The comprehensive guide to IT help desk software
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Last updated on: June 14, 2019
The comprehensive guide to help desk software is a one-stop resource for answers to some of the most common questions related to help desks.
This guide attempts to build a complete understanding of help desks and their implementation, best practices, metrics, and other key aspects. It can help IT teams establish, optimize, and maintain an efficient IT help desk.
IT help desks deliver a variety of IT services in an organization. The help desk typically serves as the single point of contact for any requirement, issue, or assistance end users need to access technology services.
In mature organizations, the help desk guarantees timely assistance and prompt resolution of issues by defining and publishing their assured service levels. By delivering such high levels of service, organizations can meet their business goals and increase their leverage in the market.
IT teams typically deploy help desk software to manage the IT ticket life cycle, automate routine tasks, and optimize their processes and workflows, which directly results in increased productivity, reduced costs, better service levels, and improved customer experience.
Manage the life cycle of incidents or service requests raised by end users.
Manage the life cycle of a problem or change from creation to closure.
Allow users to resolve common issues on their own and reduce the help desk technician's workload.
Manage the quality and timeliness of services provided to end users.
Manage an organization's hardware and software assets.
Some help desk management software may also include other modules for project management, contracts, purchase management, etc.
Help desks can be classified into different types based on deployment method, size of target audience, and source code availability, as listed below:
Up until the introduction of Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) version 3 in 2007, the two terms—help desk and service desk—were used interchangeably.
Since then, this practice has changed within the ITSM industry. However, to the average end user, the difference remains blurry. Based on the ITIL v3 description of the two terms, there are a few key differences between help desks and service desks.
|Help desk software||Service desk software|
|Help desks are user-centric||Service desks are business-centric|
|Help desks are point solutions||Service desks are integrated|
|Help desks are reactive in nature||Service desks are more proactive|
|Help desks are for end users||Service desks are for both technicians and end users|
|Help desks are a subset of service desks|
The core function of a help desk is to handle incidents and service requests.
Help desks aim to provide a quick fix to any issues users face by handling a request through its life cycle and returning the service to its normal state as soon as possible. So the focus of a help desk is largely limited to end users.
On the other hand, a service desk is more comprehensive in nature. Service desks align with organizations' business goals and manage information delivery by using processes that follow ITIL best practices.
In short, service desks are built to focus on best practice processes and business goals.
An IT help desk is a stand-alone solution that performs tasks related to resolving help desk tickets.
Help desks most often offer basic incident and problem management capabilities with SLAs and self-service portals.
An IT service desk, however, is a more elaborate system with complete IT management capabilities.
Service desks integrate with other IT and non-IT management applications and are therefore capable of providing advanced services like change management, asset management, network monitoring, CMDBs, etc.
An IT help desk usually provides support to end users. This firefighting setup makes help desks predominantly reactive to the issues that come up in day-to-day IT operations.
An IT service desk is more proactive since it ensures that IT operations are running as expected and will continue to run in the future.
Although service desks also perform many reactive tasks as well, their major function is proactively ensuring that IT services are always up and supporting the business as needed.
An IT help desk usually allows end users to raise tickets and receive support. Help desks generally offer other services like knowledge bases and self-service portals, which are oriented toward end users.
A service desk, however, offers capabilities like change and asset management, which are complex, technician-facing services.
A help desk can exist as a stand-alone service that provides support to end users. But since service desks offer more complex services in addition to basic incident and problem management, most organizations incorporate the help desk as a part of their service desk.
Simply put, many organizations today use a help desk without a service desk, but not the other way around.
There are certain must-have features every IT help desk can benefit from. Some of these key features can be found listed below.
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The value added by IT help desk management software goes beyond IT operations. Help desk software benefits all the stakeholders of an IT help desk: the technicians, end users, management staff, and the entire organization itself.
Any organization that uses IT capabilities needs a system for managing them, too. IT trouble ticketing software adds value by helping organizations better manage IT operations. The points below illustrate how organizations can benefit from using a help desk solution.
