IT Service Desk vs. IT Help Desk – What’s the Difference?

December 04, 2017 | Post by Michelle Beauchamp | 0 Comments
Help Desk vs. Service Desk

Many businesses have implemented some level of end-user IT support within their organization. 

Some are basic “help desks”, while others are referred to as “service desks”. 

Until recently, even IT personnel often used the terms interchangeably.

Is there a significant difference between the two? If so, how can businesses decide which is appropriate for their users?

Defining Help Desk and Service Desk Terminology

The Information Technology Infrastructure Language (ITIL) provides a definition for service desk, but interestingly makes no reference to help desk. 

This adds to the confusion for some businesses, but indicates the lack of relevance in today’s IT environment. 

The main functional purpose of both the help desk and service desk is to provide IT service management (ITSM) for end users and resolve any technology problems quickly and efficiently.

IT Help Desk

The IT help desk has a main purpose - to reactively “help” end-users with problems such as:

  • Help with how to use a program or app
  • Help with malfunctioning equipment
  • Help with logging an incident/ticket for resolution 

IT departments staff help desks with the objective of providing meaningful help based on what the end-user says they need help with. 

This is very user driven, reactionary and somewhat basic service, sometimes a more of a way to get “through” to the IT team.

IT Service Desk

As technology progresses, the complexity of networks, applications, and mobile devices has generated the need to evolve to a more progressive, service-oriented and strategic view of the help desk.

Service desks go beyond the scope of the typical help desk in offering such additional functionality as:

  • Prevention of problem recurrence with automated solutions
  • Maintain a knowledge base of information related to service requests for reference in future incidents
  • Recommending new service, equipment or processes to aid in the IT system supporting the business processes better - instead of taking a complacent approach
  • A very customer-centric focus to provide proactive value and services to end-users, as opposed to simply logging issues

A service desk should be a de facto extension of your IT team.  Still, within IT organizations, there is a distinct difference noted between help and service desk organizations, but other business segments often utilize the terms interchangeably.

What the Differences Mean for Your Business

Each business must determine its own needs for help vs. service, usually based on the level of technology integration within your organization and your need for tactical versus strategic support.

With the advent of mobile workforces and sophisticated business systems, the need for rapid response and resolution is more critical than ever before.

Deciding on which environment is the right solution for your business can be determined through answering a few simple questions:

  • Do you only need occasional support for equipment and business application problems?
  • Are your users satisfied with the performance and support they get from a help desk environment?
  • Do you consider IT technology and business systems just an operational function?

If the answer to those questions is yes, a help desk organization may suit your business. 

Conversely, there are numerous indications that a service desk is more appropriate for your business:

  • Technology and proactive problem resolution are critical to business and employee performance
  • Employees are mobile and benefit from:
  • IT is viewed as a strategic element of conducting business

Outsourcing the Help Desk or Service Desk Function

Outsourcing a help or service desk can make financial sense for your business, and may offer logistical advantages such as:

  • Reduced IT staffing and associated costs
  • 24/7 availability
  • Access to service desk functions anytime, anywhere, with any device
  • Functionality that scales with your business
  • Self-service and technical advantages such as online chat
  • Reduction in down-time through faster problem resolution

While a very basic help desk may be effectively implemented with in-house personnel, today’s IT environment has become a complex infrastructure for businesses of all sizes, making a service desk almost a necessity. 

Choosing an Outsourced Vendor

Your service desk is an extension of your IT organization, and a strategic asset to your business. 

When selecting your partner for service desk management, check that they:

  • Are committed to continuous training of their service desk professionals
  • Provide each of the features above that is relevant to your business
  • Demonstrate core competencies with proven ROI and adherence to SLAs
  • Proactively keep pace with technology, to ensure ability to grow with your business
  • Are capable of handling day-to-day “basic” help desk functions, as well as full-service, proactive and complex requests

Looking for More Information? Whatever your choice, it needs to make financial sense, try our ROI Calculator to see how much money you could save by outsourcing some of your IT support functions.

The content and opinions posted on this blog and any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not those of CompuCom.

  • Michelle Beauchamp's picture

    Michelle Beauchamp

    Michelle Beauchamp is Senior Director of Product Management within CompuCom’s Service Experience Management business unit.

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