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Are You Providing an IT Help Desk or an IT Service Desk?

By | August 20, 2019 in ITSM

IT Help Desk or IT Service Desk

Talk about a tricky question. Are you and your colleagues offering, or working on, an IT help desk or an IT service desk? And does it really matter?

Looking at this from another perspective, what do your customers, your end users, call your IT support capability? If you look past the expletives, and jokes about “no-help desks” and “out-of-service desks,” then they probably refer to it as the IT help desk rather than the IT service desk.

Why? Because they need IT’s help (though they could also want one of its services.) And what does "service desk" actually mean? If I were to use the term “service desk” in the US, it’d probably be interpreted as the place where I return damaged or unwanted goods within a store.

Are you and your colleagues offering, or working on, an IT #helpdesk or an IT #servicedesk? And does it really matter? Click To Tweet

However, thanks to ITIL IT service management (ITSM) best practice in the main, most of us working in IT support now like to talk about the IT service desk rather than the IT help desk. Although I do sometimes wonder whether we talk more about the ITSM tool – in many ways, the desk –  rather than what we achieve through using the tool.

What’s the difference between an IT help desk and an IT service desk?

There’s the ITIL process-based view on the difference – where an IT help desk is considered to operate a limited number of processes, probably ticketing or incident management in the main. With ITIL talking of other processes (or practices as they’re now called in ITIL 4) such as service request management, problem management, and change control as being part of, or strongly associated with, an IT service desk.

But doesn’t this focus a little too heavily on the words “IT” and “desk.” What if we instead focused on the words “help” and “service”?

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“Help” versus “service”

If we cast our minds back to the 1990s when Joseph the IT Guy Senior was working the IT help desk (yes, it’s a family business), end users would call up IT support for help. The IT help desk then provided technical support – for help with an IT issue, help on how to do something, or even help in getting new IT or telephony equipment. So, I guess you could say that things haven’t changed much, after all, end-user requirements of the IT service desk are much the same. They want help or assistance, and we’re still hopefully helping them.

What has changed though is that we’re no longer just providing help, we’re now providing services. With the IT service desk now one of the many services that the corporate IT organization provides to its customers.

ITIL has a relatively narrow definition for the service desk:

“The purpose of the service desk practice is to capture demand for incident resolution and service requests. It should also be the entry point and single point of contact for the service provider with all of its users.”

Source: AXELOS, ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition, 2019

Also, interestingly, there’s no definition or mention of IT help desk in the new ITIL 4 Foundation publication or in the 74-page ITIL 2011 Glossary.

Interestingly, there’s no definition or mention of IT #helpdesk in the new #ITIL4 Foundation publication or in the 74-page ITIL 2011 Glossary. Click To Tweet

It’s as though the demise of the IT help desk was part of a rebranding exercise as we all “serviced-up” on the back of ITSM best practice and ITIL adoption. But let’s jump back to one of my opening points – end users still call us the IT help desk not the IT service desk. After all, they want us to help them.

And maybe they don’t see the “service” in IT service desk. Perhaps they don’t see what we’re providing as services even though we have ITIL qualifications, pins, and processes/practices up to our eyeballs. In many ways, they don’t see IT at all until it isn’t working. And then it’s an IT issue, not an IT service issue. So, the use of IT-service-management-based terminology is probably lost outside of the IT organization.

But maybe there’s another way to look at the word “service” in IT service desk – that the move from help desk to service desk should have been about more than the technology and ITSM processes. That it should have been about how we deliver help to end users. That we’re serving and servicing their needs, providing customer service, and a great service experience, that there’s a deliberate emphasis on service; and that’s why we offer an IT service desk, not an IT help desk. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

So, how is your service experience? Are you an IT help desk or an IT service desk? I’d love to hear your opinions. Please let me know in the comments.

Joe The IT Guy

About Joe The IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).

One thought on “Are You Providing an IT Help Desk or an IT Service Desk?”

  1. Avatar Rama Indrawan

    I Believe all the above can be used interchange-ably. I personally focus more on the functions rather than the usage of those words.

    I have come from an ITIL background, Service Management where I started my career off as being Desktop person ( L2 ) then worked my way up until today.

    The Term Service Desk and Help Desk generally refer to the same Function/A group of people who service L1 ( Capturing Issues and Requests and turn them into Tickets to later be escalated if required to the L2 if an onsite assistance is required or L3 if Server/Network related is required ). I believe the 2 words can be used in any situation although I quite agree with what you mentioned some people focus on the “Help” rather than the “service”.

    The way I see it is for an immediate assistance, they generally would refer this L1 group of people as “Help”. After everything settles down, no issues, problems, nothing new requests, in general people would refer them as “Service” as that would be the hollistic view of this group of people, they provide Services which includes Helps within

    Just my 2 cents


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