An IT support ticket system converges all inbound communication and converts the help desk into a single point of contact for all IT-related questions.
Help desk software automates tasks, processes, and workflows, reducing human error and the technician's workload.
Each organization can customize forms, templates, workflows, etc. to meet their needs.
All data, requests, queries, and tickets are centralized in one place, which makes it easier to access and manage them.
With well-defined workflows and processes, help desk support software helps eliminate redundant tasks and boosts efficiency.
With the right tools, IT teams can minimizes service interruptions.
An IT help desk ticketing system allows users to set, track, and manage SLAs to ensure that services are provided on time.
Different teams, technician groups, individual technicians, etc. can collaborate easily through help desk software.
Requesters and technicians can view the accurate, current status of their requests and tickets.
Users can assign, analyze, and manage risks associated with an incident, problem, or change.
Any incoming incident or service request can be given an appropriate priority and handled accordingly.
End users can access solutions to common issues to fix problems themselves.
Help desk software allows users to define and track important key performance indicators (KPIs) and generate reports to assess overall help desk health.
A better managed IT help desk leads to higher satisfaction among end users.
Small businesses usually operate with small IT departments and only a handful of technicians. The small staff size makes it a challenge to handle all the incoming requests on time. Carrying out changes or maintaining assets is also difficult to do manually.
Therefore, small businesses can gain many benefits from implementing IT ticketing system software, such as:
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In the healthcare industry, time is critical. A hospital's help desk must be able to offer quick service when needed. Hospitals usually use a lot of equipment that is critical to patient's lives. This makes it important for help desks to manage equipment efficiently and without any errors.
IT support desk tools can help healthcare organizations in the following ways:
IT support professionals are naturally the best fit for an IT help desk ticketing tool. In the absence of a solution, IT teams usually work with spreadsheets and email, which is a slow, inefficient, and error-prone approach.
Out of the numerous benefits that IT help desk solutions offer IT support teams, a few key benefits are listed below:
Educational institutions usually deploy workstations for teaching staff, administrative staff, and students, making their user base fairly large.
In many cases, schools rely on IT for computers, projectors, and software applications. So, to provide reliable IT service to a large user base, educational institutes can use IT help desk software to:
There are a vast number of ITSM solutions available in the market, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. This might complicate the decision-making process, making it hard to arrive at the best fit when an organization decides to invest in ITSM software.
A systematic approach to decision making can help simplify the evaluation process.
Below is a four-step guide to choosing the help desk solution that will best fit your organization's needs.
The first step is to arrive at an unambiguous understanding of the problem you need ITSM software to solve. For example, the problem might be managing tickets or assets, implementing changes, and so on.
This helps narrow the focus down to a specific problem area and provides direction for the decision-making process. You should also define your expectations at this stage.
For example, does your team expect the software to aid in communication via email and notifications, or do you expect powerful reporting facilities? Setting your expectations beforehand will help you get the most out of demos and trials later.
In this step, you should create a detailed list of requirements. You can use the problems and expectations identified earlier to begin charting your requirements. Performing a gap analysis can also help you build an exhaustive list of requirements.
This involves drawing up the existing and desired states and then comparing them to understand the gaps between them. Based on this, you can create a list of requirements that will help plug the identified gaps.
As is the case with any purchasing decision, it is important to know what your budget is to streamline the evaluation process. Besides your budget, you should also consider your return on investment and payback period.
Depending on your organization's structure and practices, returns can sometimes appear in terms of savings on resources and increased output as a result of better and more consistent service quality.
In some cases, organizations choose to use the charge-back model where other departments pay the IT department to use their services. In such scenarios, you can calculate ROI and payback period directly.
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KPIs are measurable values that help you assess the success of a particular activity. Any organization with an IT help desk should always have a set of KPIs dedicated toward monitoring its health, operational efficiency, and output.
The most important reasons to measure help desk KPIs are listed below:
Similar to any function in an organization, every help desk has its own goals. KPIs help system administrators and managers visualize and quantify these goals, making it easier to understand, communicate, and achieve them.
