IT Service Desk vs. IT Helpdesk: What Kind of Desk Does Your Organization Need?

IT Helpdesk Vs. IT Service Desk

Let’s talk about the IT helpdesk and IT service desk debate. Because we’re trying to help as many organizations as possible and nudge the industry along, those of us who offer advice or “thought leadership” often gloss over the fact that all organizations are not the same. Does a small business with 15 employees need a CIO, a project management office (PMO), and a formal problem management team? Probably not, although someone should be responsible for the technology that drives the business. I say probably not, because even a small business that provides highly technical services or which deals in large volumes of customer data might very well need a named position to handle the responsibilities involved. In short: Organizations are different from each other, and one way of doing things does not suit all. This applies to IT service desk vs. IT helpdesk.

Organizations are different from each other, and one way of doing things does not suit all. This applies to IT service desks vs. IT helpdesks too. Here @RoyAtkinson explains. #servicedesk #helpdesk Share on X

IT helpdesk vs. IT service desk

Whether you need an IT helpdesk or an IT service desk is largely dependent on the size and scope of your organization and the intensity of its technology needs. An engineering firm, for example, is likely much more dependent on IT than a corner magazine shop.

If the primary need in your organization is to have a person or team of people dedicated—whether full or part-time—to resolving technical issues and keeping people working, you probably need an IT helpdesk. Because that’s what an IT helpdesk does. Remember that it’s important to keep proper records of what was done to fix something, by whom and when, and the best way to do that is by using a tool designed for the job, such as a basic ticketing system, some of which are available for free.

There probably isn’t a strong need for a fully defined incident management process right away, but as the organization grows, be prepared to adopt (and adapt) documented good practices. Also, consider signing up for one of the great IT helpdesk communities available at no cost, such as HDI or Support Driven. People in these communities are very willing to share information and can help you solve problems as you go.

The IT service desk

ITIL 4 adopters will likely use the term IT service desk rather than IT helpdesk. The service desk is defined in ITIL 4 as, “The point of communication between the service provider and its users.” (We’ll take up the topic of whether IT is or should be considered a service provider at another time.) The communication includes not only the kind of break/fix service provided by an IT helpdesk, but also service requests, questions, announcements, and updates.

The service desk is considered a SPOC, or a single point of contact. Service consumers do not have to wonder whom to contact about a particular issue; they can make all necessary communication about IT through the IT service desk. It’s a different beast from the traditional IT helpdesk.

The enterprise service desk

Some organizations have expanded the concept into an enterprise service desk, or enterprise helpdesk, meaning that colleagues can use one point of contact for any question or issue, from a squeaky chair to an office move, and from adding someone to a workgroup to creating accounts for new employees. Please note that the adoption of this approach does not constitute enterprise service management, which is more about the use of similar service management processes, tools, and data across the entire organization. Again, It’s a different beast from the traditional IT helpdesk.

Here @RoyAtkinson talks help desk vs service desk vs enterprise service desk, and reminds us of some basic IT support good practice. #servicedesk #helpdesk #ITsupport Share on X

There’s no “one size fits all” IT support solution

The world would be a simpler place if there were a “one size fits all” solution for anything, but there isn’t. When your business or organization is making IT helpdesk decisions about what kind of support your people need, don’t fall prey to the erroneous idea that what works for a Fortune 100 enterprise will work equally well for your 100-employee organization. The real rule is to make decisions based on the actual needs of your business.

If, for example, everyone on staff is very technically competent and good at resolving their issues, then you may not need any dedicated IT helpdesk or IT support staff at all. The realities of internet-connected business, however, demand that you have someone charged with paying attention to information security and compliance with ever-changing regulations about data retention and use.

Basic IT support good practice for the IT helpdesk

Some basic IT helpdesk and support points to consider:

  • It’s good to differentiate between fixing broken things (called incidents) and responding to a question or need (called service requests). The differentiation helps you keep track of the frequency, severity, and type of breakage on the one hand, and the demand for certain types of service on the other. You do not have to be using any particular framework or methodology (or to even have an IT helpdesk) to benefit from this; it’s simply good practice.
  • It’s a good idea to document everything, as it is in any area of business. Every IT helpdesk contact should generate at least a little documentation, and as needs grow, documentation should as well.
  • Consider adding a time component or using software that tracks this for you. The time taken up by incidents or requests and the number of contacts combine to produce information about the demand for the IT helpdesk or IT service desk and can show when it’s time to add or decrease staff.
  • Start from the beginning to gather and use IT helpdesk knowledge. If the ticketing or IT service management (ITSM) tool you’ve chosen for your organization has a knowledge management capability built-in, you can use that. Research has shown that understanding and using a solid knowledge management methodology can build a strong foundation for self-help. Start creating a culture of knowledge-sharing immediately.
  • Treat people with a high degree of respect. Whether you refer to them as users or consumers or customers is really up to you, but be consistent about it. Ask the people you are supporting if they feel particularly strongly about your collective name for them.

Above all else, remember that it is the business or organization that drives decisions about the acquisition, use, support, and maintenance of technology investments. Even if there is a department called IT, the goals of that department are to enable and support the goals of the business or organization. Work together with counterparts across the entire organization to choose the best methods and tools for today and to prepare for growth tomorrow. There is a huge amount of information available to help you on your journey to start or grow your desk, whatever type you choose.

If you liked this IT helpdesk article, you might like these IT service desk articles:

Roy Atkinson
CEO | Principal Advisor at Clifton Butterfield, LLC

Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. In addition to many other lists, he was named one of the “10 ITSM Experts to Follow” by BMC Software, and one of  “The Top 50 Customer Service Experts of the Decade (2010-2020)” by Nextiva in May, 2020.

His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his former role as Group Principal Analyst at Informa Tech, he acted as in-house subject matter expert for HDI and ICMI, bringing his years of experience to the community.

He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business.

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