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What is a Service Desk: a Full Guide

What is an IT service desk?

An information technology (IT) service desk acts as a central hub for communication between an organization’s IT support team and its end users. A centralized service desk is an essential component of IT service management (ITSM). The service desk is responsible for delivering the full range of IT services including fielding user requests, resolving issues, and ensuring employees are onboarded efficiently.

The main difference between service desk and help desk lies in the scope of its role and responsibilities in delivering IT services. According to the ITIL service desk definition, a service desk is a superset of a typical IT help desk. Where the focus of the help desk is on resolving end-user issues, the service desk handles more strategic issues related to the delivery of IT support.

An organization’s centralized service desk is an integral part of multiple business processes and initiatives including:

  • Managing user requests and incident reporting;
  • Developing and implementing employee onboarding procedures;
  • Integrating new acquisitions into the existing environment;
  • Managing and facilitating data access;
  • Managing the onboarding and off-boarding of third-party vendors;
  • Developing and optimizing business continuity plans;
  • Monitoring and managing infrastructure;
  • Reporting on key metrics and monitoring service delivery.

These are just some of the aspects of a company’s IT environment that require interaction with its IT service desk.

What are the Types of Service Desks?

IT service desks can be broadly classified into four categories.

Local desks - A local service desk is typically located in or close to a company’s offices or data center. Local desks are usually deployed by small or medium size businesses and are not designed to handle high volumes of service requests.

Centralized desks - A centralized desk provides a single point of contact for more efficient handling of requests for IT services. This physical service desk model is cost-efficient and allows organizations to reduce headcount. Companies operating multiple local desks can benefit by consolidating them into a single centralized service desk.

Virtual desks - Virtual desks are the model most commonly deployed by businesses of all sizes. A virtual desk uses Internet connectivity to allow agents located anywhere in the world to address issues generated from any device or entity. Service desk management can divide the work across many reps with this delivery model.

The "Follow the sun” model - This model connects multiple physical service desks in diverse geographical locations so requests and issues can be handled promptly by a localized team.

What is the Role of a Service Desk?

Companies expect their IT service desks to perform many diverse functions and fill multiple roles. The following are some of the responsibilities of IT service support.

  • Investigating and resolving problems in the IT environment.
  • Monitoring the environment to identify unexpected outages or service disruptions and address them before they impact the business.
  • Implementing self-service portals to streamline service delivery and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Managing changes in the IT environment to minimize disruptions and risks to business-critical systems.
  • Developing knowledge bases to disseminate information throughout the organization.
  • Performing in-depth monitoring and reporting on the efficiency of the IT team.
  • Handling service requests from business departments and individual users. These requests can vary widely and may involve such diverse functions as obtaining software licenses for an IT team or a mobile device for a newly onboarded employee.
  • Automating incident management with an automated service desk system. Modern systems use artificial intelligence to route and prioritize tickets for faster resolution. Automated escalation capabilities ensure that issues are routed to the appropriate team to optimize both user satisfaction and IT team productivity.
  • Addressing other business support tasks not directly related to IT service delivery which can include human resources activities like employee onboarding, managing data access, or tracking supplier contracts.

The Benefits of IT Service Desks

The importance of IT service desks has grown with the rise of the mobile workforce and digital workflows. Efficiently addressing the needs of remote workers is essential to maintaining productivity. Organizations that promote a self-service approach and make the necessary tools and solutions available are increasing customer satisfaction and optimizing IT service delivery.

Following are some of the most valuable benefits of a service desk system.

Enhanced business and IT alignment - As the interface between users, processes, and IT services, a service desk provides visibility into trends affecting the environment. This information enables preventative measures to be adopted that improve problem management and can be used to tailor additional IT services to further business objectives.
Productivity improvement - IT service delivery is streamlined through knowledge bases, automated workflows, and self-service solutions. This improves end-user productivity as services are delivered more efficiently. Self-service also reduces the strain on IT service delivery teams and frees them up from handling common and easily resolved issues so they can concentrate on value-added activities.
Operational efficiency - Efficiency is gained through the automation and standardization of IT processes. Faster and more accurate responses improve operations across the IT environment. The simple addition of virtual agents or chatbots can significantly affect a company’s ability to deliver quality customer service.
Cost savings - A well-staffed and automated service desk can manage many aspects of an IT environment without engaging upper-level teams and engineers. This can substantially reduce the cost of providing IT support to customers and employees.
Predictive analytics - The data collected by service desk software can identify issues so they can be addressed proactively before they become serious problems. Based on ticket flow and the types of requests, a service desk can alert an organization to underlying issues that can affect operations if they are not resolved.
Improved reliability - Reliability is improved throughout the IT environment with efficient and effective service desk management. Faster ticket resolution, preventative maintenance, and reduced incidents all contribute to reliability improvements throughout the company.
Streamlined IT asset management - Asset management is a critical function of a service desk. It serves as the central point of contact for employees and the company to track hardware and software assets and ensure they are properly licensed, configured, and maintained.

