Article: What Is a Help Desk?

Oct. 31, 2011

Following the “what is”-series regarding different business areas is here an article about what a Help Desk is. The idea of the “what is”-series is to write the articles in a way that people who have never been in contact with the area will understand.

A Help Desk is an instance helping people with computer related issues. The help desk personnel are experts in either specific computer software/hardware or common issues related to several different areas connected to computers.

There is a difference between a Service Desk and a Help Desk in that a Service Desk is connected to the standard called ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) or ITSM (IT Service Management) which is a collection of processes built on best practices collected from different businesses during a lot of years. A Help Desk is an instance that is not connected to any specific process but does its best to help people in the areas of expertise. The description of Service Desk will follow in another article in the “what is”-series.

There are 2 common implementations of a help desk.

Internal help desk

A help desk available for the internal organization is helping the employees of a company with the computer related problems.
The problems can be anything from hardware related problems to involve help around software functionality. The help desk usually uses some kind of help desk software to support the users the best way. The help desk software keeps track of all issues to make sure that they are solved the quickest way possible. Usually the time to solve issues is connected to some kind of promise between the IT department and the rest of the organization.
It is common that the help desk is responsible in helping out with installations of new computers and also the removal of old equipment as well.
Since not all problems are possible to solve on distance, a help desk also has people who can go to the users to help out. These people are in many cases called ‘runners’.

External help desk

An external help desk is sometimes available to help external customers with issues around specific issues for a software or a function. This can for example be a help desk providing support services for a software vendor. The help desk would collect problems from the customers and try to help them as quick as possible. The help desk will be able to solve problems as well as collect information for feature requests needed from different customers.
There are also possibilities to outsource your internal help desk. This can sometimes be very efficient both financially as well as how efficient issues are solved due to internal processes and skills. This can be seen as external but is really an internal help desk.

Both the internal as well as external help desk needs to use help desk software to help them organize as well as prioritize the different tasks and issues. The software often includes a lot of functionality to help them be more efficient, such as:

* Issue management
* Time management
* Discussion boards
* Wiki or some other knowledge management tool
* Automatic workflow to help increasing quality
* Resource database, both users as well as the hardware and software they are using
* Connection to the phone system
* Support for several teams and skill based management
* Chat connected to issues
* External portal for customers / users

Since the help desk need to do preventive work as well the daily tasks are not always coming from the users. Tasks that should be completed on daily, weekly or monthly basis are gathered in the help desk software and automatically turn up when they are supposed to be worked on. This is a great functionality to make sure that tasks are not missed. By doing the preventive work the help desk makes sure that users experience the best possible service from the IT department and the technical environment.

Some of the preventive work is also connected to the monitoring systems. One example is when a disk on a server is about to run out of space. The monitoring system will identify that there is only 10% of free space left and automatically creates a task for the help desk to free up space so that nobody in the company will experience any problems.

Since the IT area is wide and needs a lot of different experts, personnel resources used in the help desk, or at least in connection to the help desk, are divided into teams. There would be people in the help desk who are Single Point Of Contact (SPOC) and depending on what kind of issue that is reported they either solve it themselves or send it to another team to solve. By having the structure well defined time spent in the help desk for each issue will be optimized and the user will have to wait less time for the issue to be solved.

As in most functions it is important to have some kind of software to store information. A help desk software will help the IT department in keeping track of everything needed to be solved but will also make it possible for users to follow the progress of their reported issues. Most help desk software also allow for users to report their issues directly in the system. This way they do not have to wait on the phone and are able to attach screenshots and other vital information easily from their computer.