We’ll get this out of the way up front: everyone uses “help desk” and “service desk” interchangeably. However, under ITIL, they’re different concepts, though they share many similarities. If you’re working in a brand new business, or if your business has finally realized that someone needs to take charge of the company’s IT needs, then you may be faced with creating a help desk or a service desk. Which one do you need?
Your managers may not know or care what the difference is between the two; they just want someone to get the network back up. But if it’s your job to develop an IT service framework, you should know the difference and know whether your goal is a help desk or a service desk.
Your long-term IT infrastructure philosophy is nice, but it isn’t much help in this situation.
The help desk is, for the most part, a simpler, less forward-looking construct than the service desk. That doesn’t mean that your help desk is run by simpletons and isn’t very helpful. A help desk can be a wondrous thing if it’s done well. It solves problems, keeps employees productive, and ensures deadlines are met. The help desk is analogous to the energy drink that keeps you going when the mid-afternoon slump hits.
The service desk has more of a strategic outlook, even if its current functions are indistinguishable from those of a help desk. With a service desk, you take the long view of IT problems, looking at analytics, seeing where problems come from, and developing ways for IT services to be delivered to address short-term and long-term needs. The service desk is analogous to the nutritious lunch that fuels you and keeps you from getting scurvy.
A Help Desk May Be Your Best Solution If…
In a new company with a small staff, a help desk may be the way to go. Early on, your organization may not be thinking about things like data centers and long-term IT infrastructure priorities. You’re probably just trying to keep everyone productive and the cash flow positive. The time may arrive when you want to turn your help desk into a service desk, but that time isn’t here yet.
Some non-IT businesses never move beyond the need for a help desk. Suppose you work in a small legal firm. Everyone has a computer with an internet connection, and you have printers that have to work, and you have a decent document management system. Other than software and hardware upgrades, IT needs aren’t going to suddenly explode. A help desk may work fine long term.
A Service Desk May Be Your Best Solution If…
If your organization’s IT needs are growing rapidly, or if the company itself is expanding, the help desk may not meet its needs for long. You need to take a long-term look at the hardware and software that will keep your organization productive. Eventually, adding software and hardware piecemeal isn’t efficient, and you need a better IT plan. A service desk can be an important part of that better IT plan.
Just adding on to what you have works at first, but quickly becomes untenable.
If your company has a help desk, but it just isn’t cutting it in terms of keeping end users productive, hiring more help desk agents may not be the only solution. It may be time to make the transition from help desk to service desk, and consider implementing changes like a service catalog, a self-service interface, and a service portfolio outlining the past, present, and future of your company’s IT infrastructure as a roadmap.
Either Way, Your Software Makes a Difference
Whether your company is ticking along just fine with a help desk, or has complex needs managed by a full service desk, your IT service management software is critical. Bad software can cripple a help desk or a service desk.