The Service Desk Manager (SDM) is a critical role in any IT Service Management (ITSM) operation. They are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of service-desk operations to ensure users and business teams receive the support they require. The role is part general management, part service operations and part special projects – the service desk manager wears many hats. In addition to managing a potentially large staff of support agents, the service desk manager also monitors operations to make sure tickets are addressed in a timely manner, as well as serving as the service-desk liaison to major business-impacting initiatives.

General Management

The service desk in most IT organizations is often one of the largest single functions, frequently including multiple teams, locations, and shifts. Managing the service desk requires the manager to have a strong set of general people-management skills. Common general-management activities include:

The Service Desk Manager (SDM) is a critical role in any IT Service Management (ITSM) operation. They are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of service-desk operations to ensure users and business teams receive the support they require. The role is part general management, part service operations and part special projects – the service desk manager wears many hats. In addition to managing a potentially large staff of support agents, the service desk manager also monitors operations to make sure tickets are addressed in a timely manner, as well as serving as the service-desk liaison to major business-impacting initiatives.

Service Operations

In addition to general management activities, the service desk manager is also the leader of a critical IT service-management function that processes a large volume of service requests each day. The service desk manager is responsible for smooth operations, that SLAs are being fulfilled and service-desk clients are happy with the support they are receiving. He or she is actively involved in the day-to-day activities of his or her team, with a direct accountability for service desk performance. Common service operations activities for the service desk manager include:

Most service-desk operations are based on standard frameworks, such as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and a clearly defined set of internal processes and policies controls operations and guides the activities of individual agents. The service desk manager is responsible not only for the definition of these processes and policies but also their adoption and conformance. Most service desk managers have some form of ITIL certification and many years of experience, both executing and managing ITSM processes.

Special Projects

The service desk is a continuous operations function, but because of its importance in IT service operations, service desk staff members are often asked to contribute to other important service management and business activities. The service desk manager will often participate in these activities directly or oversee a small staff contributing to project work:

The goal of the service desk manager when involved in these activities is to leverage his or her experience and influence to minimize potential disruption to business activities. If service-desk agents must be involved in supporting project activities, then the service desk manager is well positioned to assess skill and staffing needs to balance project work against continuous operational responsibilities.

A typical day for a Service Desk Manager

The service desk manager’s job is highly stressful, with many activities occurring simultaneously, and requiring a constant prioritizing of activities. Most service desk managers work designated shifts, passing responsibilities among peers to enable follow-the-sun support of business operations. In small organizations where the service desk is available during limited business hours, the service desk manager is often “on-call” to provide after-hours coordination support. A typical day for a service desk manager will be a combination of planned activities, monitoring of operations and involvement in escalations and process exceptions.

Clearly, the service desk manager is a very busy position with many responsibilities. Each day presents new challenges and interactions with service-desk staff, clients, IT project teams, management and support vendors.

Skills of a Service Desk Manager

The service desk manager is arguably one of the most challenging roles in many IT organizations and requires a high degree of skills and experience. Hiring for this positioning can be challenging, as both skillset and mindset are important to the candidate’s success.

Measuring the performance of a service desk manager

A service desk manager should be evaluated both on the operational performance of his or her team and on his or her effectiveness working with people. Both objective metrics and subjective feedback should be utilized to generate a holistic perspective of the service desk manager’s performance. Critical success factors include, but are not limited to:

In larger organizations, service desk managers may have greater autonomy to guide the activities of the service desk staff – resulting in greater influence over team performance. It is important that service desk managers have a clear job charter and delegated authority for managing the service-desk function. This charter should include an outline of expected performance targets. The service desk manager should be empowered to make necessary changes within his or her organization and operations to achieve performance targets.

Service desk manager interactions with other service management process areas

The service desk is a pivotal function within most IT organizations due to the volume of direct contact with end users of IT services and solutions. It is important the service desk not operate in isolation, but, rather, interact and collaborate with other service-management functions to improve the overall service experience for users and business clients. The service desk manager, as the leader of the service-desk function, is responsible for developing and maintaining healthy working relationships with peers in other service management functions. Some of the key interactions include:

Change management

Planned changes are one of the most common sources of service requests, user questions and incidents reported to the service desk. The service desk manager will work closely with change managers to understand planned changes and ensure the service desk staff has the information, access and resources required to support changes in the IT environment.

Release management

Most major systems releases require support from the service desk, both during the release transition and for post-release support. The service desk manager will work with release managers and project teams to ensure proper release-support plans and transition tasks are documented and the service desk is staffed appropriately to support the release.

Major incident management

Service desk managers are often the initiators of the company’s major incident-management process. In some cases, he or she will be actively involved in resolving the incident. In all cases, the service desk manager is responsible for ensuring the service desk staff is aware of the incident and has instructions about how to communicate status and impact to clients.

Problem management

The service desk collects a large amount of information about the health of IT systems and services, including known issues, business impacts and the relationships between events and incidents. The service desk manager is responsible for ensuring service-desk insights are passed to problem managers and service owners to aid in prioritizing long-term fixes to issues.

Service strategy

The service desk manager is the champion for designing systems and services for supportability and operational performance. Insights and observations from service operations should be shared during service strategy and design discussions.

Tools service desk managers use

Technology is also critical to service-desk operations and IT tools are an important source of both data and productivity, enabling capabilities for service desk managers. Some tools are used to help service desk managers monitor and understand what is occurring throughout their organization. The tools provide views into system and service status or enable service desk managers to manage client interactions. The most common tools service desk managers use include:

Ticketing system

Also called a helpdesk system or incident management system: The IT ticketing system is the primary tool for managing work within the service desk. It will include defined roles, work queues, process workflows and SLA measurements tools. A properly configured ticketing system is a service desk manager’s most powerful tool.

