brand new helpdesk system (based on osTicket, an open source helpdesk platform) which is now available at https://support.vamsys.io. We have also redirected the hello@vamsys.co.uk email address to open tickets on this new platform. We hope you enjoy using it (as much as it is possible to enjoy a helpdesk system), and we invite you to raise requests either by email or by the new help centre going forward.

We have also taken this opportunity to move certain requests away from vAMSYS Customer Services. See the sections below for more information on changes to bug tracking, reporting bugs, and suggesting features.

Please remember that vAMSYS is not resourced to provide, and does not provide first line technical support to VA pilots. If you're a VA, please do not send pilots to us for basic queries, we cannot help. If you're a pilot, please contact your VA first for support.

Bug tracking and reports

vAMSYS has (for as long as I cam remember at least!) used various forms of internal bug and feature tracking software in order to keep track of what needs to be changed about or added to the platform. For (mainly) licensing reasons, we have never been able to open these trackers to users, which meant that our customers did not have visibility on the actual state of their issues after they were reported to vAMSYS Customer Services. This was a key point of frustration for many of our customers, who, not being updated about the status of their bug reports, could not feed this back to users.

We have therefore taken the opportunity to install a new bug tracking software which allows any user to register and report bugs directly to vAMSYS. The platform is based on the open-source bug tracker Bugzilla, which is used by several large software projects (including those by the Mozilla Foundation, including the Firefox web browser and Thunderbird mail client). Don't be fooled by the somewhat dated UI - Bugzilla is extremely powerful software, and whilst there may be a slight learning curve, we anticipate that overall the system will provide a much closer connection between users and the developer that is working on their bug report.

Key benefits of this new system include:

  • All users will have visibility of all bugs that are being worked on or are under investigation, meaning they do not need to spend time reporting them only for them to be closed as duplicates.
  • Users can add comments to bug reports, for example if they would like to elaborate with additional information.
  • Users can "follow" a bug (i.e. add themselves to the CC list) so that they receive updates when the issue is progressed.
  • The main benefit - users can raise bug reports themselves, immediately, without having to go via vAMSYS Customer Services. This means that hypothetically, any user can raise a bug report, not just VA staff.

We have a guide on reporting bugs on the new system, which you should read fully before you use the new system.

Please note when registering that your email address can be shown in full to other users, so if you would rather your email address remained private, you should use a different one!

Ideas and feature suggestions

When we originally implemented vAMSYS Ideas a couple of years ago, many things were different. We had much less customers than we do now, and most customers were on a first-name basis with each other. vAMSYS Ideas was implemented as a place for discussions on features that used to take place in our Discord server to go, and also handled tracking "upvotes" so that popularity of a certain feature could be gauged.

However, several VAs have since become disconcerted with this system. The concept of upvotes, whilst useful for gauging popularity, does not usually reflect the number of VAs that want certain functionality (VAs would often have several of their staff upvote a certain idea), and VA owners and staff felt demoralised by the concept of having to "canvas" for upvotes for their ideas. Ideas (which were originally envisioned to be detailed suggestions for a feature) were often submitted with only one or two sentences, meaning the development team did not have the required information to implement the request, leading to further "back and forth" between the users and development team. The ability for any user to request functionality, whilst originally billed as a positive, led to no real distinction between requests submitted by a paying customer and requests submitted by some end users. End users often did not search for duplicates; much of our administrative time for feature requests was spent clearing up the system and merging duplicate suggestions together. It is clear that the current system is no longer fit for purpose, and that drastic change is needed.

Note that when we talk about a "poor suggestion", we mean one that does not contain the required detail or one that is inherently flawed, not one that the development team disagrees with.

We have therefore designed a new system based on the following principles:

  • Every feature request must be sponsored by a VA. This is the VA that crafts the suggestion, and the primary beneficiary of the feature if it is implemented. All requests must be submitted by VA staff. Users that would like to request something for inclusion should do so by contacting their VA; VAs act as a filter for poor or duplicate suggestions from end users so they do not pollute the system.
  • Feature requests should be detailed, and contain all the information required. Features that contain all the required information, or suggestions for implementation details, often progress much quicker than those that are poorly formed. This too acts as a filter for poor suggestions; it is often not possible to extract the required detail from a poorly formed suggestion, so if the person submitting the request cannot do this, then neither can we.
  • We will spend more time reviewing and managing requests, as it improves the overall quality of the suggestion list. We will act as a further guard for poor suggestions entering the system, with the view that any suggestion that makes it through review could be implemented. Requests that can never (or will never) be implemented will not be left in the system. We will inform VAs if suggestions are unrealistic or will not be implemented, providing a reason, so that VAs that submit suggestions are not left in the dark as to whether we intend to implement functionality.
  • Feature requests should encourage debate and discussion, with people supporting the request often adding further elaboration to it. We will not track popularity of requests by arbitrary vote counters. VAs that support a request can add comments to it, elaborating further and continuing to develop the suggestion right through to implementation.
  • Feature requests will be evaluated based on merit to our customers. Any feature request that passes review and has healthy discussion, and is fully developed, should be implemented. We provide no timeframes for implementation, but we do not want feature requests to "rot". If we have the time, we will implement a well-formed and highly-requested suggestion.

The Bugzilla platform used for bug reporting and tracking can also track enhancements. We have decided to (ab)use this functionality for tracking feature requests, as the overall structure of the platform will (we believe) encourage a more healthy debate on feature requests, encouraging VAs to submit fully fleshed out suggestions, or express their interest in existing suggestions by adding useful and constructive comments to them.

Our article on reporting bugs also contains details on requesting features.

If you currently have ideas on the vAMSYS Ideas platform, we invite you to enter the ideas into Bugzilla. We are offering you this chance because we currently do not store a sponsoring VA in Ideas, yet we would like to capture this information if possible. After a couple of weeks, we will go through the ideas list and copy across any that have not already been moved but we consider to be either highly-requested or important requests. You do not need to migrate your ideas yourself if you do not want to, but doing so allows the suggestion to be correctly attributed to you and your VA, and you will receive the relevant emails.

To conclude

We hope that these changes improve our support and feature request system for everyone, and that they continue to support our ever-growing platform into 2022 and beyond. If you have any questions or comments, then please feel free to either leave a comment below, or contact vAMSYS Customer Services.


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George Peppard
Systems and Infrastructure Advisor to vAMSYS, ex-Infrastructure Director

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