The ITIL 4 Service Desk Guide – Process, Practice, Function?

ITIL 4 Service Desk

Let’s talk about the ITIL 4 service desk Practice Guide. Practices, first introduced with the release of the ITIL 4 Foundation Edition in February 2019, are a set of organizational resources designed to work together for service management teams performing work and achieving objectives. There are 34 management practices in ITIL 4, split into three main areas: General Management Practices, Service Management Practices, and Technology Management Practices.

But before this turns into an article about the ITIL 4 changes, including ITIL processes versus ITIL practices, these are already covered in Akshay Anand’s “ITIL 4 Explained.”article. Instead, this article focuses on one of the ITIL 4 Service Management Practices – the ITIL service desk practice and the associated practice guide and ITIL framework processes – and how this can help with customer service and customer experiences (or end-user experiences) in the context of how IT service desks manage incidents of participate in corporate digital transformation initiatives..

This article by @thepapabell takes a dive into the ITIL 4 Service Desk Practice. What do YOU need to know? #ITIL4 #ServiceDesk Share on X

Let’s start with the concept of practices

For anyone familiar with previous versions of ITIL, practices effectively replace “ITIL processes” (where processes were used to manage the delivery and support of IT services). Of which the ITIL 4 service desk management practice is an example. For me, one of the challenges of business processes is that, when you think of an ITIL process, you may associate it with perhaps a workflow – a defined way of getting a piece of work, a user query, or information, from point A to point B for example.

Practices elevate the notion of ITIL processes by incorporating (another new feature of ITIL 4) the four dimensions of service management (Organizations and People, Information and Technology, Partners and Suppliers, and Value Streams and Processes). The four dimensions of service management ensure that, through service planning and service design, the organization adopts a considered and balanced approach by taking into account each of the four dimensions. This is very relevant to the ITIL service desk management practice.

It’s also worth calling out that ITIL 4 uses the term service management rather than IT service management (ITSM) whenever possible – reflecting the ability of the guidance to be used by other business functions and not just IT. This includes the ITIL 4 service desk practice.

The ITIL 4 service desk practice

One of the practices, the ITIL 4 service desk practice, was acknowledged in previous ITIL versions as a function. However, functions are no longer present in ITIL 4, something I’m personally glad to see. I found functions a little confusing.

Was the ITIL service desk function a team? Was it a role? Was it an ITIL process?

It’s something I struggled with during my ITIL study and, later on, ITIL adoption. Anyhow, the ITIL service desk is now rightly recognized as a practice in its own right, and I believe that it’s now much clearer.

The fundamental thing to acknowledge when considering the ITIL 4 service desk practice is that we’re not talking about a team members here. Although the desk is recognized as a team of people in many organizations, IT support teams will not exclusively be involved with just the ITIL service desk practice, they’re likely to be involved in the activities of many practices. For example, incident management, service request management, problem management, knowledge management, relationship management, service level management (thanks to service level agreements (SLAs)), etc.

The fundamental thing to acknowledge when considering the ITIL 4 Service Desk practice is that we’re not talking about a team of people here – @thepapabell #servicedesk #ITIL4 Share on X

The same is true of other ‘teams’ or groups of people within an organization. The human resources (HR) team is likely to be involved with workforce and talent management, information security management, risk management, organizational change management, etc. The facilities team are likely to be involved with incident management, risk management, supplier management, IT asset management, etc.

A good question to ask here is: Would HR and facilities be involved with the ITIL 4 service desk practice? Well, without creating the basis for a solid case in favor of the enterprise service desk, the answer is yes.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what a service desk is

The purpose of the ITIL 4 service desk practice as defined as “to capture demand for incident resolution and service requests. It should also be the entry point and single point of contact for the service provider for all users.”

If we park this definition for a moment and think about HR and facilities, they’re likely to have relationships with suppliers and stakeholders internal and external to the organization, much like the IT service desk team does. The types of people that interact with HR and facilities, suppliers for example, maybe raising requests and reporting incidents and service requests just as users would to the IT service desk.

Does this mean that the HR and facilities teams are a service desk? I’d say they most certainly are. Therefore, it makes sense that the interactions and communication between users and the service organization, wherever they may happen to be in the business, are handled consistently. The purpose of the ITIL 4 service desk practice is, therefore, not exclusive to the IT service desk team, it applies far more broadly across the enterprise.

