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Is the IT help desk model broken?

Jun 12, 20184 mins
IT GovernanceIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

It’s no secret that enterprise personnel no longer work in the same manner as they did in the past. The real mystery is why we keep trying to resolve today’s IT issues with yesterday’s processes and systems.

fail frustration laptop user head desk
Credit: Thinkstock

There’s no doubt about it – today’s workers have fully embraced the trend toward remote working. In fact, according to last year’s Gallup “State of the American Workplace” survey, roughly 43 percent of employees report they have worked remotely.  It would seem that the genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not likely to go back in without a fight.

This mass migration off premises changes the dynamic between users and IT help desk teams. An operator can no longer run down the hall to ask a user “Can you show me what the problem is with your computer?” More importantly, without having total visibility in the cloud, the operator may be completely unable to ‘see’ any problems that users are experiencing as they work remotely.

But this is not the only cultural transition affecting how help desk teams interact with users. The pervasiveness of technology in all areas of day-to-day life has caused a significant shift in users’ expectations. If my smartphone can do x, y and z, why can’t my work computer perform as efficiently? This consumerization of IT is creating heightened expectations that are often unrealistic in the confines of the corporate environment. Nonetheless, the gap between users’ experiences and their expectations is resulting in an increased number of trouble tickets.

Clearly, the enterprise IT landscape has changed. So, why are we applying archaic data and systems to modern networking challenges?

Expectations vs. reality

For decades, enterprises have relied on IT support teams steadfastly waiting to receive a trouble ticket to spur them into action. Ticket resolution was straightforward, based on objective data… Does the user have a good connection or not? Is the link up; is the server they are trying to access available?

Now, a key factor in the troubleshooting process is the user’s subjective perception of the service. Is Bob satisfied? Yes, but Sally feels like the network is very slow today, and it’s a major issue for her.

As a result, the user experience is more important than ever. And with workers accessing applications remotely through the cloud, whether they are on-premises, at home or in a coffee shop, IT teams are increasingly challenged to track and optimize service delivery in order to meet user expectations.

If it’s not broken…break it

Some organizations have tried to address distributed workforce challenges by migrating to cloud-hosted helpdesk platforms, but without changing any underlying processes, it’s merely a transfer of infrastructure. To make a fundamental change from an operational perspective, not just a budget standpoint, IT teams should look at how they are taking in user complaints and the triage process used to address them.

Moreover, to get real value from any cloud-hosted helpdesk platforms, these services should interface with tools that collect real-time event data from both remote and on-premises workers. Although some IT management applications can be integrated with other solutions, enterprises typically don’t use those integrations with the network monitoring tools they need to enable full stack visibility — from end users all the way up through the processes and applications being used.

Just because your IT support team is in the cloud doesn’t mean you’ve adopted a next-generation helpdesk model.

Self-help mindset

We can’t address 21st century challenges with 20th century solutions… At what point do we reinvent the standard help desk model that served us so well in the past? Now we wait for an event to happen; wait for a user to notify the IT team; wait for experts to solve the issue after it has already happened.

So much of our world these days is self-service. Can we leverage digital transformation and apply self-service principles to get ahead of the issue? If a user is dissatisfied with their application experience or has connectivity issues, the right technology could streamline large portions of problem resolution. Helpdesk teams could deploy an automated self-help function to either remediate the problem, or at a minimum collect key data to assist a help-desk operator in resolution.

We must begin to ‘think differently’ if we are to re-invent the IT support model. For example, taking a page from Mac OS support, could we improve the user experience with a simple connect, detect, configure workflow that detects and remediates problems beneath the user experience level?

By transferring some level of control and capability to the user community, IT support teams can be freed up to address much bigger challenges as network technology continues to evolve and more applications move to the cloud. Because if we don’t change our fundamental approach to the IT help desk, twenty years from now we may still have people sitting in a cubical with a headset on, waiting for something to happen.


Doug Roberts is the Vice President and General Manager for the Enterprise and Cloud Business Unit at VIAVI Solutions. Doug has worked as an IT professional for over 23 years in various technical lead, business transformation and product innovation roles. He has been instrumental in developing the next generation of network and application performance products for VIAVI Solutions.

Doug is an active member in the IETF, IEEE PCS and APM Forum, holding four patents in the areas of response time measurement, big data analytics and application efficiency measurement logic. He has provided his subject matter expertise in network troubleshooting and application performance monitoring to the world’s largest Service Providers, along with thousands of private enterprise networks, through guest speaking and keynote engagements that include Interop, Cisco Live, TechNet and Amazon’s re:Invent.

Doug concluded his undergraduate work in Computer Engineering and Business Management at The Georgia Institute of Technology and Mercer University. Doug also holds an MBA from Mercer University, and concluded his formal education at the University of Liverpool where he earned his Ph.D. In addition to his formal education Doug has attained a myriad of industry certifications, some of which include Cisco’s CCIE, Sniffer Certified Expert and Six Sigma Black Belt.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Douglas Roberts and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.