IT Help Desk: What’s the Point?

There is an expectation in any non-small business that the IT department has a Help Desk. A phone number, email, location that is the central place to report IT problems. An expectation that the problems will get resolved quickly and efficiently. A place for IT questions, requests, and issues to go…ideally not to die, but to get addressed.

IT Help Desks, as implemented in most places, are a waste of company resources.

Read that again. A waste of resources. A waste of people, their expertise, and company money. The best a Help Desk can do is return things to the way they were before something broke. To get back to yesterday’s state of things.

There are, of course, some companies that don’t operate that way, that don’t look at the Help Desk as a cost, as a fix it staff, as a place to burn out new grads. That look on the Help Desk as a way to make the company better. That look at the Help Desk as a way to help employees understand technology better.

This post is about those companies.

There are a few basic things that the Help Desk needs to do. They are

  • Incident Management (broken stuff)
  • Service Request Management (repeated requests)
  • Asset Management (new/replacement computers)
  • Training & Communications (huh?)

Here is the punch line: Ruthlessly reduce the time spent on the first 3 items on the list and maximize the time spent on the last one. Here’s why.

Incident Management

Just because fixing broken things (incidents) is a waste of time, doesn’t mean it isn’t a necessity. Nor does it mean that it shouldn’t be done effectively. Many articles, posts, books, and classes have been written about Incident Management and I don’t intend to repeat any of that.

The part that gets left out of many of those writings is this: An important, perhaps *the* most important, part of Incident Management is preventing future incidents. The best incident is the one that doesn’t happen.

The focus on data gathering for incidents should focus on what will be helpful in eliminating future incidents. Categorization should help identify the areas for improvements, fixes, training, etc. to prevent employees from hitting that problem again.

Of course, it is impossible to prevent all incidents. That isn’t the point. By reducing incidents, we get to the ultimate goal: less time spent by the company *and* by the Help Desk dealing with broken technology. We will come back to that point.

Service Request Management

Adding accounts, updating permissions, upgrading mobile phones, etc. These are necessary tasks for the Help Desk. In fact, the more successful the company, the more service requests come in. All the writings on Service Requests are exactly right: use standard work instructions for consistency and correctness, intranet system for entering, tracking requests, and fast response for everyone. Design all your processes to give consistent responses quickly with the least amount of effort.

That last part is again the focus. So we have reduced the time spent on the two largest time commitments the Help Desk has.Let’s see what Asset Management can do.

Asset Management

Adding new computers and replacing old. Buying, imaging, deploying, recycling. The key here is to set up a monthly process of reviewing demand, assessing inventory, ordering and deploying. This results in a couple of benefits. Those that are not the point of this article include: evening out of depreciation expenses, an inventory of pre-imaged computers that can be used to improve response time for some incidents, and the data to management this process that makes overall incident management better. To the point here is a reduction of time spent performing this task.

So we have taken time out of the first three duties of the Help Desk. In addition, we have increased the quality of service by eliminating problems employees face, improving the service request level, proactively replacing old computers, and reducing the lead time necessary for new computers.

What are we going to use all this extra time for?

Training & Communication

This is the point of all the above work. Help Desk personnel spending more time on helping employees use the technology better. They can facilitate everything from brown bag on smaller topics to larger, vendor provided, classes. General topics like Office, Windows, IOS, and Android are always needed. Working from home or on the road. Basics on the company’s ERP system. The Help Desk can be a facilitator or they can be the instructor. They can create training materials or present materials created by others.

Communication of outages and other problems are typical of the Help Desk. Also consider steady streams of communications regarding security, safe web browsing, managing email, etc. via whatever communications channels the company has. Keep things fresh to keep people from tuning out.

There are many more examples that apply here but I think you get the message. Focus on reducing the time spent doing normal tasks and increase the time spent helping employees use technology better.