Optimizing the help desk


For too long, the IT help desk has been a secondary priority in IT. Now is the time to optimize it for maximum value.

Im here to help you. Shot of a young call centre agent on a call in an office.
Image: peopleimages.com/Adobe Stock

The MIT Sloan Management Review says that “the 21st-century CIO must prioritize customer experience; it’s essential to competitive competitive advantage,” and Gartner says that IT executives “see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies”

On the surface, both appear to be significantly different challenges for CIOs, but they come together at the help desk. Why? Because the IT help desk is on the frontline of customer service for internal users, and because the growth of knowledge sets and skills at the help desk can help prepare help desk employees for more skilled jobs in IT.

Help desk history

When I began my career in IT, the help desk was viewed as an entry point for new IT employees who had little to no experience. This hasn’t changed much through the years. Entry-level workers are often placed into IT help desk positions. The thinking is that they can take frontline calls from users, like how to reset a password, so more experienced and valuable IT workers don’t have to be bothered. If the help desk can’t resolve an issue, they can always escalate it to someone more knowledgeable.

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Few aspiring IT professionals want to be “lifers” at the help desk. They use the help desk to catapult themselves into positions that are perceived within IT to be more valuable, that pay better and that offer upward career paths. Their hope is that they can learn enough about company systems, networks and applications at the help desk, and if need be, augment this knowledge with outside certifications that will show IT management they merit a more prestigious position in IT.

What’s changed with the help desk

Three major changes have occurred that have impacted the help desk:

User expectations for greater responsiveness

Users have engaged more outside IT service providers over the past few years. They have also cultivated their own departmental citizen developers, hoping that they can obtain new functionality faster than they did when they had to wait for IT to become available.

The vendors that user departments have retained have a professional service staff trained to respond to calls quickly and provide help as needed. The internal IT help desk must now compete with these higher service levels, since end users expect them.

Higher levels of automation

Aware that help desk personnel are under great pressure to produce results as IT refuses to increase help desk head counts, solution providers have automated many of the routine administrative tasks that help desk personnel used to do. The automation includes automatic trouble ticket issuance, tracking and closure. Communications on trouble ticket status are automatically sent to end users, so help desk personnel no longer have to make the calls or send the emails. The goal is to free help desk staff from routine administrative tasks so staff can concentrate on more problem solving and resolution.

Requirement for deeper knowledge

With help desk automation assuming the more routine daily tasks, help desk personnel are now expected to perform at higher levels of technical expertise. This expertise is not limited to application and system knowledge. It also extends to networks, IoT, security and data.

Optimizing for new help desk opportunities

Help desk personnel continue to strive for IT careers that eventually move them into other areas of IT, and IT continues to be short on skills. The opportunity for IT leadership today is to make the most of these two circumstances.

Why not encourage and sponsor the upskilling of IT help desk staff so they can better serve internal user-customers, and then move this staff into more technical IT positions that need to be filled? It’s a great way to invest in employees, and it provides an opportunity to move new employees into the help desk positions that are vacated so they can be similarly upskilled and moved up.



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