What are the critical differences between a Service Desk and a Help Desk?

This article is the third in the four-part series “What is a Help Desk and why is it relevant to your business“. This article addresses the fundamental differences between the Service Desk and the Help Desk. The focus of a Service Desk and Help Desk is addressed, and the possibility of a company having a Help Desk and not a Service Desk, or vice versa is discussed.

Introduction

Before looking at the differences between a Service Desk and a Help Desk, let’s define the purpose of the two solutions.  The role of the Service Desk is to provide a Single Point of Contact between the organisation’s customers, staff and business partners. It is designed to optimise the business services and oversee IT functionality. A Help Desk, on the other hand, is a resource used by the IT department to log the calls for assistance from the organisation’s end-users. The Help Desk typically focusses outwards towards the organisations end-users while the Service Desk is a business tool designed to address external customer needs as well as the internal organisational requirements.

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The four-part series

The four-part series of articles address the questions listed below. To view the first two articles in the series, select the appropriate hyperlink and a new window will open and display the relevant article.

Service Desk and Help Desk differences

The Service Desk and the Help Desk are both business tools, although these terms are similar, they are not interchangeable. These differences were formalised with the introduction of the ITIL version 3 framework. In this context, the Service Desk is a fundamental component of the entire management process while the Help Desk forms a part of the end process focusing on end user needs.

Service Desk differences

  • The Service Desk is outwardly focussed on the end user and internally focussed on the day to day business processes of the organisation.
  • The Service Desk is Strategic by design, and in larger organisations, it may include a help desk component. A primary goal is to improve IT processes (including the Help Desk), monitor and assess current processes and trends.
  • The Service Desk focusses on critical business issues at an organisational level, leaving the immediate IT related issue to the Help Desk technicians.

Help Desk differences

  • A Help Desk is outwardly focussed on the end-users, and the primary goal is to fix end-user problems.
  • The Help Desk is tactical in nature and most concerned in addressing and solving end-user problems as they occur.
  • The Help Desk focuses on providing incident management to ensure that customer’s problems are resolved in a timely fashion.

Service Desk and Help Desk focus

Service Desk Focus

Service Desk focuses on the corporate strategy and is the  single point of contact between IT and the service management. At the same time, it is also the first point of contact in an organisation for any IT or service request.  The Service Desk contains all the capabilities of a Help Desk plus the functionality that allows you to plan, organise and provide the delivery of an extended set of IT services.  Unlike the Help Desk, it does not merely react to problems as they arise but allows for a more strategic approach to IT Service Management.

The Service Desk has an expanded scope that includes the provision of support services for an entire organisation, often referred to as Enterprise Service Management solution. A solution of this nature often includes support for Human Resources, Facilities, Accounting and Legal departments. In ITIL 3 a set of best practices has been defined for the Service Desk that includes the following:

  • Service Strategy – to evaluate current services and ensure a plan is in place to, modify and implement new and existing services when required.
  • Service Design – Evaluate and ensure a new service will meet current and future needs.  Ensure a new service can be introduced into the live environment.
  • Service Transition – Define a plan that ensures no service outages or gaps during a service transition. Thus the effects of the transition on the corporation are minimal.
  • Service Operation – Responsible for the ongoing monitoring of a service that is used to deliver services.
  • Continual Service Improvement – Review and analyse opportunities to improve all IT process and functions.

Business Metrics for the Service Desk

Measuring business metrics in a Service Desk has always been a problem. All too often the metrics produced by both the Service Desk and the Help Desk refer to the number of calls closed, how long it takes to close a call and so forth. Those are not necessary the metrics that management require to make accurate business decisions. Separate articles have been written that discuss these problems. They are available here:

Business Metrics for the Service Desk

BMC FootPrints Business Metrics Reporting

Help Desk Focus

A Help Desk is the first point of contact between the end-user and the support staff. It is reactionary in nature, manages problems as they occur, allowing issues to be logged, tracked and finally resolved. A Help Desk focuses on facilitating the communication between support staff and end users, contributing to solving problems. An IT asset database is maintained that includes up-to-date hardware and software information. An extensive range of management reports can be produced that contain the following information:

  • The number of tickets created
  • Time to respond to the tickets
  • Time to close a ticket
  • Type of problem
  • Was the Service Level Agreement breached or not?

Tasks specific to a Help Desk are as follows:

  • Computer or software issues
  • Change management requests
  • Problem escalation procedures
  • Service Level Agreements
  • Tracking all incoming problems

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Many organisations have a Help Desk without a Service Desk

There are situations where a business does not require a Service Desk. Very often, the deciding factor is the size of the business and its immediate requirements. Also, they may not be ready for the process and service offerings of a Service Desk. In cases like this, a Help Desk will suffice as it gives the end-users a place to contact when they experience IT related problems. Thus, the Help Desk will reduce the “out-of-service-time” for the end-user.

Very few organisations have a Service Desk without a Help Desk

The Service Desk has an expanded scope that includes the provision of support services for an entire organisation. It must include the functionality of a Help Desk, or the ability to link into one so that support for the end-users IT related issues can be managed. The Service Desk is focused on corporate strategy. However, they must also have the ability to ensure that all end-user issues are attended to in a timeous fashion.

Conclusion

This article has highlighted the focus of both a Service Desk and the Help Desk. It also touched on the fundamental differences between the two solutions. A point to remember is that the Service Desk and the Help Desk are both business tools, although these terms are similar, they are not interchangeable. The Service Desk is focused on corporate strategy while the Help Desk is centred on helping the end-user solve their immediate problem, and is in fact reactionary by design.

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