For example, an IT help desk with a goal to resolve as many tickets as possible can measure its turnaround time and set a suitable target value.
The output of a business is the sum total of the output of all its individual activities. The help desk, being an important support function in an organization, contributes significantly to a business's output. By setting and tracking KPIs, help desks can ensure they're aligned with business goals.
For example, if the goal of a business is to minimize costs, it would be useful to measure and minimize the cost of handling each ticket.
KPIs help manage IT help desks better by quickly identifying pain points and bottlenecks. Once issues are identified, admins can address them promptly.
With a multitude of data points and qualitative factors, it's easy to lose focus of what exactly needs to be measured in an IT help desk.
This might have two undesirable consequences: wasted resources on measuring irrelevant factors and/or missing out on measuring the relevant ones. Setting and tracking KPIs ensures that all, and only, relevant factors are measured.
It's easier for managers to understand and achieve quantifiable targets. So if each KPI is set towards optimizing the help desk ticketing processes to a certain level, it's simpler for help desk teams to achieve that level. It's also easier to maintain that level since it can be done by maintaining specific metrics.
Simply put, setting KPIs provides a systematic approach towards optimizing help desk operations.
Knowing the bottlenecks and target values for KPIs can help managers build short-term roadmaps.
For example, if the help desk has a high average turnaround time, then the immediate task at hand is to minimize it. Similarly, if they have a target of providing timely service, then their roadmap will be to minimize SLA violations.
As for implementing KPIs, the most basic requirement is knowing what to measure. While there are certain common KPIs that every help desk can track and harvest value from, it's also useful to know how to determine custom KPIs.
A simple four-step process for this is described below:
As discussed earlier, KPIs are effective at aligning IT help desks with overall business goals. So the starting point of determining KPIs is to understand the business goals that are supported by your help desk and then identify the factors that impact those goals.
Consider an organization that's trying to cut costs. In this case, their help desk must track all its activities that incur costs to support the business's goal.
Once you've identified the business goals your help desk supports, the next step is to understand which enabler, medium, or area those goals impact. In general, there are three key enablers and impact areas for an IT help desk: processes, technicians, and technology.
In the example above, cutting costs is largely dependent on staff size, so that business goal is likely to affect technicians. In some cases however, cutting costs can affect technology as well, for instance if the organization decides to downgrade to cheaper infrastructure or software.
A CSF is an actionable statement that clearly states what needs to be done or what is expected. A CSF defines when an activity can be considered successful. In the previous example, a CSF could be "Cost of handling tickets should be reduced by 50 percent."
By combining your findings from the above steps, you can derive KPIs and give each KPI a target value. Continuing the cost-cutting example from above, you could define a KPI as the "average cost of handling one ticket" and set the target value to half of the existing cost.
As a reference, some common KPIs for help desks are listed below:
|Key impact area||KPI|
|Technicians||First contact resolution (FCR) rate|
|Technicians and processes||Cost per ticket|
|Technicians and processes||Average resolution time|
|Processes||Ability to reach a technician|
|Processes||High-priority tickets backlog volume|
|Processes||Tier 1 resolutions|
|Technology||Ease of communication|
|Technology and processes||Ease of raising a ticket|
|Technicians, processes and technology||User satisfaction|
|Technicians, processes and technology||Change success rate|
You can determine some of the above KPIs using simple calculations. Here are a few key KPI formulas for reference:
Your help desk should be the only point of contact for all IT-related issues. This reduces confusion among end users, collects all tickets in a central repository, and streamlines help desk processes.
Building and maintaining a knowledge base allows users to find resolutions to common problems, which results in fewer tickets being logged. A knowledge base also helps technicians provide resolutions by assisting them with known solutions.
Solutions to common issues should be archived in the knowledge base after approval by designated technicians.
Automated processes and workflows provide numerous benefits to an IT help desk, like timeliness, accuracy, cost savings, higher efficiency, etc.
Empowering end users to create their own tickets accurately with the help of self-service portals allows technicians to focus on more critical tasks.
Emails from within the application and notifications to both users and technicians help disseminate critical information and maintain transparency in the help desk.
