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Autotask, of Greenbush, N.Y., makes business management software specifically for companies in the IT channel and has become a favorite tool among solution providers, especially those offering managed services. Autotask’s software integrates with the platforms that providers use to deliver remote systems monitoring and management services.

In October, the vendor launched a beta of its CommunITy forum to give the 16,000 users of Autotask software a vehicle for sharing thoughts about the applications with other users, ask questions of the vendor and other users and, yes, post gripes as well.

The company is preparing to do an official rollout of the forum within the next six weeks or so, according to Bob Vogel, Autotask vice president of marketing, who said the forum currently boasts about 4,000 users.

To get to the forum, users log on to the management area of the Autotask application and click a button with access to CommunITy.

As with other forums, often other users respond to how-to, what-if and how-come questions when someone posts them, and the company steps in with an answer if nobody else does.

But when requesting a product feature or enhancement, things are a little different. Vogel said a user makes the suggestion and then other users have the opportunity to vote on whether they think it’s something Autotask should do. If enough support exists for a particular request, Autotask includes it in an upcoming release or, if simple enough, within days or weeks.

“I hate to say it, but that’s kind of new to me,” said Jeff Sherman, president of Warever Computing in Los Angeles. It’s something, he added, that other vendors ought to be doing but aren’t, at least in his experience.

Sherman said he started using Autotask’s software in October, around the same time that the CommunITy beta was launched. The timing was perfect because, as a new customer, he had questions about the product and by posting them on the forum he was able to get answers promptly, he said.

Vogel said Autotask is fostering an environment of openness with the forum, limiting censorship only to the rare case when one user insults another. But if users post complaints about the product or the company, they are considered fair game, he said.

“It’s a totally open and transparent place,” Vogel said.

As a result of CommunITy, he said, Autotask adjusted how it works enhancements into the product. Previously users had to submit a ticket to the company requesting one and yearly those requests added up to some 2,000.

“Often we’d get people asking for the same thing but maybe in a slightly different way,” he said.

With the forum, the process is much more streamlined. Users are encouraged to first do a search to see if the request they want to make is something that has already been addressed in the forum and that the company may already be working on, Vogel said.

Mark Crall, CEO of Tech Care Team, of Charlotte, S.C., said the forum’s value is in fostering an exchange of ideas between users and prompt action by Autotask.

As an example of the vendor’s responsiveness, he cited features that Autotask built into the product’s “Executive Dashboard” as a result of user requests. The dashboard allows users to track things such as contract revenue by contract and resource performance.

CommunITy, he said, has met or exceeded his expectations of what a user forum should be.

“The biggest thing I like about it is it holds Autotask accountable to community feedback,” he said. “You just can’t put a price on that.”