32. Help Desk DescriptionWhen we look at the various aspects of a help desk it is useful to be able to visualise what it is like. Some students will have used an IT help desk but others have not. We start by looking at examples of help desks outside the IT industry to give everyone a point of reference.(Note: this subject is about IT help desks. Any reference to help desk will mean IT help desk unless explicitly stated otherwise.)
42. Help Desk Description 2.1 Non-IT help desks Help desks are found in all industries, not just the ITindustry. When a class of help desk students were asked to give examples of help desks they had personally encountered in everyday life, they came up with the following list.The information desk in a libraryThe course enquiries office at TAFEThe information kiosk in a shopping mallThe front desk at a police stationTelstra directory inquiries
5Activity 1Come up with two examples of non-IT help desks with which you are personally familiar.What do all these help desks have in common?
6Activity 1 >>>>>>> One thing that they all have in common is that they are there to help or assist people. In fact that is their main purpose.Another thing they have in common is that they are all staffed by people. It is interesting to note that the service provided by directory enquiries is in general also provided by the White Pages.If you look a telephone number up in the White Pages, that is not considered to be a help desk but if someone else does it for you it is.It would seem that the person adds value to the service. In the Telstra example it might be that the directory enquiries operator knows alternative names and techniques for locating telephone numbers.
72.2 Functions and Benefits of the IT Help Desk Read the article called, Getting the most from your help desk by Michael Davies, and answer the question in Activity 2.Activity 2.What are the main functions of a help desk?
8Activity 2 >>>>>> check!! Check your answers.provides a single point of contact.operates a call control systemprovides the first line of supportsupports business applicationsprovides management informationprovides advice and guidanceIf you didn't find these, check the article again. (Hint, look for phrases like 'the first function'.)
9Single Point of Contact The single point of contact means customers have only one number to call to reach assistance.In the old days when there was no help desk function, support was provided by individuals working in the IT department. To get help, you had to know who could help you. If you didn't have a name then you might have to call a number of times before you located the right person to speak to.The single point of contact overcomes the need for customers to know who handles which problems.
10Call Control SystemThe call control system is a procedure for handling customer's requests for help.It involves logging the call and monitoring its progress towards a solution. The role of help desk staff is to check the progress of outstanding problems and to alert management when problems remain unsolved after their due date. This ensures that no calls are 'lost' and that a satisfactory conclusion is reached.
11First Line of SupportMost calls to a help desk are made by telephone. The help desk operator that takes the call will attempt to solve the problem. This is referred to as providing first line support .The proportion of problems that can be handled at the first point of contact will depend on the skill and training of the help desk staff.As a large proportion of calls to any help desk are trivial problems, first line support can ensure that the time of the specialists in the various skill groups is not wasted and is only used when there is a problem that requires their attention.
12Help Desk: * supports business applications; * provides mgmt information. The help desk supports business applications which means it resolves user's problems concerning the use of computer systems used by the organisation. Business applications are often referred to as core business applications stressing the fact that they are the applications that are essential to the operation of the business.The help desk provides management with information about the problems that are occurring. Because the call control system records all calls and how long they take to fix, it is possible to produce reports for management on the types of calls being received and the IT department's ability to fix them. Ponder for a moment why this might be important.
13Advice and guidanceThe help desk also provides advice and guidance on various aspects of information technology.Support covers how to use IT products whereas advice and guidance covers advice on what new equipment to purchase, solutions using products (for example, how to produce a three-fold brochure in Microsoft Word), etcetera.Now re-read the article by Michael Davies and answer the two questions in Activity 3.
14Activity 3What are the main benefits to the customer of having a help desk?What are the main benefits to the organisation of having a help desk?
15Activity 3 >>>>> check The answer why management reporting is important is that it gives management a true picture of what is happening.Frequently recurring problems can be analyzed and steps taken to eliminate them.For example, if the help desk receives lost of calls about Windows, management can justify putting on training sessions to reduce the incidence of that type of problem. If the help desk operators are referring lots of calls on Access to a specialist area then the specialists' time can be freed up by training the help desk operators in Access so that they can answer more problems at the first point of contact.