You should measure and analyze key metrics and KPIs to understand how well your help desk is performing and build future roadmaps.
You can use help desk reports to present a quick overview of the state of IT operations to high-level management or to give detailed data points to IT staff and managers.
You can manage your organization's hardware and software assets if your help desk application offers native asset management. This leads to better license compliance, purchase management, hardware asset scanning, and tracking.
In addition to incident management, your help desk should also offer problem and change management. Bringing them together on the same platform streamlines overall IT operations.
An IT help desk solution that supports integration with third-party applications has the potential to scale up into a bigger system capable of managing all IT operations from a single application.
IT help desks should support SLAs with automatic escalations to ensure that service is consistently delivered on time.
Technicians should be trained regularly to keep them up-to-date with the latest technologies, best practices, and company policies. Also, feedback from technicians should be collected and considered to balance out each technician's workload.
Structure your help desk in a multi-tier architecture to maximize its efficiency. This structure supports a better flow of tickets, with complex issues finding quick resolution by higher level technicians and simpler issues being serviced at lower levels.
Collecting feedback from end users helps organizations understand the pain points users face and paves the way for continuous service improvement (CSI). You can administer surveys either periodically or every time a ticket is closed.
An IT help desk combines a large number of individual processes and workflows. For example, incident management is broken down into tasks, change management into stages and statuses, project management into milestones, and so on.
Manually carrying out each and every task is not only cumbersome and time-consuming, but can also introduce human error into the process. That's where automation can help.
Automation helps reduce the time it takes to resolve a ticket (turnaround time), and it also helps to create asset inventories, log events for audits, and generate reports.
With a shorter time per ticket and smaller IT staff requirements, automation can help reduce the overall cost incurred per ticket.
With automated processes and workflows, the chances of human error, like setting the wrong priority for a ticket, are greatly reduced.
With automated processes taking care of routine, repetitive tasks, IT staff have the freedom to focus on more critical projects. Error-free tickets also reduce the chances of technicians having to go back and forth with requesters, so they can focus on resolving tickets instead.
Reduction in errors, costs, and time leads to higher overall help desk efficiency.
Faster and more accurate resolutions, coupled with fewer interactions with IT staff, result in higher customer satisfaction.
Timely ticket resolution ensures that downtime is minimized for end users. With accurate ticket logging, end users in the critical roles always receive priority resolution. Also, by automating routine resolutions, like password reset requests, end users can spend less time waiting on requests.
With automated processes, it's easier to enforce best practices every time a process is carried out.
A process is said to be industrialized if it can be a repeatable function that is easily executable, delivers consistent results, and provides a scope for improvement over time.
Automation makes sure that processes and workflows are executed in the same way every time. This makes the experience of technicians, and the behavior and outcome of processes, consistent.
Tasks can be scheduled and carried out automatically.
The breadth of IT operations in an organization can cover a wide range of activities and processes like ticket handling, endpoint management, Active Directory management, network management, etc. If these activities are conducted in silos, it's unlikely the separate teams overseeing them will have the means to effectively collaborate and communicate with each other, which negatively impacts the entire organization's level of efficiency.
This roadblock is overcome by integrating all such activities into one solution. In other words, integration turns an IT help desk into a control center for all IT, not just another point solution.
The biggest advantage of integration in an IT help desk is that it turns the help desk into a central command center for all IT operations.
By integrating with other ITSM applications, all IT inventory and processes can be managed from a single application, requiring less effort and boosting efficiency.
Integrating with other applications reduces the time it takes to manually import data and execute tasks. Without having to switch between applications, a single team or individual technician can carry out tasks, saving the time it takes to coordinate between teams or technicians.
Similar to automation, help desk integrations also lead to a reduction in IT staff requirements by centralizing all IT operations.
Integrating applications with the help desk sets the foundation for scaling the entire help desk software system to include non-IT capabilities like CRM for better data sharing between them.
Communication between two or more applications, and sharing of data between them, is made simpler through integration.
In an integrated system, similar data need not be stored in separate instances. Also, help desk integrations help eliminate overlap of processes and tasks.
