Martin Atherton, originally published on The Register
Who does the helpdesk help – IT or the business? Many people (users) think the helpdesk is ‘what IT is for” where as in fact it may be the very thing stopping IT from being a more valuable partner to the business. Is this status quo simply the way things are destined to stay or is there more we can do with this frontline service?
Many IT desks were originally set up to stop business people interrupting the daily work of IT professionals. They were created as call handling systems. Answer the phone, take details, log the event and pass on to someone else. It was a holding pen for problems to be dealt with in order.
Over the years more and more functionality and capabilities have been bolted onto the helpdesk. Now, when a call is logged, the helpdesk operative may have a process to follow which doesn’t just log the necessary details but may highlight known problems and where possible provide guidance to allow them to fix it directly without having to involve ‘higher level’ IT staff. Password changes are the archetypal example, but we know its much more than that, according to the respondents who told us about some of the more amusing/frustrating/downright annoying tales from the front line.
Comedy and outrage aside: did the creation of formal IT helpdesks move ‘IT at large’ even further away from the business? Some IT staffers may say the further away the better, but this may be fast becoming yesterdays approach. As we talk about (and try to do) more and more of the stuff we do ‘as services’ maybe there is more we can do with the helpdesk to help the effort involved in managing IT through a transition from ‘component monitors’ to ‘service providers’.
What might ‘more’ be? If the helpdesk was seen as a two-way, instead of one-way, communication mechanism it could quite easily act as a means of discovering what new services the business needs: An intelligence gathering point. This currently doesn’t exist in most organisations– or at least isn’t exploited as such.
From an outbound point of view, the helpdesk could become the marketing tool for IT. The point of delivery for telling the external world what IT is actually doing for the business, whether it reports on quality of service metrics for existing services or as mentioned above, provides the means to gather feedback about what new services might be of use to the business or just as importantly, which ones are no longer of use. Doing this as an ongoing exercise could go some way to addressing the traditional ‘communication’ issues that have always existed between IT and the business.
For many organisations, their helpdesk is currently a service that employs people at lowest cost to follow scripts and deal with everyday user issues. However, this side of IT has become, and is likely to remain as far as the business is concerned, the real face of IT.