Plenty of people use the words “help desk” and “service desk” interchangeably, including us. But they’re not actually the same.
The help desk is a simpler concept that goes back to the early days of personal computers in the workplace. The service desk, however, is more a concept for today: one that is evolving, incorporating technology, and becoming much more integrated into business operations. Here’s a brief history of the help desk vs. service desk.
The Help Desk
The help desk traces its origins back to the 1980s, when users needed to make the most of their DOS-running IBM PC-ATs and deal with problems when they occurred. The first help desks didn’t have much technology beyond what end users had, but help desk workers had enough knowledge of PCs and their operating systems to help co-workers with common problems. Though help desks did develop consistent call handling procedures and documentation protocols, they weren’t very efficient — not because they weren’t good at what they did, but because they didn’t have the technological tools for enhanced productivity. In 1989, IT industry reps along with the government of the UK published the first Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and it was here that the service desk concept started. The service desk, according to ITIL best practices, would be well integrated into an organization’s IT and business operations.
Service Desks — Loosening the Phone Tether
The service desk isn’t just a renamed help desk, but rather acts as a point of contact for service requests, problem management, and configuration changes. The service desk is more focused on enabling business processes, providing integrated support that is supposed to have an eye on the business impact of its processes. The service desk deals with more formalized integrated business processes than the help desk does. The service desk also adapts to changing needs in the workplace and helps the help desk adapt, too. For example, including email integration helps service desks and help desks run more efficiently by reducing dependency on the inefficient process of handling help requests by phone.
Service Desks — Getting Social
The goal of the service desk is to restore the end user to productivity, using problem resolution (what the help desk does), end-user education, or sometimes using a workaround. To do this optimally, it has to understand the end-user experience and meet the end user where they are technologically. Here’s just one example of service desk evolution in recent years, as social media has caught on with billions of people, service desks and help desks alike have started including social media integration to allow end users yet another convenient way to access the help or service desk and get their problems resolved quickly.
Service Desks — Playing Nice with Other Software
As the service desk becomes more integrated with overall business practices, service desk software has had to learn to play nicely with other software used in the enterprise. Increasing numbers of businesses, particularly start-ups, use Google Apps for many of their business functions, and smart service desk software providers are starting to provide Google Apps integration to minimize extraneous login procedures and allow service desk workers to access service desk software right from their Google Apps dashboard. The result is an easier learning curve for new service desk workers, and better efficiency for service desk veterans.