Knowledge management

Service-desk productivity hinges on agents’ ability to share knowledge and information with each other. Service desk managers will use knowledge management systems as tools to understand common issues, to guide staff-training activities and to promote consistent resolution of common issues.

Scheduling

The service desk manager is responsible for managing staff scheduling and ensuring the availability of resources to cover organizational support needs. Scheduling tools for service desks should include both calendar capabilities and the ability to filter resources based on skillset criteria.

Monitoring systems

Client satisfaction is an important goal of service desk performance. User surveys conducted at the resolution of each service request in addition to periodic broad-topic surveys enable service desk managers to assess the effectiveness of their staff in managing client perceptions.

User surveys

The service desk manager is the champion for designing systems and services for supportability and operational performance. Insights and observations from service operations should be shared during service strategy and design discussions.

Data analytics and reporting

Service desk managers consume a large amount of data to do their job effectively. Analytics and reporting tools enable the aggregation of data and curation of reports to aid service managers and stakeholders in decision making.

Modern ITSM systems provide service desk managers and agents with integrated capabilities to manage the entire breadth of service-desk activities from a single interface. Sometimes referred to as a dashboard, console or single pane of glass, these tools aggregate all the resources a manager or agent needs to perform his or her job tasks. Some common dashboard views service desk managers regularly use include:

Service Desk Managers in large vs. small organizations

In small organizations, service desk managers are often hands-on resources, resolving tickets and addressing user requests. They are a doer first, and a manager second. Many small and medium businesses don’t have the resources or need for a large service desk. A small team of technical resources with a broad set of skills provide IT support. Each agent may have specialties, but everyone fields user requests and contributes to ticket resolution. The most senior person on the team is often designated as the service desk lead or service desk manager. In a small IT organization, the service desk manager role is focused on:

In larger organizations, service desk managers assume more of an overall coordination role. As service-desk operations expand, it is natural for individual agents and teams to become more specialized. This specialization often centers on specific technologies or layers of the technology stack, such as networking, desktop support and user software. This specialization includes the need for defined workflows, business rules and organizational structures. Service desk managers (from necessity) find themselves spending most of their time managing the activities of others and making sure processes are running smoothly – and spending less time working on end-user service requests. In larger organizations, the service desk manager role is focused on:

Should a service desk manager also do major incident management?

In small organizations, it is very common for the service desk manager also to be the lead for major incident management. As the most senior technical resource in the service desk organization, the service desk manager often has more experience, business relationships and coordination skills than others on the service desk team. In absence of a designated major incident manager, the role of managing major incidents falls to the service desk manager.

In large organizations, it is both atypical and undesired for the service desk manager also to be the major incident manager – although both managers will work very closely during a major incident. This is because, in large organizations, the coordination tasks for major incident management are often much larger, with more resources needed for diagnostics and troubleshooting and more stakeholders must be kept apprised of incident status. It is best to let the major incident manager coordinate the incident while the service desk manager oversees continuous service-desk operations and minor incidents.

The service desk manager will still be involved in major incidents (even if there is a separate major incident manager). They will typically be responsible for:

Major incidents are “all-hands-on-deck” situations for any IT department. There is typically significant business disruption or potential for catastrophic impact, and resolving the incident is the entire organization’s highest priority. During a major incident, other business activities don’t stop, however. There are other activities, service requests, changes and incidents that must also be addressed to keep the business running and prevent other major incidents from occurring. A service desk manager’s most important function during a major incident is to maintain control of all other issues, so the team working on the major incident can focus on resolving the big issue.

The Value of a Service Desk Manager

IT organizations are well aware of the great value of a skilled service desk manager overseeing their service-desk staff and operations. The service desk is one of the most important functions in any IT organization and company leaders must have confidence in the person entrusted to manage service-desk operations. The service desk manager is the single point of contact for other ITSM functions – providing a knowledgeable and influential participant in important IT projects and business events. They are the escalation contact for critical issues, able to engage with subject-matter experts throughout the company to minimize and contain impacts to business operations.

The service desk is typically a large function within most IT organizations – contributing both to operational costs and the perceived business benefits of IT. The service desk manager has responsibility for managing the service-desk budget and ensuring organizational resources are allocated appropriately to achieve the greatest benefit. He or she is also responsible for being the champion for continuous-improvement activities within the service desk and service-improvement initiatives and supporting risk-mitigation activities, such as business continuity planning.

Must your organization hire a service desk manager?

Every organization needs someone responsible for managing its service-desk operations. If your service desk is small (a few people), one of the senior agents may be able to serve as the service desk manager while also resolving user requests. If your service desk has more than one shift, specialized teams, vendor relationships or more than about 10 agents, then you probably need a dedicated service desk manager focused on coordination and management activities.

Service desk managers are essential to ensuring service-desk operations run smoothly, users receive the level of support they expect and the IT organization’s resources are utilized efficiently. The position is a combination of general (people) management, operations management and special projects. Your service desk manager must have the skillset, mindset and experience to manage multiple, conflicting priorities in a high-stress environment. He or she must see both the big picture of operations as well as be able to be directly involved in user support.

With the right person in the service desk manager position, given a clear charter and authority and access to tools and information and receiving the support of a skilled staff of service desk agents, the service desk manager will be able to add tremendous value to your IT organization.

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