by Tom Kaneshige

Killing the Help Desk Softly – or Blowing It Up

Mar 22, 20137 mins

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.

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. 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.

By 2016, we’ll see a 25 to 30 percent drop in user-initiated contact volume.

I see a scenario where service desk contact volume goes down over the next three years, and IT groups mistake this as solving complexity. In reality, all of the users are personal cloud-enabled, BYOD-enabled, consumerization-enabled—and IT loses its relevance.

What’s driving this decrease in overall volume? How does BYOD fit it?

Part of it is that you’re dealing with a tech savvy workforce that can figure things out in a pinch. The Millennial worker is not prone to pick up the phone and call [the help desk] to troubleshoot their issue. The U.S. Department of Labor says that half the workforce will be Millennials by 2015.

(For more on this, check out CIOs Look Ahead: Millennials, Consumer Tech and the Future.)

With BYOD, it’s how organizations approached support. They told employees to provide their own support—and users were able to do it. Consider a company down in Georgia that rolled out a BYOD program, told employees it could not support their issues because of the device proliferation, and gave them a SharePoint portal to support themselves.

Jarod Greene, Gartner analyst

Over time, the portal grew an iOS group, BlackBerry group and an Android group. No SLAs in place. People governed themselves. It worked out, and a year later the service desk went into the communities, parsed the information, and is now able to support them based on the shared information.

We talk about a bring-your-own-device world, and inside this is a bring-your-own-support world.

So “Bring Your Own Support” trumps the help desk?

A lot of this is off IT’s radar. I can’t call my service desk if I have a Dropbox issue, because I’m not supposed to have Dropbox. If you look at iPads, I don’t call Apple’s service desk when I have an issue. The first place I go is to the community, to Apple forums. I’ll get feedback from power users.

There’s also the comfort level of social collaboration; we do it in our personal lives. You’ll get feedback right away and a broader range of perspectives. Social collaboration is persistent, too. That is, an issue addressed two weeks ago is searchable.

Mobile is also a platform for social interaction. If I always have my mobile device on me, then I always have a window into support. I can go on these communities through my mobile device, if my primary device is down.

This scenario is beginning to play out in the enterprise. We’re seeing organizations build peer-to-peer support models, whereby users network and connect with each other. If a user has a Salesforce issue, they know all of their colleagues can probably help them out better than the service desk. There’s a community built for Salesforce users that can be crowd-sourced to support that volume of queries.

The community management function is one that the next-generation service desk will have to perform in order to be relevant.

What’s the opportunity for CIOs?

The face of IT is a 23-year-old kid in the basement trying to troubleshoot a wide range of complex issues. First call resolution is still at about 65 percent. This means one out of every three calls has to be escalated to a tier-two resource.

The problem is that we’re putting a lot on them. We continue to buy enterprise applications at a pretty big clip: new CRM, ERP, analytics, collaboration applications. The enterprise app spend for 2012 was $119 billion. The traditional approach is an initial wave of training and then after two weeks or a month throw support to the service desk. It’s hard for the service desk analysts who might be making $16.50 an hour—your lowest paid employee in IT—to meet that demand.

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And so there’s continued levels of dissatisfaction with some of the support.

You’re still going to have the traditional level-one, 9-to-5 IT services desk, maybe even offshored or outsourced. The types of issues they should be dealing with are one-off password resets, break-fix triage, high-level outage notifications.

But when it comes to opportunities to enhance the way people interact and work with IT systems, let’s build the new face: enterprise Genius Bars and enterprise Geek Squads.

What does an enterprise Genius Bar look like?

Users can walk in and receive face-to-face support. Instead of just getting something fixed, there’s this exchange of knowledge. It’s getting the supply side to say, “You work with this application every day and use only 10 percent of the features and functions, so here’s some insight and advice on how to optimize the systems and services you use.”

Traditionally, this is a knowledge management opportunity. But often employees don’t know how to engage those channels. Why not build the Genius Bar that crosses silos, a business-productivity team of tech support people, e-learning people, HR, IT relationship managers? There’s a myriad of opportunities, such as PC hygiene or BYOD lessons.

I think CIOs need to build this to reestablish the value of IT.

In a survey of 350 companies, about one percent of organizations said they have fully implemented this model. Forty-two percent of organizations say they’re currently planning this or in the process of implementing. They want to build some form of walk-in support.

By 2016, we think about 25 percent of organizations will have these types of interfaces.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at