The ITIL 4 service desk practice is involved in all value streams (please see another Stuart Rance blog for a definition of value streams) where there are interactions between the service and support organization and its users. Interactions between users and the organization can occur anywhere in the business, not just through the service desk team. The ITIL service desk practice is designed to ensure that communications between all parties are effective and convenient.

Empathy is a key ITIL 4 service desk practice concept

One of the key concepts of the ITIL 4 service desk practice is service empathy – “the ability to recognize, understand, predict, and project the interests, needs, intentions, and experiences of another party in order to establish, maintain and improve the service relationship.”

Of course, empathy isn’t a new concept for the ITIL service desk management practice. There’s a great deal of emphasis on empathy within an effective IT support team. Have a look at the freely available Service Desk Institute’s (SDI’s) Service Desk Analyst and Service Desk Manager Professional Standards and you’ll see what I mean. Although, empathy isn’t something that should be exclusive to the service desk team.

Effective or ineffective empathy will have a big influence on user satisfaction. The ITIL 4 service desk practice explains, therefore, that service empathy should not only apply to the narrow context of user support (think service desk team), but it should in fact apply to all service interactions, wherever they may happen throughout the organization.

Other ITIL 4 service desk practice guide content

Example ITIL 4 service desk practice success factors (think critical success factors (CSFs)), such as:

  • Enabling and continually improving effective, efficient, and convenient communications between the service provider and its users
  • Enabling the effective integration of user communications into value streams

When we talk about ‘convenience’ in this context, we mean that the service being provided meets the users’ needs. For example, the ITIL service desk service is available, at the right time, with the right information, in the right place, in the users’ preferred language, etc.

As with all of the 34 ITIL 4 practice guides, this guide covers in great detail how the ITIL 4 service desk practice can incorporate the four dimensions of service management.

Under Value Streams and Processes, the ITIL 4 service desk practice guide takes a look at:

  • User query handling
  • Communications to users

Where a ‘user query’ is the catch-all term given to anything that a user may raise to the service organization before it is validated and triaged.

For Organizations and People, the ITIL 4 service desk practice guide explores the specialist roles and their competency profiles that would be suitably responsible for common activities. The guide also looks at different ITIL 4 service desk models and the structures of the teams.

The Information and Technology section explores tooling requirements (including ITSM tools and service desk software/ticketing systems), automation solutions for ITIL 4 service desk activities, and quality of information.

Under the final dimension of service management, Partners and Suppliers, the ITIL 4 service desk guide takes a look at external IT service providers.

The ITIL 4 service desk practice guide finishes with a reminder that its content should be regarded as a suggestion of areas that an organization might consider when establishing its own practices.

Do you have/need an ITIL 4 service desk or helpdesk?

Finally, Roy Atkinson, one of the top influencers in the service and support industry, recently wrote for about “IT service desk vs IT helpdesk”. Roy asks, “What kind of desk does your organization need?”

An IT helpdesk – a person or team of people dedicated to resolving technical issues, an IT service desk – the single point of contact for IT users, or an enterprise desk – a single point of contact for any question or issue? You’ll have to read Roy’s blog to find out his conclusion about the ITIL 4 service desk.

What I can say, though, is that whichever desk(s) an organization opts for, wherever there are interactions between the support organization and its users, the ITIL 4 service desk practice guide will be a great aid in ensuring those interactions are effectively managed.

If you liked this ITIL 4 service desk article, the following ITIL articles might also be of interest:

Jamie Bell
Founder & Director at KnowledgeAdd Ltd

Jamie has been working in IT for over 15 years, including support, infrastructure and service delivery with in-house teams and managed service providers. Having created and lead multiple service desk teams, he is now a service desk expert and consultant, part of the ITIL 4 Practice Guide authoring team, co-author of the Service Desk Institute’s (SDI) Global Best Practice Standard for Service Desk v8, and co-author of the 2020 revisions of the Service Desk Analyst and Service Desk Manager Professional Standards.

He is also the founder of KnowledgeAdd, a training provider specialising in fully accredited modern Service Management and Project Management courses.

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