Killing the Help Desk Softly - or Blowing It Up

A "bring your own support" movement is sprouting up within BYOD programs as employees become more self-sufficient. Is this a death knell for the IT help desk? One possible savior: an enterprise Genius Bar.

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Fri, March 22, 2013

CIO — It's understandable that a CIO would be worried that a new "Bring Your Own Device" policy could lead to a spike in technical support calls, swamping an already resource-strapped help desk. Even worse, the help desk wouldn't be able to provide a high level of support anyway, because it's impossible for a small staff to be experts on so many new-fangled mobile devices.

But the flood of help desk calls never materialized, claims Gartner analyst Jarod Greene.

In fact, BYOD and other factors have led to a decrease in help desk calls and further shrinking of help desk staff. The trend is so clear that the help desk—the traditional face of IT—risks becoming irrelevant in three years.

"It's time to blow up your service desk," Greene says.

CIO.com sat down with Greene to get his perspective on this about-face in the help desk function and what IT organizations can do about it. Greene says good riddance to the old help desk, which often portrayed IT as slow-moving and incompetent. Instead, he says, there lies a huge opportunity for CIOs to remake IT's image as a great productivity enabler.

CIOs worried that BYOD would lead to a doomsday scenario for the help desk. What happened?

Yes, I heard those same fears, but some of it was scapegoating. I work with service desk managers every day, and rarely do I hear that BYOD flooded us or that mobile drove a spike in call volume.

In the BYOD realm, there was a lot of talk about managing diversity. Organizations took the approach that there were different levels of support based on the BYOD profile, ranging from concierge-level to time-box level to no support at all. If you could develop the right standards around the devices and give users policies and processes about support, then you could better balance that demand.

But there's such a proliferation of information about mobile devices that the need to continually call the service desk decreased. The growth in mobile device management also gave the service desk the ability to remotely fix devices. So I think this quelled some of the fears.

You're actually seeing a decrease in the role of the help desk.

Our IT key metrics data show that there has already been a decrease in customer contact year over year. IT service desk cost as a percentage of IT costs dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.2 percent. It's not huge, but the only way you cut costs for service desk is to cut labor. The annual contacts handled by the service desk per FTP went from 5,384 up to 7,003. So we decreased staff and left [remaining employees] to handle more volume.

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