As AI automates much of the grunt work of the traditional IT Service Desk, Mike Hanson argues that its mission should broaden to include ticket service that can coordinate service requests for everything from facilities management to HR matters.

by Mike Hanson
January 12, 2021

The IT “help desk” or service desk has been around for a very long time. There have been many significant or even paradigm changes in technology, and some of it has moved many of the functions that formerly belonged to the IT support organization over towards the customer. Automation, amazing advances in artificial intelligence, and a changing demographic have all had major impacts on how many aspects of support have moved out of the service center. These advances have been very positive, as it has allowed the customer to resolve basic issues, giving the service desk team the opportunity to spend more time on bigger, potentially more time-consuming incidents.

But is your service desk positioned to accommodate what the future may bring? The advancements in technology aren’t going to stop, and in fact there are some incredible advances just over the horizon. Technologies like AI are going to be able to handle progressively more complex incidents, and further advances may even allow the AI to repair many of those problems in real time. Even now, it can be startling to see some of the existing AI chatbots in action – for many issues, it can be difficult to determine if you’re interacting with a human being or a machine. Further advances in self-healing technology will identify and proactively address a problem even before the user knows it exists.

A service desk is a substantial investment, with a staff of trained analysts and a robust technical infrastructure. This could include network equipment, PC hardware, traditional or IP telephony hardware, and supporting applications to monitor and measure calls, track incidents, and report outcomes. Along with the physical assets and capabilities, the Service Desk will generally also have a robust base of organizational knowledge.

As technology advances onward, it would be a shame to lose or reduce the infrastructure and knowledge resources of the service desk organization. So, if you’re in the process of building a new service desk, how do you make sure it is built with future growth in mind; if you have an established service desk, what changes should be considered to best leverage its advantages for future growth?

First and foremost, the Service Desk is a customer-facing organization. While its use as an IT resource is most common, the idea of internal or external customer service teams has been around long before the IT support teams co-opted the idea. Industry support organizations like HDI have long suggested that the IT service desk could have applications outside of information technology.

Consider what the service desk does in its most basic form. A customer has an issue and contacts the Desk, using a variety of input methods. Based on either a direct conversation with the customer or through a web form or email, a ticket is created in the Incident Management System. The Service Desk or AI agent takes the customer feedback and follows a knowledge-based process to determine a diagnosis. If it is something that can be handled at level one, then the incident is resolved and the ticket is closed. If the incident is more complex or time consuming, then the agent will assign ownership of the incident to an appropriate team. Once the level two team has resolved the issue, they either close the ticket or they document the resolution and inform the service desk so the ticket can be closed. The final step is reporting, so that data can be gathered on ticket volumes, time studies, and identification of trends or problems.
Because this process is mostly linear and easily understood, it could reasonably be adapted to other applications outside of information technology. This migrates the concept of an IT service desk or help desk to a broader function. It becomes simply the Customer or Employee Services Desk.

For example, the workflow of a facilities management team can be very similar to that of IT support. If there are problems with HVAC systems, a call could be made to the service desk where a ticket would then be routed to the appropriate facilities team. Likewise, Human Resources could utilize the service desk to route employee questions about benefits or policies to the correct staff. There are many possibilities, but the main point is that the same technology and resources that are being utilized to answer questions or respond to incidents within the IT space can be adapted for other purposes.

Determining how the role of the Service Desk can be expanded will be similar, whether there is an existing function or if one is being built. The primary difference is that an existing Service Desk will already have the infrastructure and some of the knowledge resources immediately available, though the focus is likely on IT. To build or expand into a Customer or Employee Services Desk model, the ‘big picture’ will need to be scrutinized.

This means that the Services Desk leadership will need to look closely at the overall business, and take a broad inventory of the types of products and services that may benefit from the support infrastructure and processes. Document each product or service with a name and description, and clearly identify the ‘owner.’ I might help to list the different support teams – this would include the IT support groups such as application and product development, asset management, desktop support, and so forth; it could also include business functions such as facilities management, human resource, product information, and so forth. Not only will this help with the products and services documentation, all of these potential support teams should be mapped so there’s a clear understanding of how each approaches the support process. When completed, there should be a comprehensive catalog documenting each product or service that the services desk will be asked to handle.

