End users are giving their IT help desk better grades for efficiency than the IT departments are willing to give themselves, based on a study released by Info-Tech Research Group.

Corporate users are giving IT departments an average score of eight out of 10, while IT managers are only giving themselves an average rating of six out of 10, said Noah Bass, research consultant at Info-Tech.

“Consistently, probably 99 out of 100 times, [IT managers] were actually giving themselves a score that was 20 per cent lower than their end users were rating them,” said Bass.

The statistics indicate that while IT help desks are generally satisfying end user requirements, the IT departments are acknowledging the need for improvement in various areas.

Some of the aspects that IT departments believe they need to improve upon are those that may not be visible to the end users, such as cost and the ability to provide reporting metrics on performance and efficiency, explained Bass.

Info-Tech surveyed IT managers and IT directors in 150 North American companies to determine the level of help desk maturity IT departments have. The study aims to provide best practices for IT departments on how to optimise and improve efficiency of help desks, said Bass. The survey revealed that despite help desks being a common component of the IT department in most companies, as much as 70 per cent of the organisations are “relatively immature” in their level of help desk efficiency.

“We were surprised to see the percentage (of organisations) that are still relatively immature in terms of what they are doing with their people, their processes and their technology,” said Bass.

Info-Tech categorised help desk maturity levels into five stages: chaos, reactive, controlled, proactive and optimised. The first three are the more basic levels and are generally considered less mature, explained Bass.

Although only three per cent of the companies surveyed fall under the chaos level of maturity, 42 per cent belong to the reactive level. In the reactive level, help desk staff and tools are identified and some form of process is defined for tracking and escalating incidents, according to the Info-Tech report.

In controlled level, to which 26 per cent of the Info-Tech respondents belong, the processes are clearly defined and tools are introduced for basic self-service and knowledge management, the report indicated.

A more mature help desk, however, would be proactive in terms of not only addressing and escalating issues, but the ability to identify and prevent recurring issues as well as perform extensive reporting to better understand issues and improve service delivery, said Bass. Having software in place that tracks the progress of a particular help desk ticket – ideally something better than Excel – enables help desk to have some form of process in place for resolving issues, Bass said.

An even better approach would be adding tools that enable help desk to quantify and measure its performance, he added.

Bass suggests having an internal service level agreement with the end users. “It’s a really good idea not only because it improves communication and lets the end users know what to expect, but also it sets a goal and you can always measure yourself against those goals.”

The IT department is increasingly recognising the need to transform itself into a customer-centric service organisation, treating internal users as if they were external customers, said Dennis Drogseth, vice-president of IT management consultancy, Enterprise Management Associates.

“IT is a business within a business,” he said. “If it’s not run that way, it won’t be effective or efficient.”

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can provide some good standards for processes involved in a customer-centric IT service organisation, including management of service requests, changes and IT assets. But Drogseth cautioned that ITIL is only a means and not an end. Organisations would still have to define what their goals are, with ITIL as a guide, he said.

In addition to enabling efficient customer service, a mature help desk component can also help IT departments realise cost savings, said Info-Tech's Bass.

“If you have situations where you can significantly reduce traffic to the help desk then you can either begin to repurpose (your IT staff) or, depending on the company’s priorities, you can eliminate positions within the help desk,” he explained.

Through end user training on the most common yet simple IT problems, for instance, IT departments can reduce the number of help desk traffic by enabling end users to resolve certain issues themselves, Bass said.

Another useful tool are remote desktop assistants, which Bass said is the most likely to produce cost savings, especially for organisations that have multiple office locations.

Remote desktop assistant is software that enables help desk to perform troubleshooting and diagnostics of an end user desktop from a remote location, eliminating the need to physically travel to the affected desktop’s location.

“By having remote desktop assistant, they can just go in and fix problems in minutes, which previously would have taken them hours or days, depending on the kind of travel needs that would have been required,” Bass said.