Things Are Looking Grim For Overworked Help Desks - InformationWeek

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1/28/2010
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Things Are Looking Grim For Overworked Help Desks

Many IT professionals are relieved that the worst of the recession appears to be over. Their help-desk colleagues, however, don't share their optimism.

Many IT professionals are relieved that the worst of the recession appears to be over. Their help-desk colleagues, however, don't share their optimism.The headline on a recent news story summarizes their feelings. It pronounces, "Help desks under siege," and it paints a grim picture of the conditions many IT support professionals continue to face: At California State University, Stanislaus, help desk lead James Koelewyn, along with a few part-time assistants, supports 10,000 users, comprising students, faculty and staff.

The university has a separate department for desktop support when problems escalate, but Koelewyn and his stitched-together staff act provide triage for all the incidents that come in over the phone, via e-mail and at the walk-up help desk located in the university's library.

"Right now, with the state of California budget cuts, the problem is keeping [positions]," says Koelewyn, whose pay was cut by 10% in 2009. "They keep cutting back; pretty soon I may be looking at being the only one manning the help desk," he says. That would make Mr. Koelewyn the sole support resource for 10,000 users. Yet he and his staff still accomplish the impossible -- one-hour response times to trouble tickets -- on a routine basis.

Quite a few companies decided that IT support looked like a great outsourcing opportunity. Today, many of them are saddled with contract support services that deliver low quality at a higher than expected cost.

Clearly, something has to give. According to one 2009 study, help desk professionals dealt with more problems on average, and those problems took longer to fix -- even though most of them weren't actually supporting more customers.

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Remote support technology could offer one way out of this dilemma. They can't address every support issue -- some problems will always require a hands-on support presence. Yet when it comes to the routine desktop support incidents that take up so much of a support professional's time, they can eliminate much of the time required for traditional on-site support.

Even the most effective remote support solution still requires an initial investment, both to pay for the service, and to get end-users and support staff up to speed. Judging from the grim stories many support professionals are recounting, it may be an uphill battle even to get IT executives to commit to a modest investment in help-desk tools.

It's an attitude that will eventually get them into deep trouble. Ultimately, employee productivity -- the engine that will drive an economic recovery -- often depends upon quality IT support. And if companies really expect those support professionals to keep doing more with less, they need to give them the tools to do the job.

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