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Service Desk Management: An Overview


Multiple technology trends and market forces are catalyzing changes in IT for almost every size and type of business. Those changes, in turn, are both enabling and compelling change in how IT leaders and teams manage the critical functions of user service and support. This post will help you understand what a service desk is, what service desk management is, the technologies that power its practices, and the trends transforming those practices today.

What Is Service Management?

service by Nithinan Tatah from the Noun Project

Your business runs on services that enable the work tasks you and your colleagues perform every day. Increasingly, those services are powered by various types and combinations of IT. Service management is, perhaps surprisingly, exactly what the term says – the management of the development, delivery, and operation of services. IT service management (ITSM) has historically been focused on services used by IT people to manage IT. But more and more of the services businesspeople use rely on IT. So “service management” can refer to the management of IT services, business services, or both.

What Is an IT Service Desk?

Desk by Dinosoft Labs from the Noun Project

At many enterprises, the service desk is the hub of multiple critical IT tasks. It’s the first stop for requests related to incident management, problem management, and change management. And it’s where IT teams begin to address those requests and respond to users when they ask for help.


How Is Technology Transforming Service Desk Management?

As IT evolves, the role of the service desk is also evolving, placing additional demands on service desk management teams.

  • The growth of cloud computing means service desk management must embrace a broadened set of premises-based and cloud-based resources.
  • The explosive rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) means service desk management teams must add multiple new types of devices and connections to their portfolios of responsibility.
  • Cyber security threats are growing in number, sophistication, and impact, making security concerns more frequent and more critical to service and support teams.
  • Pursuit of digital transformation is spurring significant changes to business IT tools and processes, changes that challenge service desk management to keep up and stay ahead.
  • As users gain more experience with modern consumer technologies and applications, they expect more from their IT services and support at work.
  • The organizational walls and silos that have historically separated service management, support management, and security management are blurring, compelling service desk managers to collaborate more broadly.

Help Desk vs. Service Desk: What’s the Difference?

All of this is forcing rapid and significant changes for service desk management teams and the tools they use. For many businesses, an early change is a shift in terminology and mentality, from “help desk” to “service desk.” Even the web site of the Help Desk Institute (HDI) barely mentions the term “help desk” anymore.

This reflects a noteworthy evolutionary shift. As IT deployments mature and modernize, service and support must expand beyond the historical “break/fix” focus the term “help desk” implies to many. The increasing use of the term “service desk” conveys a need to deliver more than fixes to breaks or mistakes. Modern service desk management, like modern IT service management (ITSM), is less reactive and repair-oriented and more proactive and prescriptive.

Both help desks and service desks provide primary access points for users seeking help. However, a help desk is typically more tactical, while a service desk is more strategically focused. And as IT becomes more complex, pervasive, and critical to business success, there are likely to be fewer help desks and more service desks.

Service Desk Management: Critical to ITSM Success

ITIL, formerly known as the IT Infrastructure Library, is a widely followed set of best practices intended to align IT services and their management with business goals, needs, and processes. The ITIL guidelines position the service desk as the single point of contact for users seeking help and support. It is also a primary interface to core ITSM functions, such as incident management and problem management.

The ITIL Maturity Model divides the service management lifecycle into five stages:

  • ITIL Service Strategy;
  • ITIL Service Design;
  • ITIL Service Transition;
  • ITIL Service Operation; and
  • ITIL Continual Service Improvement.

Service desk management is a critical component of the Service Operation stage, as are access management, event management, incident management, problem management, and request fulfillment. The service desk is therefore a consolidated point of access for user help and support, a primary interface to ITSM functions, and a gateway to the goal of continual service improvement.

The Service Desk and Digital Transformation

Continual service improvement is one of many frequently cited goals of digital transformation initiatives. And service desk management teams and their tools are critical to those efforts.

In March and April of 2018, the Service Desk Institute (SDI) conducted a survey of service desk professionals. The subject of the survey was digital transformation. The report on the survey found nearly half of all respondents (43 percent) said their service desk teams had undertaken a digital transformation project. An additional 26 percent said they had plans for such a project “in the near future.”

Respondents were also asked what they did to prepare for their digital transformation projects. The three most popular responses were “Reviewed and/or refined processes” (67 percent of respondents), “Engaged with customers to discuss needs” (65 percent), and “Engaged with service desk team to discuss implications” (63 percent).

Most notably, when asked where the push to undertake a digital transformation project came from, 43 percent of respondents cited their service desk teams, second only to “Management” (70 percent). More respondents cited their service desk teams than “The Business” (41 percent) or “The Customers” (30 percent).

Service Desk Management: Fulfilling the Promise

The challenges of service desk management are numerous and significant. However, the benefits of success can make the effort more than worthwhile.

Given the close relationship between service desk management and ITSM, it should come as no surprise that both pursuits face several common challenges. These include user dissatisfaction with virtual agents and self-service options, and inconsistently efficient routing and handling of incident and problem reports.

Fortunately, artificial intelligence (AI) offers service desk management opportunities for improvement that parallel those possible for ITSM. AI-driven automation can improve both user experiences and incident routing and resolution. AI systems can also produce intelligent recommendations and enable predictive analytics. (Check out our “ITSM Tools Overview” post for more on AI-driven automation.)

Success with service desk management, ITSM, and AI-driven automation begins with a clear strategy and detailed plan. That strategy must be based on clearly delineated business needs and goals, and an accurate, honest assessment of the current state of service desk management. A follow-up blog post with discuss critical considerations for developing an effective strategy, and translating that strategy into an actionable plan.

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