Help Desk vs. Service Desk: Are They Different?

Jenny Hernandez

Help Desk vs. Service Desk.jpg

Is there really a difference between the Help Desk and Service Desk? Both are commonly used IT Service Management (ITSM) terms, yet hard-pressed to clearly explain the differences. With several interpretations, approaches, and differentiated points of view, it’s often hard to make a clear cut distinction between the two. However, this blog isn’t about misconstrued, confused, or misused term definition – I want to dive into the deeper issue of the argument and how the unanswered quarrel could possibly affect your job performance, your organizational priority goals, and most importantly, your end users.

Due to the diverse nature of organizations, the services provided, and the specific end user themselves, the question constantly brings back the ongoing ‘help desk vs. service desk’ argument. IT Professionals with several years of experience are now experiencing issues with end user’s expectations, which makes the demands of IT staff spend grueling number of hours working as efficient as possible.

Today, the difference between the meaning of both "service desk" and "help desk" is generally left up to interpretation, with a more specific definition, while others convey more simplified explanations. There are several factors in why organizations have their ideology, such as the organization’s size, and the level of IT meeting your customer and business needs, but I want to take a step further into the crux of the two terms – with the textbook definition, examples, and differences.

Depending on the maturity of the organiztion and the IT framework it employs, you may come across slight discrepancies between how both "service desk" and "help desk" are characterized. However, if you really want to dig into the true definitions of the terms, it's best to look at how ITIL defines the following term:

“The single point of contact between the service providers and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests, and also handles communication with end users”

Now, let's explore further. 

Help Desk

According to PC Magazine, Help Desk is defined as "software that provides the means to login problems and tracks them until solved. It also provides the management information regarding support activities.” Ideally, the main goal of the help desk is to quickly resolve incidents and meet the immediate needs of end users as quickly and efficiently as possible. In contrast to the service desk, the IT help desk focuses more on the needs of the IT staff rather than the end user and infrequent fixes.

Here are some key features to consider about the Help Desk:

Ideally, an effective help desk is supposed to be considered an break-fix solution, compared to a service desk, which must also facilitate requests for new services, and for manage of requests. 

Service Desk

As stated previously, the ITIL definition of the service desk is, “The single point of contact between the service providers and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests, and also handles communication with end users”. IT Service Desk tends to be considered a broader term that drills down on strategy rather than directly resolving the issue. Additionally, the service desk has a bigger impact on the business needs, with its overall goal to improve the efficiency of IT and business processes across the organization. Some would say that the service desk is an evolution of the help desk, based on the ideology concept of ‘managing IT as a service’.

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Here are some key features on Service Desk Software to consider:

  • Essentially, the service desk is considered 'the evolution of the help desk', where instead of providing 'help' for just end users, the term 'service' relates to both providing the tools for IT staff to provide 'help' for end users
  • It is fully integrated with IT Service Management processes
  • With the service desk being IT service-centric, there is a focus on delivering a service to end users and on all-around customer service

In short, a 'service desk' can be considered a help desk created in an ITIL infrastructure. It is generally thought that help desks are the more modern solution when it comes to IT Service Management. 

Does this Affect You?

With this break down of the help and service desk the question lingers through your head: 'Now does this really affect me? Should I really care?' That question may depend on how you are managing support, who your end users are, the level of IT support and ITSM maturity within your organization, and a lot of other key factors to consider.

It's also important for you to consider the common nomenclature used within your organization. For example, while IT organizations might refer to IT support capability a service desk, the typical end user may use the term, ‘help desk’. Does it matter if you use the term help desk or service desk to describe IT support? Most certainly – you would be lowballing or highballing your IT capabilities, especially in your IT support technology.

There are many companies operating successful help desk and service desk operations, and many that are struggling. Introversely, organizations focusing on a service desk or help desk platforms seem to be really 'out of the box' in implementation. At the end of the day, it's up to you to determine what your organization needs in terms of supporting staff, end users, and keeping IT operations running. No matter how you define them, all that matters is how the organization uses the terms and how they support the business. 

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