The origins today’s IT service desk date back to the 1960s, when the first call centers were established.
Call centers benefited from two other inventions of the era: touch-tone dialing and toll-free phone numbers. Touch-tone dialing allowed computers to “understand” tones that users created by pressing keys on their touch-tone phones, allowing for greater automation of the service desk and eventually the (sometimes frustrating) phone menus we still encounter when phoning a service desk. In the 1960s, long distance phone rates were expensive, particularly in the daytime, when business was transacted, so toll-free phone numbers opened up the world of service desks to many more people.
Interactive Voice Response
Interactive voice response, or IVR, was invented in the 1970s. However, early systems depended on narrow vocabularies and couldn’t deal with things like regional accents. It wasn’t until the 1990s that IVR got good enough to be regularly used by service desks. However, even in 2013, IVR systems still encounter problems.
The Outsourcing Boom
Another big change in the service desk concept arrived in the 1990s, when outsourcing became cost effective. Though call centers in India became popular enough to become almost a pop culture staple, many U.S. companies are now bringing call centers back to the U.S. due to other cost-savings measures and complaints about overseas call centers.
The Help Desk in the Workplace
It was in the 1990s that the IT service desk started becoming a reality in lots of companies. In the early days of computer technology in the workplace, the “help desk” was often “Bob, who knows about computers,” which couldn’t remain a workable service desk model for long.
As real IT service desks were established, the primary mode of communication was the phone. Information technology specialists were hired by companies in every sector as pretty much every job function came to involve computer use to some degree. This model worked well at first, though it had its inefficiencies. Once the internet made its way into the workplace (and pretty much every other aspect of modern life), a handful of IT workers with phones was no longer adequate for the needs of even small companies.
Email, Live Chat, and the Service Desk
In the mid-1990s, email and live chat support took some of the burden off the phones, and the web became an important tool for IT service. Once Google was launched in 1998, it didn’t take long for IT workers to start using it in their quests to find answers to IT problems. But email access to the help desk had its own limitations. There was still manual problem entry upon receipt of a help-related email, and gathering separate emails related to a singular problem was a pain.
The Web Revolutionizes IT Service Desks
Network-based help desks were another step forward, even if they only existed on a company’s local network and used on-site help desk software. Software of this era, however, was prone to “bloat,” due to cheap computing resources, and the result was often inelegant code, and interoperability problems.
It was around the year 2000 that web-based help desk software started to emerge, solving many of the problems associated with phone and email-based systems. With new features like self-service portals, automatic ticket creation and logging, and a lack of on-site server requirements, web — or cloud-based — help desk software brought the IT service desk into the 21st century. Sure, some employees still preferred using phones or email, but email could be integrated into some cloud service desk software systems, and an increasing number of end users grew comfortable with self-service and other access methods.
Today’s Service Desk
As we settle into the second decade of the 2000s, the game changers for IT service desks are social networking and mobile apps. Remote desktop control has been another important development, reducing the requirement for IT workers to go to where a machine is physically located in order to fix it. Mobile apps are revolutionizing IT service management, allowing IT workers to be un-tethered from their desks — or from the office altogether, in some cases. Mobile apps allow IT workers to use their smartphones to take care of problems that would have required a trip back to the office just a few years ago.
As long as hardware and software problems exist, so will help desks. The help desk of 2020 may not look much like the help desk of 2000, but with continued acceleration of technology, even more efficient IT solutions will emerge.
Samanage is a leading provider of cloud service desk software, incorporating fully-functional IT asset management capabilities as well as mobile apps, remote desktop control, knowledge base capabilities, and self-service portals. And because it is reasonably priced and cloud hosted, you don’t need to buy hardware to use it. Why not give Samanage a test drive and see for yourself where the help desk of tomorrow is developing right now?
About Nathan Riley
Nathan Riley is a Sales Director, ITSM at SolarWinds. He has nine years experience in the industry, and has had a front row seat for the evolution of service management as a platform for the entire organization. He helps organizations ranging from SMB to Fortune 500 bring customized service to employees. Nathan proudly served the United States Armed Forces in the United States Marine Corps.
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