16Activity 3 >>>>> check Management of problems is an important issue in any organisation.A satisfied customer may tell two or three other people about the good service but a dissatisfied customer will tell at least ten other people and maybe twenty if they are really upset.From an organisation's point of view bad service is bad publicity which has an affect on the profit line. As a result, organisations have to maximise good service in order to minimise bad publicity. Few organisations can produce perfect products and services all the time, hence having an effective help desk helps appease potentially unsatisfied customers with the minimum of damage.
172.3 Positioning of the IT Help Desk Within an Organisation The IT help desk is normally located within the IT department of an organisation. Figure 1 shows a typical position for the help desk in the organisation chart.
182.3 Positioning of the IT Help Desk Within an Organisation In a medium to large sized organisation, the help desk will have two or three help desk operators and a help desk supervisor. The help desk supervisor will manage the day to day activities of the help desk and will report to the user services manager. The user services manager will report to the IT director. All enquiries, fault reporting and requests for service directed at the IT department are channelled through the help desk.While only one help desk is shown in the typical organisation, in many cases an organisation may have several help desks, each designed to service a separate category of customer or to service a distinct range of products and services or to service a geographic area.
192.4 Customers of the Help Desk At one time the people who needed assistance with the use of computers were called 'users'.The term used these days in help desks is 'customer'.Customer is used in preference to user because it better reflects the help desk's attitude to the people that use its service -- they are customers.
20Help desk customers are usually classified as internal and external. Internal customers are internal to the organisation.External customers are outside the organisation.For example, the IT department of a university will only provide computing services to its staff and students. Hence the help desk will have only internal customers (students would be considered as internal because they are part of the organisation). On the other hand, the IT department of an organisation such as a computer manufacturer may provide support for not only internal customers but also for external customers.
212.4 Customers of the Help Desk Examples of internal customers within TAFE are:teachers,students,administrators,secretarial and clerical staff,college managers,counsellors,technical support staff.In organisations that have more than one help desk, the role of support may be divided up amongst the help desks. For example, there may be one for external customers and another for internal. At Sydney Institute, there are two help desks for internal customers. One services staff and the other students and student facilities.
22Activity 4In the table below, which of the organisations would have external help desk customers?OrganisationExternal Customers?MicrosoftTAFEArnott’sHewlett PackardAust Tax OfficeNRMAIBMAdobe
232.5 The First Point of Contact When a customer telephones the help desk and a help desk operator picks up we call this the first point of contact.The terms first line of support, single point of contact and first point of contact can be rather confusing at first because they sound very similar. Make sure you understand the difference.The help desk operators provide the first line of support by trying to solve the problem. The help desk offers customers a single point of contact through its single published telephone number. The first point of contact is that interaction when a customer first makes contact with the IT department through the help desk.
24Activity 5The following terms have a similar sound but mean different things.first line of support, andfirst point of contact.single point of contact,Check your understanding by writing the meaning of each now.
252.6 Staffing the Help DeskAt the first point of contact we have the opportunity to solve problems. The proportion of problems solved at that first point of contact will depend on the level of technical skill of help desk staff that provide the first line of support. In general terms, technical skill levels are indicated by high, medium and low. A first line of support that uses staff with high levels of technical skill will solve a larger proportion of problems at the first point of contact than a team that uses staff with a low level of technical skill. Some help desks are designed to use staff with a low level of technical skill. An example would be a help desk which uses a receptionist to direct calls to the appropriate specialists in skill groups.
262.6 Staffing the Help DeskClearly there is a cost implication when choosing staff for the first line of support. High technical skill staff will demand higher wages and may be wasted if there are a lot of trivial questions. Management decides what level of technical skill staff to employ for the help desk based on the performance they require of the help desk. Performance is covered in the next section.
