As employees' personal devices and third-party cloud services replace or add to the existing fixed PC infrastructure in companies, the IT helpdesk can either be rendered obsolete or get revamped to offer prompt and advanced-level assistance, especially since new unforeseen IT issues can arise in such varied environments.
How people interact with IT at work on a daily basis has changed from the past, considering the popularity and pervasiveness of consumer-centric online services, and the mobile Web and devices, said Leow Siew Kiat, head of IT at EZ-Link.
If the IT helpdesk is to have any usefulness, it must be attuned to the latest technologies and also understand how end-users utilize IT, because these ultimately influence what IT assistance end-users seek, and how they want to receive it.
People increasingly turn to the Web and social media for instant IT advice, given how a demanding business climate means they have "very little time to wait for support elements such as the helpdesk to respond before they go and find their own solution", he explained.
The result is users are now accustomed to the idea of self-service in IT and generally do not approach the IT helpdesk, at least not at the beginning until the problem escalates, he noted. Also, with increased awareness of cloud services targeted for enterprises, some business units or departments have become more confident in engaging vendors without asking for IT's help.
As such, any IT helpdesk that still provides only entry level type of support with a slow response rate "has no place" in today's corporate environments, Leow stated.
This is a call to refresh, rather than remove, the role of the IT helpdesk, he emphasized. It requires a "change in mentality of the helpdesk folks, from one that represents the technology to one that represents the users". A relevant IT helpdesk is one with an overall "good sense" of what the company's business objectives and priorities are, he added.
Users are now accustomed to the idea of self-service in IT and generally do not approach the IT helpdesk, at least not at the beginning until the problem escalates.
- Leow Siew Kiat, head of IT at EZ-Link
Leow explained that even if cloud services use is prevalent in a company, it is unlikely it will only use one service provider for every need. So it could be frustrating for users to have to engage different vendor support teams for different issues.
"The IT helpdesk can bridge the gap between external service providers and internal end-users. It can also play the role of quality checks, since it will be very much in touch with the daily operational issues encountered by staff and becomes a very good source of accurate aggregated user requirements," he said.
Yap Chee Yuen, head of innovation and technology at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), added that when a cloud service provider (CSP) takes over the associated duties from the IT helpdesk, the latter can be repositioned to manage performance and process quality of the CSPs to ensure optimal service delivery.
"It can also play the role of a safety net [that users turn to] when the cloud provider fails in responding to company-unique situations," he noted.
More devices, so more help needed
Edwin Poh, head of business process and IT at CapitaMalls Asia, said the IT helpdesk remains relevant precisely because there are literally more devices at the workplace. As more people use their personal gadgets for work purposes, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has pushed corporate security concerns into the spotlight.
"This is not [a situation] like in your own home where the user takes care of everything [since they're in charge]. Companies will clamp down with security measures, and from the end-user's point of view, they want someone or a number to call when they suddenly realize they cannot download something on their tablet for work," Poh pointed out.
Michael Barnes, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, agreed, saying the "explosion of device usage" among staff simply mean more access points, whether for new cloud-based applications or existing on-premises solutions.
Open-door policy and value-add
Barnes noted that IT helpdesks deliver "true value" to the company and users only if they are more responsive to user needs and expectations.
However, the quality and caliber of the assistance is as important as how promptly it is delivered. According to Frederic Giron, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, in the longer term, the IT helpdesk will focus more on delivering higher value-added services.
With the development of SaaS models, the role of IT support will move from just solving technical issues to ensuring end-users use the solutions properly to drive maximum overall business value for the company, he explained. "They will also be able to provide recommendations to information workers based on their profiles, tasks and responsibilities a function similar to the "Genius" we know in the Apple App Store today."
Poh concurred, adding that the IT helpdesk is increasingly becoming an integrated and holistic service, serving the staff end-users of an organization. So in the age of cloud and BYOD, for instance, the IT helpdesk becomes the center to direct and delegate assistance. "[It has] no wrong door policy, and will help regardless of application, hardware or software."