What is a Help Desk?

A help desk is a place that a person can contact to get help with a problem. Typically, the term is used for centralized help to users within an enterprise and are sometimes referred to as “call centers”. The helpdesk may be a place that customers call to place orders, track shipments, get help with products, and so forth or an internal place that employees go to seek help with IT systems, HR questions or other business issues.

A help desk offers a single point of contact for users to get assistance. Larger help desks may include multiple levels of support. The first-level usually answers most common and simple questions, often leveraging scrips and some sort of knowledge. If the first level agent can’t solve the issue, it is transferred to a second level resource able to handle more complex issues. Help desks may also have a third or higher level of support, a group that is staffed with subject matter experts (SMEs) that handle difficult issue and/or provide enhanced support for important users

Help desks may go by alternate names such as: call center, response center, support center, information desk, solutions center, or resource center.

what is a help desk

Help Desks in IT

A help desk in the context of IT, is a function responsible for answering the technical questions of users (typically employees, contractors and suppliers). Companies in the business of selling IT products and services to customers often have externally facing IT help desks as well to respond to questions from their customers. The questions and their answers are usually transferred using e-mail, telephone, website, or online chat. For those companies that subscribe to ITIL definitions. the help desk is a component of the service desk, concerned with end-user functionality and providing incident management to ensure customers’ issues are resolved quickly. Some common IT helpdesk tasks include:

  • Act as a single point of contact (SPOC) for IT Support
  • Assisting in the procurement, setup and configuration of IT devices and software
  • Providing information and technical instructions to users
  • Tracking and routing incidents using helpdesk software
  • Performing basic incident and problem management.
  • Resolving access and permission issues
  • Facilitating the diagnosis and repair of failed devices
  • Managing a knowledge base of known issues and frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Providing self-service options for end users

IT help desks may be structured as centralized or distributed operational functions provided either by company staff or by an outsourced provider. Many larger companies leverage multiple help desks along with a network of suppliers and subject matter experts for escalation support.

Help Desk vs. Service Desk

Some people will say that a help desk provides help, whereas a service desk provides service. (It isn’t quite that simple) A help desk is typically focused on issues that arise from existing services, whereas a service desks assist with not only issues but also with service requests (new services) and requests for information.

IT Service Desk

The ITIL definition of the Service Desk (Service Operation) is the Single Point of Contact between the Service Provider and the Users. A typical service desk manages Incidents and service requests and handles communication with users. It is concerned with both resolving the immediate issue and improving the quality & performance of services offered to ensure they are fully meeting the user’s needs by considering a broad business context. The service desk is a key component of managing the service management process from a big picture perspective.

IT Help Desk

The IT Help Desk can be separate or part of a larger Service Desk operation to improve the overall organization’s Customer Services The primary goal of the help desk is “first call resolution” The help desk feeds into the service desk with a tactical, day-to-day role in responding to end-user needs. The concept of an IT help desk was born in the late 1980s as an IT support capability to fix IT issues. It was initially focused on the IT rather than end user, usually with no targets for fixes, and immediate fixes were infrequent. With the proliferation of IT Service Management best practices, help-desks have taken on characteristics like service desks (though in a more limited capacity)

Do you need both?

A help desk (of some sort) is an essential tactical function for resolving user issues and problems. Since a service desk generally takes a more proactive stance, addressing issues of a less urgent technical nature, some companies may not “need” a full featured service-desk operation. In these cases, many of the service desk integrations with other IT processes (such as change management and problem management) can be included as part of the help desk function.

IT Help Desk Software

Help desks manage requests by using some sort of help desk software, or issue tracking system, enabling them to keep track of user requests, find answers to common questions and prioritize the requests being worked on. User contact may be with either internal employees or external customers and include a combination of websites, contact numbers, instant messages, and emails to provide customer support.

  • Enabling staff to scale to meet the volume of customer requests
  • Setting expectations with requestors on the timing and type of response they will receive
  • Reduce the frequency of being shuffled through different agents
  • Avoiding wasted time and user frustration
Benefits of IT Help Desk Software

Using a software platform to support your help desk operation can bring many benefits, including:

  • Enabling staff to scale to meet the volume of customer requests
  • Setting expectations with requestors on the timing and type of response they will receive
  • Reduce the frequency of being shuffled through different agents
  • Avoiding wasted time and user frustration
Help Desk Features

Help desk software helps streamline incident management and other important support processes. With the ability to resolve issues more quickly, your help-desk staff can assist more users. Some of the key features of a modern help desk management system that help enable productivity include:

  • An efficient ticketing system for managing user issues
  • Multiple modes of user contact (email, phone, chat, web, etc.)
  • Built-in knowledge base for known issues and frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Workflow Automation to prioritize inquiries and route requests to the appropriate support resources
  • Contract / SLA management for managing help-desk performance and 3rd party relationships
  • Alerts and Escalations to help ensure timely resolution of issues
  • Agent dashboard that provides all the information they need in one place
  • Flexible Analytics and Reporting capabilities

Issues that IT Help Desk Software Addresses

While it is possible to operate a help desk without the aid of a software solution, doing so is likely to cause some issues that a software solution can help address.

Ownership of an incident from start to finish

Tracking incidents as they move through different support teams is difficult and can lead to frustrating experiences for end users. Help desk software provides a single place for managing the incident from the time it reported until the issue is resolved.

