The changing future of the helpdesk

As technology moves forward, so does our application of it, and this is as true in the realm of the helpdesk as in any other.

As technology moves forward, so does our application of it, and this is as true in the realm of the helpdesk as in any other.

Edwin Gear

Opinion

The helpdesk traditionally facilitates the smooth running of a company's IT infrastructure, on which all organisations are increasingly dependent. However, helpdesks of the future will not be solely concerned with IT support.

Let's start by calling all the people relying on the helpdesk "customers". They have one requirement in common - service. Both internal and external customers are relying on the helpdesk to resolve an issue which is preventing them from performing a task. They rely on the helpdesk personnel to provide a "fix it" service.

Increasingly, IT departments are using helpdesk software to support external queries that have no relation to IT. The helpdesk becomes a single point of contact for a wide range of customers with diverse queries. Imagine the range of external queries that a local council deals with, from street lights being out of order, bin collection times and tax assessments to internal issues relating to a sticky keyboard and a forgotten password.

You may say that it is impossible for your helpdesk employees to have the breadth of knowledge to support all of these queries. The council has not recruited superhuman call centre staff. It has not found a team of IT-literate street lamp technicians with a working knowledge of the council tax system to answer the calls. The council has used the technology available to provide the call centre staff with access to a broad range of knowledge from which they can offer support on a wide range of topics.

If the call cannot be resolved at the first point of contact, there is a mechanism to escalate and assign the query to a specialist in that particular area. And, more importantly for the "customer", to track the query and make sure that it is being dealt with.

We have a culture of DIY in this country and this culture extends to the helpdesk environment. Many staff across an organisation are familiar with the Web, whether they use it at work or at home. They are used to querying databases and search engines to get the information they want and, more importantly, when they want. They could be searching for anything from the latest football results to a new ring tone for their mobile phone.

Surely it makes sense to tap into that knowledge and familiarity among your users to reduce the number of calls coming to the helpdesk?

Not only would this reduce the pressure on your support staff, it would also enable users to answer their own queries or fix their own problems when support staff are unavailable. With mobile computing on the increase and more users working from home, your users' problems do not always occur between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

Finally, why support such a broad range of issues? Profit is the answer. Your company has invested heavily in assets, not just IT and the IT infrastructure, but also in people, information and equipment. When these assets are fully utilised, the opportunity for cost savings is significant. These assets are costing the company more money when they prevent employees from doing their jobs.

Whenever you run a service centre, call centre or helpdesk, it needs to deliver on the expectations of customers. You need to predefine an area of expertise and therefore a range of issues that it will support. Make it very clear to your customers what it is you can do so they don't expect you to fix the street lamps when you only support internal IT. Make the service centre accessible through a range of service channels and offer the option of self help.

Finally, measure everything, from the time it takes to resolve a specific kind of issue to the number of support calls your support staff take and resolve each day. If you can report on the success of your team and quantify the service you deliver, you are well on your way to an effective service delivery.

Edwin Gear, president of HEATDivision, FrontRange Solutions

This was last published in September 2000

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