What is the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk?
By Kate Hamblin, IT Management Consultant @ Pink Elephant South Africa
“What’s the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk?” A question I frequently get asked on training courses.
The Oxford English Dictionary states:
Help – make it easier or possible for (someone) to do something by offering them one’s services or resources; improve (a situation or problem); be of benefit to
Service – the action of helping or doing work for someone
So with those definitions in mind and based on my experience, I believe the following:
- A Help Desk is designed to get a user back on their feet, done and dusted, next! Log and Flog, Catch and Dispatch ring any bells?
- A Service Desk goes the extra mile (you can’t get away from clichés in this business) and provides the user with the warm and fuzzy feeling during the call and after. Well, that’s the intention anyway.
If we think about the evolution of the Help Desk to a Service Desk (even though many organisations still have Help Desks that are really Service Desks and vice versa), Help Desks were more common when ITIL V1 was introduced and Incident Management didn’t even exist as a process, never mind Request fulfilment. As businesses started to demand more from IT and to enable IT to start providing a more structured, coherent IT Service, structured processes were developed within the ITIL framework. These new processes called for IT-related issues to be more than just logged, resolved and closed, and so Incident Management was born. Businesses are starting to subconsciously realise how much value the Service Desk adds but most of them just don’t like to admit it.
Request fulfilment appeared in ITIL V3 as the now Service Desks matured even more and has now been updated to become Request Management in ITIL4. We are now looking at – ….. classify, prioritise…… resolve, COMMUNICATION, close etc. So the customer service and communication aspect come into play so much more on a Service Desk than they do on a Help Desk. Customers and users want to feel important like their issue is the only issue the Service Desk is dealing with that day. They want to know that you take their issue seriously and that you understand what impact their issue has on their role. So Service Desk Analysts must now be empathic, patient, understanding, analytical, be good troubleshooters, understand to what extent each incident impacts the business and how much each incident costs to handle. Most importantly they must have exemplary communication skills (communication skills – maybe that’s my next blog?).
Users see Service Desks as IT, they represent and are the face of IT. To this end, Service Desks need to be involved in every part of an Incident and Service Request lifecycle and should be involved, to different extents, in other processes such as Problem Management, SLM, Change Management, SACM, to name a few. To the user, a Service Desk is a one-stop information shop for all IT related issues – and some non IT related issues but let’s not go there.
Now in ITIL 4, the Service Desk is no longer a function, it is a practice (ITIL v3 processes are now practices in ITIL4). I am personally still trying to get my head around this but with the limited and only foundation level material we have available at the moment, I will have to wait and see what the intermediate level material can give us.
So, if you are a Service Desk that doesn’t at least have a reasonably mature Incident, Problem and Request Management process (level 2-3 according to Pink Elephant’s PinkSCAN product) in place, if you are not considered as a valuable contributor to business outcomes and cannot tick off most of the points mentioned above, then sorry guys, you’re a Help Desk……..