The IT helpdesk is often the unsung hero of an organisation. Despite being central to the smooth running of an organisation's IT infrastructure and business processes, it can easily be overlooked in favour of other long-term IT projects and strategic issues.
IT directors, however, should realise that it is inconceivable to run an effective IT department with patchy helpdesk support behind the scenes.
Effective organisations will define a formal career frame-work, such as the industry structure model from the British Computer Society, which specifies skill profiles and professional qualifications for every type of IT job.
This model shows how people can achieve their career potential and gives guidelines on how to organise their career.
If this is overlaid with an Investors in People accreditation, which requires attention to factors outside the immediate role, staff have a much better chance of being treated according to their capability.
Unfortunately, it is common to find IT helpdesk staff or other service roles having had little training in customer care. If customer satisfaction is a company imperative, it is essential that as many as 15 days a year are spent on induction with an annual five-day update.
The training appropriate for an IT service team in the "always-on" culture can be exemplified by the "moment of truth" principle. This approach originated in the airline industry and is defined as taking every interaction with a customer as being an opportunity to satisfy and impress them.
For most IT helpdesks, the customer will be an end-user within their organisation, whether this is an accounts clerk or the chief executive.
But training helpdesk staff is only the first step in the process. IT managers also need to educate end-users and business departments to take more responsibility for basic in-house IT training. This could include the use of e-mail, spreadsheets and specialist financial software packages, freeing up IT helpdesk staff for more important work, potentially saving the business money.
IT directors can improve the quality of helpdesk support with a few simple actions. They should listen to end-users' problems to ascertain how they should deliver a service.
IT directors should understand how end-users use IT systems and provide training to help them do so more effectively.
Finally, and most importantly, the IT helpdesk team should be treated as an asset to the business - not as a commodity.
Peter Wheatcroft is a consultant with service management specialist Partners in IT
This was first published in March 2004