Is there a clear distinction between help desks and service desks? As the information technology field rapidly expanded throughout the early 2000s, and most of IT professionals were new to the industry and failed to recognize the difference between ‘help desk’ and ‘service desk’ – the who terms were very often used interchangeably.
In fact, according to the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) v. 2 definition, service desk was just another term for help desk. However, the ITIL v. 3 that was released in 2007 finally provided clarity about the difference between the two. Thus, service desk was defined as a management component in the overall ITSM (IT Service Management) process, while help desk was described as a component of service desk that mainly focuses on end-user services.
The widespread adoption of ITIL by large businesses resulted in increased popularization of the term "service desk" to refer to an organization's IT support capabilities. A study conducted by HDI Connect in 2015 found that 36% of companies use the term ‘service desk’, while 23% use ‘help desk’ when referring to their support centers.
As stated in the 2011 ITIL glossary, service desk is “the single point of contact between the service provider and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests and handles communication with the users.” Basically, the service desk was an evolution of the help desk, born out of the ITIL framework and based on the underlying concept of “managing IT as a service.”
A service desk usually includes, but is not limited to, a set of help desk features such as a traditional ticketing system and self-service options. It can also include a range of additional modules that are aimed at solving other issues that aren’t directly customer-related - incident management, problem management, change management, release management, knowledge management, asset/ configuration management, employee management and more. These are designed to improve organization’s internal operations and management, as well as facilitate company growth.
While service desks and help desks share some similar features, they do have a number of distinct differences, discussed below:
The biggest difference between helpdesk and service desk is that help desk can literally be considered as a subset of service desk due to the tool’s limited scope and capabilities. Service desk offers a broader range and more complex services in addition to basic incident and ticket management, and enable integration of business processes into the service management infrastructure. Most of service desk software systems currently available on the market can be used as a help desk, not the other way around. Many organizations incorporate the help desk as a part of their service desk.
A help desk is a stand-alone solution performing tasks related to ticket management and offering self-service functionality. A service desk is a more complex system with a full range of IT management capabilities – it is integrated with other IT service management processes and is capable of providing advanced services such as change management, release management, asset management, CMDB management and other.
Help desks are aimed at meeting the immediate needs of end users and are predominantly configured as break-fix solutions – if something goes wrong, a user logs a ticket to get the issue fixed. It means that help desks are reactive in nature. Although service desks perform certain reactive tasks as well, their major function is to proactively ensue that IT operations are running as expected and will continue to run smoothly in the future.
The primary function of a help desk is to handle incidents and service requests. Help desks aim to resolve customer issues as quickly as possible, minimizing user wait times, ideally on the first contact. Efficient request handling is at the core of help desk activities for many organizations. Therefore, help desk is concerned with end-user functionality.
A service desk, on the other hand, focuses on the needs of a business rather than the user's needs and requests. Unlike simply responding to incidents and fulfilling requests, a service desk reviews the overall IT and business processes within an organization with a goal of continual improvement. Thus, service desks are built to focus on business goals and best practice processes.
|Help Desk Software||Service Desk Software|
|Help desk generally includes a ticket management system and self-service capabilities.||Service desk includes modules for incident, problem, change, knowledge and asset management.|
|Help desk is tactical and reactive.||Service desk is strategic and proactive.|
|Help desk focuses on solving the problems of end users.||Service desk focuses on long-term service strategy.|
|Help desk operates on a break-fix approach.||Service desk operates on a holistic approach that is aligned with business goals.|
|Help desk can often be run with minimal staff.||Service desk usually requires more human resources.|
Considering all the mentioned above, if we look at service desk vs help desk, we will see that one is generally designed for internal business improvements, while the other one is meant for customer care. In this way, service desk and help desk can – and they very often do - co-exist in a single organization, given that they basically perform different functions.
Using either one, or both, depends on the business type and size, complexity and maturity of internal processes, as well as the needs of a business and its customers. If a company doesn’t require integrated IT service, they may opt for help desk instead of service desk. While companies looking to provide more structured IT support typically need a service desk. Definitions aside, the right customer service tool -whether it’s a help desk or a service desk - should be flexible enough to adapt to your particular business requirements and enable you to provide high-quality service to your customers.
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