Part 3: What are the critical differences between a Service Desk and a Help Desk?

Have you wondered what a Service Desk is? Are you curious as to how a Help Desk fits into your IT demands? Do you question what the differences are? Would you like to know which one will benefit your company the most?

Join our four part series to gain a better understanding of the Service Desk, the Help Desk and the differences between them:

  • What is a Service Desk and why is it important to your company? (Posted Nov. 19, 2010)
  • What is a Help Desk and why is it important to your organization? (Posted Jan. 6, 2011)
  • What are the critical differences between a Service Desk and a Help Desk?
  • When should you use a Service Desk vs. a Help Desk or do you need both?

Part 3: What are the critical differences between a Service Desk and a Help Desk?

The difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk became more concrete with the writing of Information Technology International Library (ITIL) v3 which was released in June 2007. Prior to version 3 the Help Desk and the Service Desk were used interchangeably, thus no significant differences between the two of them were recognized within the industry. ITIL v3 looks at the IT process from beginning to end and maps how it should be integrated into the overall business strategy. The Service Desk is a key component of the management of the overall process. The Help Desk is a component of the end to end process that is focused on end user needs.

A Help Desk focuses on end user needs.

A Help Desk provides incident management to ensure customer’s problems are resolved in a timely fashion. A best practices Help Desk utilizes software to track the incidents making sure that no trouble gets lost. It manages a database that keeps track of the IT assets enabling access on a real time basis to information about software and configuration of the IT system. The Help Desk has the ability to create monthly and annual reports on the number of troubles, the time to respond to the trouble, the time to fix the trouble which could all feed into a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Some of the specific tasks a Help Desk performs include:

  • Computer or Software consultations
  • Change and Configuration Management
  • Problem escalation procedures
  • Problem resolution
  • Single point of contact (SPOC) for IT interruptions
  • Service Level Agreements
  • Tracking capabilities of all incoming problems

A Service Desk focuses on corporate strategy.

A Service Desk is a Single Point of Contact between users and IT Service Management. It manages information delivery by utilizing Information IT infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3 best practices to deliver these services both with software and defined processes. The Service Desk is the first contact in an organization for any and all IT questions. Best practices Service Desks are process focused and company strategy focused. The processes outlined in ITIL v3 are broken down into five ITIL Core Service Lifecycles.

  • Service Strategy –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 analyze opportunities to improve all IT process and functions.

In ITIL v3 a Help Desk is a component of a Service Desk

A Help Desk with ITIL v3 best practices, is one component of the overall service management and will feed information to a Service Desk through software and process hooks. Specifically, the functions outlined in the Service Operations section of the ITIL core service lifecycles are Help Desk functions. These functions include:

  • Event Management
  • Incident Management
  • Request Management
  • Problem Management
  • Access Management

These are not the only functions that a best practices Help Desk performs. There are more Help Desk functions embedded in the other 4 segments of the lifecycle management (Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition and Continual Service Improvement). For example, the Help Desk needs to be involved with any type of service transition to ensure the new service does not adversely affect the end users.

Many companies have a Help Desk without a Service Desk.

There are some instances where a corporation does not require or is not ready for the processes and service offerings of a Service Desk. In that instance a Help Desk will meet the tactical needs of the corporation. The Help Desk will give users a place to contact when they are having specific IT issues. Thus, the amount of time an end user is out of service will be minimized by the Help Desk.

Very few companies have a Service Desk without a Help Desk.

The Service Desk is concerned with the overall IT process and the individual components that function and interact with each other on both a software and process level. One area that is a must in any IT service offering is the ability to manage specific end user problems and issues. Thus, a Service Desk either has to have Help Desk functionality embedded in their Service Desk infrastructure or has the ability to link into a Help Desk offering for the end user. The Service Desk is focused on corporate strategy and ensuring all the IT functions are currently working and will work in the future, they must also have the ability to ensure all end users up and functioning.

Next post: When should you use a Service Desk vs. a Help Desk or do you need both?

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