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IT help desk evolves to meet the new demands of consumerization

James Furbush

Social and mobile tools can allow IT help desk staff to provide better support to employees, for whom old-school ticketing systems no longer cut it.

Today's employees expect the IT department to provide rapid support using social communication tools similar to the ones they use in their daily lives, such as instant messaging, Twitter and Facebook, said Rob Young, help desk analyst at IDC, a research firm based in Framingham, Mass. "Business units are using social technologies, but when they interact with IT, it's like they are still in the Stone Age sometimes," Young said. "IT needs to make sure they are staying relevant."

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Any solution that helps mobilize employees and lets us give great support is pretty liberating.

Scott Cooley,
president, Indevtech

The typical service desk at many organizations features multiple processes and tools that are added one after the other but aren't truly integrated. These systems can become too complex for IT departments and employees to use efficiently, Young said. In addition, many organizations rely on older systems where IT help desk tickets seemingly are sent into a black hole, never to be heard from again.

"IT has to make sure that people want to go to them for delivering service, and part of that is providing more visibility into requests," Young said.

Social tools prove beneficial for IT help desk

Many help desk software vendors now offer self-service portals, instant messaging (IM) and mobile apps for IT pros to use on the go.

In the past few years, most problems have stemmed from software's and devices' usability and configurations not doing exactly what the user expects, said Scott Cooley, president of Indevtech, an IT support services company based in Honolulu.

Social and mobile tools can help solve those issues quickly and efficiently. "Any solution that enables us to not be tethered to an office, or helps mobilize employees and still lets us give great support to our customers, is pretty liberating," Cooley said.

The ability to IM with employees through Citrix Systems Inc.'s Software-as-a-Service GoToAssist desk product has proved to be a huge timesaver, said Dave Winstead, director of technology and business development at Registry Partners Inc., a medical records assistance company based in Burlington, N.C.

IT help desk calls that previously took two or three hours now take just 20 minutes, Winstead said. That allows the help desk to close more tickets throughout the day. Further, without GoToAssist, his IT department would need to be twice as large to manage the amount of support they provide employees. "A lot of times, our employees have a problem and they don't know how to describe it," he said.

Approximately 90% of Registry Partners' employees work remotely and rely on the IT help desk to connect them to various hospital networks. "It used to take a lot of time," Winstead said." We'd be on the phone with them for a few hours, just trying to figure out what the problem even was."

Other organizations have seen a huge benefit by offering more self-service support functions. About three years ago, Northrop Grumman Information System's Air and Missile Defense Workstation, based in Huntsville, Ala., implemented Manage Engine's ServiceDesk Plus because the division location had no IT help desk tools at all. "One of our biggest headaches was unlocking computers because people forgot their password after a long holiday weekend," said Michael Toole, a systems administrator at Northrop.

Now, the 400 employees are encouraged to solve many of their computer issues without relying on IT. The company's self-service portal includes a password reset feature and a continuously updated knowledge base for working through common problems. "It doesn't always happen, of course, but it's saved us a ton of time for the employees that do take advantage of it," Toole said. "They're not bothering us 24/7, which gives us the time to offer better services."

A potential fix for shadow IT

Meeting tech-savvy employees on their own terms for help desk services might also help organizations lessen the problems of shadow IT and consumerization.

The young generation of students now poised to enter the workforce are by and large pretty IT-savvy, said Pritpal Rehal, senior digital workspace system administrator at the University of York in the U.K. It would be easy for those students to ignore IT altogether, but they are more willing to go to IT when they are having problems, he said, because IT responds to their requests almost immediately.

Typically, students require help for computer issues like connecting to printers, but they can mostly solve their own problems with a quick chat session with IT, Rehal said. As an unintended side effect, some students even ping IT for feedback and recommendations on the productivity apps and tools favored by the support staff. "We've had to move where our market is, and that's been a huge benefit for us to provide more timely service and have a better working relationship with the campus," Rehal said.

The university uses the Bomgar Box, a lightweight appliance from Jackson, Miss.-based Bomgar. It sits in the DMZ and lets users ping support staff via the Web. These chat capabilities are available on any device with an HTML5 browser. If more assistance is required, IT can remotely connect to user devices via an applet. Because no client agent is required on user devices, the IT department can offer instant support to non-university-owned and -supported devices, as well as instances of a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure session in the computer labs, Rehal said.


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