Service desk best practices

Service desks have long been a part of IT environments. During this time, best practices have evolved that optimize their benefits. Adopting these best practices will help an organization get the most from its service desk software and provide stellar customer service.

These best practices apply to many aspects of the featured solutions and responsibilities of a service desk.

Customer engagement

  • Provide omnichannel communication options and self-service options that include automated chatbots to handle issues during off hours.
  • Strive to resolve all issues at the initial point of engagement and avoid routing or escalations unless necessary.
  • Employ assessments and service-level agreements (SLAs) to prioritize requests and expedite the handling of the most pressing issues.
  • Perform customer satisfaction surveys to gauge user sentiment regarding IT service delivery. Use this information to modify procedures or add requested services.

IT service desk support technology

  • Implement automation to handle common user requests and facilitate issue resolution. Use standardized templates and automated processes for change management when possible.
  • Monitor and log all communication between users and service desk agents.
  • Integrate service desk activities with IT operations to monitor events for predictive analytics and proactively address emerging issues.
  • Configure automated workflows in help desk software to streamline problem escalation and routing issues to the appropriate personnel.
  • Leverage the ITSM system to track the root causes of issues.

Knowledge management

  • Offer self-service options to users to provide fast answers and reduce contact with help desk agents.
  • Store knowledge resources in a centralized location and make them easily available to all authorized users.
  • Maintain the accuracy of knowledge bases by conducting periodic reviews and eliminating outdated information.

Management and reporting

  • Monitor operations with real-time analytics and reporting to identify and proactively address issues in the IT environment.
  • Establish escalation and hand-off workflows to ensure SLAs are met and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Use knowledge gained from the ITSM service desk to reevaluate and optimize processes and resource utilization.
  • Identify opportunities to automate and streamline reporting and other help desk activities using analytics generated from ITSM systems.
  • Communicate with management to ensure any challenges faced by the service desk or its agents are understood and addressed.

Configuration Management Database (CMDB)

  • Create a CMDB to hold information about the IT service delivery environment including hardware and software assets and configuration items.
  • Document the relationships between assets to understand how services are being delivered.
  • Facilitate automated search capabilities to streamline locating items in the CMDB.

Key features of IT Service Support

Service desks are essential for smooth operation in the modern business world. The following elements are important components of effective service desk solutions.

  • Ticketing system - Tickets are generated each time a user contacts the service help desk to report a problem or make a request. A ticketing system performs automated ticket tracking and routing to assist in the efficient processing of user queries.
  • Self-service knowledge base - This knowledge base is the foundation for self-service applications that allow users to obtain information directly without contacting the service desk and opening a ticket.
  • Process automation - Repetitive tasks are automated so service desk personnel can concentrate on more value-added activities.
  • Asset management - Managing an organization’s IT assets with solutions like the CMDB enables the efficient use of resources.
  • Incident management - Addressing unexpected outages or other incidents quickly enables teams to return to normal workflows.
  • SLA management - Ensuring that tickets are handled according to established SLAs is important in meeting business commitments.
  • Service catalog - Users should have access to an online catalog with descriptions of the services offered by the organization.

What is the Difference Between ITSM and a Service Desk?

IT Service Management (ITSM) is the term used to describe everything involved in the design, support, delivery, and management of IT services. ITSM is more than just the level of IT support provided by a help desk. IT support teams are responsible for completely managing the services daily.

A service desk is an integral component of ITSM and will typically provide:

  • Incident management;
  • Self-service solutions;
  • Knowledge base management;
  • Service request management;
  • Integration with change and problem management solutions;
  • Analytics and reporting capabilities.

What are the Differences Between a Service Desk and a Help Desk

Following are some of the substantial differences between a service desk and a help desk.

  • In a break-fix situation, the help desk provides first-line problem resolution with assistance from the service desk which will handle the information flow about the issue.
  • A help desk focuses on the health of the IT environment while a service desk prioritizes IT service delivery.
  • The ITIL framework sees help desks as tactical solutions whereas a service desk has a more strategic purpose.
  • A help desk can be viewed as a subset of a service desk that is a necessary addition to an IT environment to address end-user requests and issues.

Organizations traditionally established help desks to address issues in the IT environment. These entities have evolved to become more all-encompassing and comprehensive IT service desks. Whatever name they go by, help desks and service desks are essential for the efficient use of IT resources and systems throughout an organization.


What is the purpose of a service desk?
The purpose of a service desk is to provide users with a centralized contact point for communication with an organization’s IT team. The service desk fields requests, handles incident reporting, manages changes to the environment, and performs any other functions necessary to deliver and maintain IT services throughout a company.

Is a call center the same as a service desk?
No, the two entities are not the same. A service desk has more limited responsibilities when compared to a call center. The focus of a service desk is on providing services and support related to an organization’s IT environment. A call center handles other aspects of communicating with end users regarding a company’s delivery of global business services.

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