Modern user interactions with support staff

Help desk software can provide more self-service and user enabled capabilities along with the ability to access support resources from wherever the user happens to be through mobile tools and web-based interfaces. It puts more tools in user’s hands and reduces the resource burden on help desk staff.

Process automation

leads to greater responsiveness, efficiency, and consistency in your help desk operations allowing your helpdesk to support a larger and more diverse business/IT ecosystem.

Data to support analytics and decision making

with actionable intelligence to help your IT Service Management organization manage the evolving challenges of delivering effective service in increasingly complex environments. Provide your teams with a detailed view of your infrastructure and its dependencies with diagnostic data, performance information, and actionable knowledge.

IT Help Desk Software for Different Size Companies

In many small companies, a help desk is simply one person with a phone that connects the requestor to an individual or small team of generalists with “some idea” of how to handle the problems that come in. In larger companies, a help desk may consist of a more structured operational function staffed by a group of experts and specialists that need to work effectively together to solve user problems. A company’s help desk software needs will be driven by the scale of their helpdesk operations, the sophistication of their IT function in general and the need for complex integrations with other systems.

Small to Medium Businesses

For most small to medium size businesses, the key thing they are looking for in help desk software is simplicity. They can’t afford lot of up-front costs or ongoing overhead activities requiring dedicated staffing. Their help desk teams are small, and processes are simple – this is what enables staff to wear many hats and support a large diversity of issues. Their main concerns are productivity to handle increasing support volumes, ensuring users get their issues resolved in a timely manner and capturing some data to understand how well the help-desk function is meeting users’ needs.

Large Enterprises

Large enterprises look to help desk software to manage complexity, provide consistency, enable scaled operations and assist in managing supplier relationships. They often need to integrate with other IT systems and/or support a more comprehensive service management process which may require deeper technical integrations, robust processes and enhanced data sets.

Help desk Software Adherence to ITIL

Depending on the size of your company, the need for helpdesk software to strictly adhere to ITIL processes may vary. Help Desk solutions, which do incident management without formalized processes for other ITIL disciplines, tend to focus on getting the customer back up and running as soon as possible. While there is a benefit to ITIL adherence in being able to leverage out-of-box processes that have been built on tried and true best practices, there is also a risk of introducing ITIL overhead that is un-necessary for many organizations.

Companies that have implemented helpdesk software will tell you that the important thing is to find a solution that gives you the features (such as ITIL process support), integration options and degree of sophistication that you need with the ability to “turn-off” those extra processes and features that you either don’t need or aren’t ready for.

Types of Help Desk Software

Web-based help desk software

Sometimes referred to as SaaS or Cloud-hosted software, web-based helpdesk solutions are hosted and operated by a service provider and the application is then rented out to companies for use. Subscribers access the help desk via the provider’s website or a locally installed desktop or mobile app and data such as tickets, user profiles, and transaction details for support analytics are saved on the vendor’s server.

Because web-based software is managed by the vendor, the companies that use it don’t really need to understand how it works or the mechanics of maintaining it. Web help desk solutions are popular among small and medium businesses that lack an in-house IT function and larger organizations seeking to avoid capital expenditures for internal systems.

Most web help desk features are built upon industry standards like ITIL and are suitable to support the company’s help desk specific needs. However, as companies evolve beyond operating simple help desk functions and adopt more sophisticated service management approaches, they find themselves moving beyond stand-alone help desk software to more integrated service management platforms. As more large companies move to SaaS software models, web-based helpdesk vendors are enhancing their services to include enterprise-level features including deep customization and integration capabilities.

On-premise help desk software

On-premise help desk solutions are licensed software packages that a company buys and installs/runs on its own infrastructure. The main benefit of an on-premise help desk is that the company owns and controls both the system and all data within it. While many companies claim that this is necessary to address data security and privacy concerns or to enable integration with other IT systems, modern cloud-based solutions now offer similar capabilities. An on-premise help desk is often customized to the needs of the company and integrated with other systems such as CRM, accounting, asset management, etc.

The biggest drawback is that on-premise software requires capital to acquire and setup and ongoing operating costs to maintain a technical team to run and maintain the system. System maintenance and data backup for on-premise helpdesk software are the responsibility of the company, as are performing upgrades, applying patches and resolving performance issues. On-premise help desk software, hosted on infrastructure with an architecture that is lacking may also put the company at increased risk of security breach as compared to software hosted on a server of a vendor with a consistent track record in data security and privacy protection. Because on-premise help desk solutions often require a large financial investment and may involve deep customization, most on-premise help desk services are targeted to large enterprises with the resources and staff to support this type of solution.

IT Service Management Platforms

ITSM platforms cover a much broader scope than a stand-alone help desk solution. They are typically built to support the end-to-end set of service management processes of the organization and often adhere to standards such as ITIL. The feature-set goes beyond the standard help desk features such as ticketing, time tracking, and knowledge base to include things like IT asset management, configuration management, account management, service request fulfillment, and survey management.

The enhanced feature-set of an ITSM platform is important for companies whose helpdesk functions have a lot of dependencies on other IT functions and/or help desk agents need direct access to ITSM resources like the CMDB, Change Records and Problem Management data. For large companies, a full-featured ITSM solution can provide the ability to scale, support distributed teams and global operations and manage a large network of suppliers and support providers. For smaller companies, ITSM platforms may not be entirely necessary but can provide some powerful capabilities to help the company manage their IT investments effectively as the company grows.

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