Since all data is stored in a single instance and shared with all integrated applications, data remains coherent and defragmented.
When all integrated applications access and modify data on the same database, the data available across all applications is always up-to-date.
Available integrations make help desk ticket management software more flexible, since admins can add modules as needed.
Since integration brings the control of all IT operations under a single interface, IT teams can quickly address shifts in user preference, technology, policies, etc.
With technologies changing rapidly and processes following suit, the ITSM industry is at the brink of a major evolution.
According to Research and Markets, the ITSM market is slated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.78 percent between 2016 and 2020, with the cloud-based ITSM market reaching a CAGR of 14 percent between 2016 and 2021.
However, before thinking about what the future of ITSM and help desk support software will look like, it's important to understand the challenges that IT help desks will have to overcome to be on top of this technology wave.
Some of the key challenges that IT help desks will face going forward are:
Technologies are changing so fast that old tools are becoming outdated very quickly. The inability of existing tools to adapt to emerging technologies poses a major challenge to companies.
In addition to that, old technologies might cost more to maintain compared to adopting new ones because of operational inefficiencies. This results in the need for continuous investment and divestment due to rapid digitization.
Business users are becoming more comfortable using their personal devices in their work environment.
For a mobile workforce, this enables access to corporate data anytime, anywhere. IT, which typically has had control over end users' tools and devices, is slowly losing its grip. With this comes the risk of data misuse, which cannot be treated lightly.
At the same time, increased mobility is providing businesses with a productive and well-connected workforce. This indicates the need for comprehensive BYOD policies that encourage mobility but also ensure data security.
Rapid consumerization of IT has enabled business users to access IT solutions and technologies that are outside their IT infrastructure. More often than not, end users bypass their internal IT guidelines to acquire applications that supplement their work.
But over time, the number of unapproved applications skyrockets to such an extent that they appear to be a “shadow” of IT. Shadow IT lays the groundwork for non-compliance, and in some cases, a security breach.
While unauthorized IT infrastructure comes with security risks, with the right guidelines, shadow IT can enable a more productive workforce. Organizations need to accept and embrace this trend to create more value from IT investments.
Businesses operate in a dynamic environment with a lot of interrelated IT components. Such a complex setup is governed by an equally complex set of standards and regulations put in place by industries and/or governments.
Therefore, organizations will sometimes inadvertently violate one of the many regulations placed upon them.
Such nonadherence to maintaining compliance can result in not only a loss of customer trust, but also penalities and fines.
It's important for companies to have processes set and roles assigned to constantly govern, plan, and monitor their compliance with the various aspects of IT infrastructure, from software licenses to BYOD, and all the way to cloud security.
As businesses adopt more democratized technologies, they are often challenged by data proliferation across a fragmented web of applications.
This is challenging because not all of the applications they use are compliant with the security standards established by internal IT.
While many applications come with documentation that aims to achieve transparency and ease of use, lax security policies provide a level playing field for both users and regulators, which, in turn, increases the chances of a data breach.
For many organizations, such data breaches are a costly affair both in terms of monetary and brand value. This creates a need for an agile cybersecurity standard that makes adopting compliant technologies easier, not only for individual organizations, but also for the ITSM industry as a whole.
Service management has come a long way from ITIL to DevOps, and it's continually evolving with changing technologies and customer needs. The concept of service is going through a major shift as customers are not only looking for quicker solutions, but a better support experience as well.
Staying updated with changing technologies poses another challenge.
Consumerization of IT has resulted in quick adoption of mobile devices and technologies in the work environment. In order to stay relevant, ITSM has to keep up with such changes so that it can continue to add value to businesses.
As has always been the case with help desks, it will be shaped by upcoming technologies and the needs of technicians and end users.
Based on the challenges discussed earlier, including business, user needs, and technological changes, there are a few different ways IT help desk can evolve:
With the advent of consumer-centric practices in the business-to-consumer (B2C) arena, the end users of tomorrow will expect equal quality of service from their IT teams.
