It’s common to hear that the IT service desk staff has become so swamped with work that they feel like IT “firefighters,” working long hours and straining to keep the company’s IT infrastructure functioning during business hours AND throughout the nights and weekends.
We have too many IT workers and too few IT problems.”
– No service desk, ever.
Ask an IT help desk manager, “what’s the ideal end user to service desk worker ratio?” Almost all of them will say, “lower than whatever ours is.”
Because IT service management environments differ so much across industries and individual businesses, it’s not easy pinning down “good” or even “average” end user to service desk staff ratios. For IT to showcase that they are thinking beyond technical firestorms and considering the organization’s success as a whole, there are a few numbers (and questions) to consider:
Is the organization centralized?
Some IT departments support multiple office locations, field agents, plus full time employees and contractors. They’ll have a more complicated (and likely more time consuming) set of responsibilities.
How many software programs, business applications, and operating systems does the organization support?
If the organization uses different tools in different departments, it has a greater reliance on technology. Naturally, that will lead to a variety of technology-related issues, and potentially a higher percentage of issues with immediate business impact.
Do employees use their own devices or the company’s devices?
The company’s devices are easier to track and easier to apply changes and releases in broad strokes. If an IT support team is tasked with servicing a wide array of personal devices, it changes the equation.
What demographics are your employees?
Younger, more technically savvy employees might be more inclined to solve issues themselves, relieving some of the hand-holding duties for IT.
Does the business generally operate during regular business hours?
It’s hard enough for a support team to handle everything from 9-5, but if business lives and dies in the middle of the night, so does IT support. That’ll put a greater strain on the staff, and usually will require a deeper support bench.
These questions can all indicate a different amount of pressure on your help desk staff, which makes the ideal ratio difficult to pin down.
Survey and Discussion Data
Ten years ago, a survey by Robert Half Technology found actual reported ratios of 136:1, while the average “ideal” ratio reported was 82:1.
Since then, new technology has connected users directly to solutions with self-service. Automations have helped IT help desk staff cut out early steps of ticket resolution, and the modern service desk platform has made “firefighting” a little bit easier by connecting all of the IT elements of an organization together, streamlining the service delivery process.
All those things might lead you to believe that a smaller IT staff can handle a larger quantity of users, but it’s not necessarily the case. Actually, in many cases, IT staffs can’t handle a larger quantity of users because they’re instead handling greater responsibilities. Organizations have grown extremely reliant on technology, which means updates, patches, and outages have a far greater impact than ten years ago. Today’s IT support team is responsible for hundreds, even thousands of devices. They’re rolling out dozens of IT changes each month. They’re budgeting for a number of columns that never existed ten years ago.
A number you’ll see batted around as far as an “ideal” end user to IT service desk worker ratio is Gartner Research’s 70:1. A more recent survey from Robert Half Technology echoes the Gartner research, suggesting a 70:1 employee-to-help desk ratio is suitable, though (as indicated earlier) it depends on a number of variables in an organization.
If you look through discussion threads online, you’ll see numbers are all over the map, just like ten years ago. One lucky support member works in a tech-savvy environment with a 30:1 user to service desk worker ratio, while another is outnumbered with an 800:1 ratio. An informal average from 17 reported user to service desk worker ratios on numerous IT discussion threads was 242 users to one service desk worker. Shockingly, though not surprisingly, the median was 200:1.
Broad Trends in IT Staffing
There are, of course, outliers in this data. Technology companies or organizations with younger workers can have lower ratios of end users to IT help desk workers, and educational institutions tend to have much higher end user to help desk worker ratios (understandable, given the number of students included in that user-count). Companies experiencing rapid growth tend to add non-IT employees and play catch-up later on with more IT help desk support, after service desk workers continuously make the case and convince management that they are understaffed.
How To Evaluate Your Own IT Staffing Needs
In addition to the biographical questions about your organization, the following statistics will also give you some ideas about your support needs:
- average number of service desk tickets per month
- average time spent per ticket
- call prep and call wrap-up time (documenting or closing tickets)
This a good place to start if you’re trying to make a case to management for adding more service desk workers.
Whether you’re lucky enough to work at an adequately-staffed IT service desk or a poor sap who spends all day putting out fires, great cloud-based service desk software is an absolute necessity. The last thing you need at a short-staffed IT service desk is software that complicates matters further. SaaS service desk software eliminates the hassles of running help desk software on your own servers, ensuring that you and the rest of the service desk team are using the latest ITSM software version at all times.
About Danielle Livy
Danielle is the Senior Director, Marketing, ITSM at SolarWinds. She has wide-ranging experience in content production, social media marketing, public relations, and brand messaging. Her happy place is sitting by the lake with a cold beverage in hand, with the occasional water ski session.
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