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The help desk lies at the heart of any organization's IT support effort. One of the biggest challenges for any IT organization is managing -- and paying for -- both hardware and software IT support.
IT support is usually a large portion of the IT budget. As a result, it's an easy target for budget cuts, which can have detrimental consequences on the services IT can provide end users. It is critical for the help desk management software that supports the help desk to allow IT to manage processes and meet business requirements.
Before buyers select help desk management software or a service, they must fully understand how the support process works and analyze how the software will meet their needs, as well as what some of the new help desk features and trends are. Buyers should also note the important distinctions between the requirements for SMBs and enterprises.
Using extensive research into help desk management software, TechTarget editors focused on vendors with internal-facing products as opposed to customer-facing products. Our research included Gartner and TechTarget surveys.
Service operations and event management
One of the most popular frameworks for help desk support is the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Not all businesses use or even need ITIL, but it provides an excellent guide on how a help desk should work. Figure A shows a basic flow chart on how help desk event management takes place based on ITIL processes.
Service requests refer to planned changes in service events, such as password changes, software installations and security access requests. Incidents are for unplanned interruptions or reductions in service quality, such as hard disk failures, system crashes, performance degradation and network outages.
Help desk requests usually follow the lifecycle below:
- The user contacts the help desk.
- The help desk creates a service ticket with detailed service requirement information and the requestor's contact information and determines the priority -- does the incident affect one user or many users? Is it delaying a critical project, impacting revenue or is it simply a service request?
- The help desk assigns the ticket a priority and routes the incident accordingly.
- The system assigns the appropriate technician to the event. Technicians may be internal IT staff or a third-party support provider, such as vendor support.
- The help desk escalates the incident to a higher priority level if necessary, including pushing it to third-party or vendor support for complex issues.
- The help desk monitors the event lifecycle and engages resources as needed.
- If resolution requires the application of a patch, a driver or other software, it may require approval via the change management process in some organizations.
- When the user who logged the event accepts the resolution, the help desk closes the ticket.
- Data from the event, including the time to resolution, escalation data and details of the resolution -- such as how the staff fixed an issue -- are stored in a knowledge base for further analysis and to help resolve future incidents.
The right help desk management software tools are critical for IT to record, store and manage the information and information flow of the ticket submission and resolution process.
Help desk management software for an SMB or individual business
A smaller company with a handful of employees that focuses on its own products must handle incidents itself, as only its internal staff has knowledge of the product. This level of business would likely need to locally install a turnkey help desk platform that IT can customize to its specific needs.
Help desk management software may seem like overkill for a smaller company, but it can save time by collecting data on bugs and product issues and provide a history of service events.
Larger SMBs need to look at a more comprehensive platform because of their increased requirements. They likely need both hardware and software support for common applications, including their own products, and may or may not have enough IT support on staff to run the help desk.
SMBs might have simple help desk applications running on a server, logging requests to their IT staff with escalations, or they may outsource the services to a third-party provider. It may also be beneficial to have a small staff on hand to perform service requests -- password changes, access requests, software installs -- and then outsource hardware events -- especially server issues -- to a third-party company. This option allows internal users to control security issues and takes advantage of a more diverse technical staff for higher severity problems.
When combining in-house and third-party support, the internal help desk must interface with the third-party's system, which is not always a straightforward process. Certain key fields may not match, and IT will likely have to build a custom software interface unless both companies use the same software. Even if the internal help desk software is the same as or compatible with the third-party service, IT will still need to coordinate with the service provider to provide the necessary reporting requirements.
Large global enterprises will need an enterprise-level software package that internal IT staff or third-party service providers can run or manage.
Enterprise-level corporations often have support from many different service providers and that becomes even more complicated when the organization is spread out internationally. The help desk management software must be able to interface with multiple providers and conform to various individual country and language requirements.
The basic requirements and flow for enterprise organizations are still basically the same as in Figure A, but they likely break down into smaller components, such as setting service-level agreement priorities, resolving processes, and routing to multiple vendors and countries. It becomes more complex when there are a wide variety of hardware and software components in the data center.
Challenges with help desk software
Security issues come up when a third-party service provider offers access and password support to users. Contractual language and safeguards mitigate this risk by limiting access to the corporate infrastructure, or by only allowing internal IT staff to perform security operations. Outsourcing all IT support to a third-party service provider can introduce security issues, as well.
IT must have proper security safeguards in place and establish contractual language for protection. It is also important to monitor third-party activity. Don't just turn the keys over to a third-party and let them go.
Help desk management software supporting ITIL standards is only important if the organization uses ITIL standards. Some applications support ITIL and some do not, so buyers must verify support if they have adopted ITIL standards. ITIL support includes more complex processes than SMBs, so it is important to match up processes with capabilities and flexibility for these companies.
The help desk software's ability to follow company processes is essential. IT must be sure the application is flexible and customizable enough to adapt to its company process for:
Current trends in help desk management software are making data entry and collaboration easier. These capabilities include support for social media interfaces, online chat and various forms of mobile support for popular platforms.
Remember that one of the key benefits of help desk management software is building a knowledge base, which will minimize the time it takes to solve known, repetitive problems and address new problems an existing patch or update could fix.
The technicians who perform the repairs are the ones who provide the data necessary to create this knowledge base, so it's important that the process not be overly complicated and that it allow them to make quick but detailed entries from any device. If it is difficult to provide the required data, the technicians might not do it.
An important help desk trend is SaaS, which puts the help desk in the cloud or in a combination of on- and off-premises applications. There are a variety of pricing methods that are especially attractive to new companies who may choose a SaaS platform to begin with and then move to another system as they grow.