As a response, IT teams can leverage technologies like gamification and artificial intelligence to create a personalized self-service experience that is consistent across all channels.
Going a step further from simple process automation, the help desks of the future can use advancements in machine learning technology to implement cognitive automation in their help desks. Cognitive automation will speed up the time it takes to identify and solve issues.
Another upcoming technology is the Internet of Things (IoT). It can link any and all IoT-enabled "things," creating a virtually limitless network.
With the help of IoT sensors, IT teams can monitor device performance, and automatically report impending issues. These issues can then be solved proactively, mitigating the risk of downtime.
Reporting and analytics are a crucial part of ITSM as it exists today. Looking forward, help desk software will try to leverage big data technology to capture more data points and analyze them for better efficiency.
The ability to study a higher volume of data generated in IT operations will empower IT teams to make more informed decisions and achieve optimum performance levels.
Any resource or capability. A service provider's assets include anything that can contribute to the delivery of a service. Assets can be one of the following types: management, organization, processes, knowledge, people, information, applications, infrastructure, or financial capital.
A generic activity or process responsible for tracking and reporting the value and ownership of assets throughout their life cycle.
The addition, modification, or removal of anything that could affect IT services. The scope includes changes to all architectures, processes, tools, metrics, and documentation, as well as changes to IT services and other configuration items.
Transitioning something newly developed (i.e., an update to an existing production environment or something entirely new) from the service design phase into service operation (also known as business as usual), all while aiming to ensure that standardized methods and procedures are used for efficient handling of all changes.
Refers to accessing computer, IT, and software applications through a network connection, often by accessing data centers using wide area networking (WAN) or internet connectivity.
Refers to accessing computer, IT, and software applications through a network connection, often by accessing data centers using wide area networking (WAN) or internet connectivity.
The practices, strategies, and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer life cycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention, and driving sales growth.
The process responsible for managing the life cycle of all incidents. Incident management ensures that normal service operation is restored as quickly as possible and that business impact is minimized.
A set of best-practice publications for IT service management. ITIL gives guidance on the provision of quality IT services and the processes, functions, and other capabilities needed to support them. The ITIL framework is based on a service life cycle and consists of five life cycle stages (service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement), each of which has its own supporting publication.
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The implementation and management of quality IT services that meet the needs of a business. IT service management is performed by IT service providers through an appropriate mix of people, processes, and information technology.
A logical database containing information used by the service knowledge management system.
A metric that is used to help manage an IT service, process, plan, project, or other activity. KPIs are used to measure the achievement of critical success factors. Many metrics may be measured, but only the most important of these are defined as KPIs and used to actively manage and report on processes, IT services, or activities. Help desks should select KPIs to ensure that efficiency, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness are all managed.
Software that is installed and runs on computers within the premises (in the building) of the person or organization using the software, rather than at a remote facility such as a server farm or cloud.
Generally synonymous with a gateway, a portal is a website that is or proposes to be a major starting site for users when they get connected to the web, or that users tend to visit as an anchor site.
It is the cause of one or more incidents. Problem records are created for repetitive incidents to investigate the root-cause. The problem management process aims to troubleshoot, document, and find permanent resolution for incidents.
The process responsible for managing the life cycle of all problems. Problem management proactively prevents incidents from happening and minimizes the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented.
A measurement of the expected benefit of an investment. In the simplest sense, it is the net profit of an investment divided by the net worth of the invested assets.
A software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as "on-demand software."
A self-service portal is a website or app that enables users—whether they are customers, employees, suppliers, or partners—to perform high-value transactions, from simple account updates to paying bills, managing support tickets, and more.
A database or structured document with information about all live IT services, including those available for deployment. A service catalog is part of a service portfolio, and it contains information about two types of IT services: customer-facing services that are visible to the business, and supporting services the service provider requires to deliver customer-facing services.
An official commitment that prevails between a service provider and a client. When defining SLAs, the service provider and service user agree on particular aspects of the service, including quality, availability, and responsibilities.
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Comprehensive list of must-have features that you can use as a benchmark
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