At the turn of the century, David Cole spent most of his time resetting passwords, facilitating Internet connections and helping users overcome printing errors. As assistant service desk director to one of the nation's largest universities, Cole says he still performs these functions for some 50,000 students, faculty and staff. But nowadays, an equal amount of his time is spent enabling users to make the most of technology.
"Millennials make this much easier," Cole says. "We don't walk users through networking logins or printing steps much anymore. We enable tech-savvy people to do more."
During his 13-year tenure, the rise of tech-savvy users is the most noticeable change in IT support, Cole says. He spends as much time informing users about available app features, data interfaces and online resources as he does troubleshooting general computing issues, such as e-mail.
"Half help, half empowerment," he figures, when asked about his workload. "They come in fully literate, want everyone to know as much as they do and are just looking for a step in the right direction to get them what they need."
That explains why "service desk" recently surpassed "help desk" as the preferred name for one-stop IT support, according to HDI, the worldwide professional association and certification body for the technical service and support industry. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is an intended difference: IT support is more than just helping users avoid downtime. It also serves them, allowing them to do new things, without the negative connotation of user errors.
While digital natives are the main cause for the shift in service desks, other drivers include digital immigrants and more user-friendly devices that auto-update and self-troubleshoot, Cole says.
In other words, this ain't your grandfather's help desk. But with the number of devices per capita on the rise, the service desk will change even more over the next five years, if not explode into entirely new directions. The reason: The "Internet of Things" will enable a far greater number and type of devices in need of support, explains Avinash Bhat, an associate director of CRM consulting at Cognizant. And of course, service desks will need to support that device deluge across an increasing number of channels, including social media and remote support, as well as ticketed calls, e-mails and walk-ins.
To become better enablers of innovation, tomorrow's service desks will need to provide increased levels of maturity and ease in creating solutions, regardless of support location. For that to happen, IT folks must solidify their "bring your own device" policies, Bhat says.
They'll also need to expand their infrastructure and support desks, increasing not only headcount but also training on enablement support and an increased number of devices. Companies will also need to widen the pipes, Bhat adds. While the benefits of tiny, hands-free or otherwise smart devices are promising, their projected growth will undoubtedly crowd corporate networks and support queues.
In other words, the service desk will have additional gadgets to manage, not just replacements for existing ones, Bhat says. Unless properly provisioned, that could lead to reduced application performance and annoyed—instead of empowered—users.
The good news is that users will become even more tech-savvy, further lessening the burden on support desks, Cole says. The bad news: Those same support desks will need to reinvent themselves again (i.e., bots and self-help automation) to account for the changing technology landscape.
For Cole, however, the challenge is welcome. "All in a day's work," he says.
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