Are you considering purchasing some new software for IT support, and would like to understand the key differences between a Help Desk and Service Desk?
As with many things in the world of IT, there are no specific rules that vendors must follow when naming their software, and the two terms are often used interchangeably for products that provide similar functionality.
So while the name may give you a point of reference, it is necessary to look deeper and consider the purpose and use case of each to understand the key differences.
While the scope of each has been established to an extent through the ITIL framework, it doesn’t provide much practical advice on the differences and how to identify each one.
So in general terms, what is the difference between the two?
What is a Help Desk?
A Help Desk allows the IT department to respond to unexpected issues within IT infrastructure or the services they provide. A Help Desk is reactionary, and is used to manage problems when they arise, allowing for them to be logged, tracked and (hopefully) finally resolved. A Help Desks will focus on facilitating the communication between support staff and end users to help solve problems, and its purpose is to keep things running on a day to day basis.
What is a Service Desk?
A Service Desk can be thought of a strategic big brother of the Help Desk, it can do everything the Help Desk does, but also allow you to plan, structure and provide the delivery a wide variety of IT services. Instead of merely reacting to problems as they arise, it allows for a more strategic approach to IT Service Management and acts as a single point of contact (SPOC) for all IT activities.
Service Desks typically include elements such as a Service Catalog, which formalize the processes and resources required to deliver a particular service, and allows them to be requested either by an end user or internal customers such as members of the IT department.
In a Service Desk environment, communication is handled not only between end users and IT, but also internal IT communication as well.
A Service Desk may also include an expanded scope and allow for the provision of support services for an entire organization, so called Enterprise Service Management, which may include Human Resources, Facilities, Accounting or Legal departments. Other activities may also be included within its scope, such as managing and controlling change in business processes or infrastructure (Change Management).
What is a Ticketing System or an Issue Tracking System and how is it different?
Now we get into a grey area. Occasionally these terms are used to describe software that has similar functionality to a Help Desk, but typically these solutions have been re-purposed and their core functionality is “bug tracking” or project management for software development.
While these systems can be used to log, track, and resolve issues reported by end users, being more general in scope, they typically are not the best suited solution to run a dedicated Help Desk or Service Desk. The lack of a fluid interface, reporting and additional service oriented features such as Knowledge Base, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) or Customer Satisfaction Surveys makes them less capable than a dedicated Help Desk or Service Desk software, and are ultimately less efficient and harder to modify and maintain.
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