To be effective, the services desk leadership must build a good foundation of understanding of what the customer needs from each support group. Are there common questions where AI or automated systems could be leveraged? Is there a way to determine what the call volumes will be for each group? How does each group want to be contacted – can they use a ticketing system or do they prefer email or other methods? What are the different touch-points between each support process and/or team?

Using the data gathered, workflows can be laid out. These may be linear responses, such as an incident where a customer has an incident that needs to be resolved; others may need to address more complex processes. The IT service desk would already have experience with handling service requests; e.g. scheduled events.

With the services desk approach, the workflow may map to a larger number of support teams. For example, if the business is hiring a new employee, that request may route first to Human Resources for their approval and processing. Once a new employee starts, it would then route to facilities to coordinate the security access, real estate, and seating issues, to the various IT teams to cover access management, the acquisition of a PC or laptop, building/imaging the device, provisioning phones and mobile devices, and device fulfillment. The job of the services desk would be to coordinate all of this activity and meet the service level agreements.

There will be some challenges, particularly for organizations that have an established service desk. Often there is an established routine with how each support team handles its requests. There is likely to be cultural resistance to this change, a perception that these teams are having work taken away from them. It is important for leadership to address those concerns, as the involvement of all of the support teams will be critical to the success of the new function.

There are two key arguments in favor of having a services desk:

  • The first and best is always about reducing costs. Because the IT service desk has spent decades building effective and efficient processes, and building and adopting AI and automation technology to reduce physical effort, often it’s easy to identify real savings. As the project builds the Product and Service Catalog, they can flag process steps where AI or automation could be leveraged. Additionally, the fact that the intake function can be centralized reduces administrative overhead, so the business doesn’t have to pay to support different tracking mechanisms, software licensing, or reporting. In fact, one way to overcome concerns is to simply emphasize that this is not the services desk team taking on the work; it is only doing the initial contact and post-incident reporting.
  • The second argument is simply better customer service. The services desk will act as a proxy for the customer, navigating the often-confusing support processes. Like effective IT service desks today, where the Desk takes ownership of incidents and follows through with the customer as well as the support team, the services desk would do the same thing at a macro level. Communication plans or visual dashboards could be built to keep the customer well informed of the status of their incident or service request, and any questions about it would route to a services desk analyst. This ultimately builds a customer service organization that engages directly with the customer while allowing the back-office support functions to stay focused on doing the work. It creates a centralized function that can report on trends and problems or even do deep-dives into the data and find opportunities to improve the process and customer experience.

It will be important to set expectations, as the concept of the services desk won’t spring up fully functional overnight. It would be good to take a methodical approach, where support teams are added in a phased manner, slowly building up the services desk to its full capacity. This may also involve some personnel changes, with some knowledgeable people moving into the services desk from the various support teams. This may be more critical in areas like Human Resources, where topics may be sensitive.

The reporting aspect will gain importance as well. Not only can it be used for trending, it should also have a key function of measuring the outcomes of each support stream. Was the customer satisfied? Did the assigned team get all the information they required from the services desk? Problem areas should be fixed, and a process for integrating improvements should be developed and implemented. There should be a strong program to measure things like customer satisfaction, net promoter, and customer experience (XLA).

There’s no doubt that moving from the idea of an IT service desk to a Customer Services Desk will require hard work and overcoming many challenges. But it is a natural evolution as technology continues to improve and can be utilized across other business functions. The IT service desk is ideally situated to take advantage of these changes as they already have the infrastructure and knowledge resources required to support the process. Ultimately, it can be a benefit to the business and become a robust, successful customer service organization.


Mike Hanson has many years of experience with IT leadership, having managed several different aspects of technology over the past 30 years. Today, he serves as global operations manager and leads the asset management and fulfillment teams for Optum, Inc. He has been involved with HDI for many years, as both a local chapter officer and as a past chair of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board. Follow Mike on Twitter @Mike_MiddleMgr.

Tag(s): supportworld, service quality, technology, service desk, service desk technology, service management

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