273. Help Desk Design 3.1 Service Levels Help desks don't just happen; they are designed to meet a specific purpose. In this section we examine various aspects of help desk design.3.1 Service LevelsNowadays, most help desks will have service levels. These are also called objectives and performance targets.A service level specifies the performance level the help desk is trying to achieve and is usually expressed in terms like:Solve 60% of calls at the first point of contactPickup the telephone within three ringsAchieve a 100% clear-up rateMaintain a call abandonment rate of less than 25%Solve 95% of calls by initial target completion date
283.1 Service LevelsOnce the service level is defined for a help desk, management must then construct a system that can achieve that service level.Hence, if management specify 'solve 90% of calls at the first point of contact' there is no point engaging staff with low technical skills. The service level would be unachievable.Similarly, if the service level was set at 'pickup the telephone within three rings', you'd have to employ enough help desk staff to make this achievable for the volume of calls expected.From this discussion you should have now developed the impression that help desk is not only about providing assistance but also about providing service. In the industry they talk about good customer service or being 'customer focused'. It means taking care of the customer, ensuring they are satisfied with the service received.
293.2 Help Desk ModelsThe basic model for a help desk consists of three components as depicted in Figure 2. Figure 2: Basic model of a help desk
303.2 Help Desk ModelsCustomers contact the IT help desk with a problem. It is either solved by the help desk operator working the first line of support or it is referred to a skill group that provides the second line of support.
313.2 Help Desk ModelsSkill groups support the help desk when the help desk cannot resolve the problem. Many problems pass to skill groups simply because they involve a visit to the client's workplace. Typically, the skill groups are:Service Centre staff who install and maintain equipmentExternal service and repair centresDesktop Support who install and diagnose hardware and software problemsVendors such as Microsoft and Compaq for technical support and warranty workSystems Support who support the mainframe operating systemsCommunications Support that install, maintain and support the networkManagement Information Systems that develop and support in-house software
323.2 Help Desk ModelsThe basic model in Figure 2 is general. To use the model to describe a particular installation, the customer and skill group components need to be expanded.Figure 3 shows a help desk installation that serves only internal customers and has four skill groups supporting the help desk: Data Communications; Software Development; Desktop Services and the external organisation, Mr Fixit's Repairs.
33Figure 4: Second example of a help desk based on the basic model The next example, Figure 4, is an example of a help desk that supports both internal and external customers. The second line of support for the help desk is organised along the product lines Windows XP products, Windows Vista products and Macintosh products. One skill group, Internal Systems, supports the internal customers for problems that are not product specific.Win XPWin Vista
34Figure 5: The hierarchical model of a help desk The hierarchical model has two levels of help desk. The first level is used to direct calls to the most appropriate specialist help desk. The first level is often staffed by a receptionist or switchboard operator, hence we would say staff with low technical skills.
35Figure 5: The hierarchical model of a help desk The specialist help desk is usually staffed by operators with high technical skills. The specialist help desk will have other resources to call on if necessary.This organisation is typically used by software distributors who have a specialist member of staff for each product or product group. Where there is only one member of staff for a product, the skill group that provides the third level of support is usually the overseas software supplier.
36Figure 6: The distributed model of a help desk In the distributed model, first level help desk support is provided at geographic locations. Calls that can't be handled at the 'local' help desk are passed to the central help desk (second level of support). If the central help desk can't handle a call it is passed to one of the skill groups that support the central help desk (third level of support). Calls that go directly to the central help desk may get diverted to a local help desk if it is more appropriately handled at the local level.
37Figure 6: The distributed model of a help desk TAFE NSW runs a help desk based on the distributed model.TAFE NSW covers the whole of NSW and is comprised of 12 institutes.Each institute has one or more local help desks.At head office (St Leonards) there is a central help desk and also all the support groups that supply and maintain the central administrative systems and network equipment for the whole State.
384. SummaryIn this unit we have examined various aspects of a help desk.Help desks do not only provide technical assistance but also good customer service.They do this not only to keep the customer happy but to manage the organisation's problems (problem management). Managing problems is another way of looking after the profit line.