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SMBs Face Help Desk Integration Challenges

The advantages of integrating service desk and desktop management tools are clear, but cost, lack of human resources, and technical complexity pose problems, according to a Dell Kace survey.

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Most IT pros at small and midsize businesses see clear benefits to integrating service desk and desktop management tools, but nearly two-thirds of them haven't actually done so.

That's according a recent study of IT service desk operations--conducted by Dimensional Research on behalf of Dell Kace--in which 88% of respondents said they would ideally like to have integrated service desk and desktop management tools. Yet just 37% have actually have both service desk and desktop management rolled into a single platform.

Cost, lack of human resources, and technical complexity were the overwhelming reasons for working with separate service desk and desktop management tools. That's not too surprising: Close to 80% of the survey's participants--comprised of 844 IT executives, managers, and other professionals--worked at companies with fewer than 2,000 employees. The report noted that such integration is much more common in large businesses.

Ken Drachnik, Dell Kace director of marketing, said that another factor is that at the outset, some SMBs deploy several different tools--including a mix of free and commercial products--that simply don't integrate. Indeed, roughly one in five survey respondents said it simply wasn't possible to integrate their existing tools. He gave as a hypothetical example a firm that initially chose one tool for service desk and another for server management.

"They picked those products to meet a need they had at that immediate time," Drachnik said in an interview. "They find that these have become part of their day-to-day operations, and they would like to have them integrated but don't have the ability because they're such disparate types of programs and platforms." KACE, which makes a management appliance for hardware--including service desk functionality, of course--and another for managing software deployments, was acquired by Dell in early 2010.

SMB help desks are also taking an inconsistent approach to industry standards, according to the survey: While more than half have implemented some form of Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), for example, only 8% strictly enforce it. The need to tailor such standards to a particular business environment is one key reasons why; unnecessary and undesired complexity is another.

"[SMBs] want to be able to get going and do things very quickly," said Ilan Dar, senior product marketing manager at Dell Kace, in an interview. "ITIL, in a sense, is overwhelming to a lot of organizations just in terms of the sheer magnitude of what it means and how it can be implemented." Ultimately, Dar said, IT pros at smaller companies just need something that works.

That's particularly important because of the service desk's role in IT organizational reputation. Some 71% of respondents said the help desk is a major factor--if not the factor--in how IT is perceived by the rest of the company. (To be clear, the report focused on internal service desks, not external customer support.) Another 22% said the service desk had at least some impact on IT satisfaction elsewhere in the business.

A help desk acting as the face of IT could be especially true in midsize companies. At small businesses, the IT "department" is most often just one or two people--if any--so reputation really becomes a question of whether the rest of the company likes the IT guy. But as midmarket firms approach 1,000 or more employees, the service desk tends to become depersonalized and involve larger technical support teams.

"I see this more of a challenge as the organization gets larger, to a point," Dar said, noting that there comes a point when businesses shift from IT generalist to a larger staff with specific roles. At that point, they're more likely to rely on tools such as self-service portals and other help desk automation to ensure efficiency--or otherwise they risk user dissatisfaction. "As the organization grows, those functions and that interface become more critical to the end users."

As the volume of corporate data continues to grow, IT pros keep investing in new storage usage technologies. Compression still ranks No. 1, according to InformationWeek Analytics' 2010 Data Deduplication Survey, though respondents rely increasingly on dedupe, as well as thin provisioning and MAID. Download it here (registration required).

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