What is an IT Service Desk? Definition, Benefits, and Implementation

Addressing the IT needs of employees, customers, and business partners quickly and successfully boosts everything from productivity to customer satisfaction. A service desk acts as an organization’s single point of contact (SPOC) for assisting these parties, and others, with IT requests and incidents. While many businesses can benefit from a service desk, implementing one that can efficiently address issues for all these parties, provide the reporting capabilities needed for continuous improvement, and build out a regularly-updated knowledge base is easier said than done.

This is a comprehensive guide to how service desks work, their many advantages, and the best way to realize those benefits at your company.

What is an IT Service Desk?

A service desk is a SPOC for managing all of an organization's IT requests and incidents. As the entity responsible for meeting the IT needs of everyone involved with the organization, it’s one of the core components of any IT service management (ITSM) strategy.

Service desks originally evolved from the concept of help desks, which have a more limited focus on ad hoc incident management. Service desks now typically incorporate an ITIL-aligned approach. ITIL is a collection of best practices for IT services, and ITIL service desks are the best way to meet the needs of end users in today’s ever-changing IT environment.

The mission of a service desk goes far beyond providing IT support reactively. It must be equipped to resolve issues that involve disciplines across the ITSM spectrum, including incident resolution, service request management, and change management. Service desks must then integrate with other IT departments in the organization to address the wide variety of issues that they are responsible for resolving. In some instances, service desks should be integrated with non-IT staff and processes as well, such as vendor, customer, or employee onboarding.

Another core responsibility of a service desk is creating and maintaining a knowledge base of relevant information on IT issues they have encountered or may deal with in the future. This essentially serves as a wiki that the internal and external users can access for resolving issues. It also provides an incredibly useful reference for service desk personnel themselves. This knowledge base can take many forms, but consider using a dedicated tool for the task, like Confluence.

Service desks should ensure an excellent user experience from start to finish. They must make contact as simple for users as possible, which means accepting requests by telephone, email, chat, and using other online channels. The less time a user spends on an IT issue, the better, so service desks should attempt to resolve issues on first contact. If they cannot, they should then promptly move to obtain the necessary IT resources and ensure that users remain informed about the status of their requests.

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Benefits of an IT Service Desk

A service desk can transform the IT landscape of an organization, saving untold hours in lost productivity, improving customer satisfaction, and building trust and positive relationships with key business partners.

Better Results

Using a service desk leads to improved business results across the board. With timely resolution of issues, users can get back to work more quickly and stay productive. And other IT personnel can focus on their core responsibilities and key strategic objectives rather than assisting the rest of the organization with daily IT issues. The productivity saved and bandwidth freed by a service desk leads to reduced operational costs and improved organizational performance.

Enhanced Communication

There are few things more frustrating than being interrupted while working due to IT issues. One of them is not knowing what is being done to resolve the problem. Without a service desk that incorporates an online portal, there’s no resource your users can turn to for regular updates. And they won’t be able to easily provide additional information on the incident to those trying to resolve it either.


Service desks are best equipped to report on key metrics such as abandon rate and response time. You need to understand the needs of your end users and how you can better meet them. With the reporting capabilities of a service desk, an organization can analyze the relevant data to guide them as they adapt to new business realities. It also helps identify likely issues ahead of time so you can prevent or better prepare for dealing with them.

Improved User Experience

The best service desks can meet the needs of any audience while handling unexpected fluctuations in request volume. Every organization wants happier employees and customers, and the quality support provided by a service desk increases end user satisfaction dramatically. The ability to track the status of tickets and communicate with the service desk at any time also keeps users satisfied while facilitating the quick resolution of issues.

Differences Between IT Service Desks, Help Desks, and ITSM

As discussed above, service desks are closely related to both help desks and ITSM. By exploring how service desks relate to these concepts, you can better understand its role in the IT ecosystem and its ideal fit in your organization.

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IT Service Desks vs. Help Desks

The meaning of the terms “help desk” and “service desk” varies from organization to organization, and what you call your own IT desk doesn’t matter. However, the functions of a service desk — as defined by ITIL — and a traditional help desk vary significantly.

Help desks serve as an IT resource for helping end users with incidents and requests, like service desks. But instead of acting as a SPOC for all IT needs, the purpose of a help desk is more discrete and focused on only one aspect of ITSM: incident management. This involves the resolution of unplanned IT problems that arise; for example, printer issues or network connectivity disruptions. As a result of their narrow purview, help desks are generally intended to assist only internal users or, potentially, the organization’s customers.

These differences have major implications for how help desks and service desks are implemented in an organization. Service desks must be integrated with other IT processes and resources, while a help desk stands alone — for better or worse. Help desks are then simpler to set up, but cannot fulfill the mission of a service desk: to continually maintain and improve the IT resources and processes of an organization.

Which should you choose?

Service desks and help desks fill distinct roles, so which option is best depends entirely upon your organization’s needs. If your organization has limited IT needs — for instance, resolving several common, relatively simple issues raised internally or by customers — a help desk may suit your requirements. If your company instead has to handle a diverse set of issues from an equally diverse audience, and if the volume of requests and issues is unpredictable, then the more robust, integrated capabilities of a service desk are necessary.

IT Service Desks vs. ITSM

ITSM is a catch-all term for how an organization delivers and manages IT-related services. It involves many distinct disciplines by necessity, including knowledge management, asset management, and change management. As noted above, service desks are a key part of ITSM, as they are responsible for coordinating IT services between end users and all IT departments in an organization.

How to Set Up a Service Desk That Works

While a service desk should be tailored to meet your organization’s unique needs, there are some core components any ITIL service desk should incorporate. Make sure your service desk includes the following features:

  • Evolving knowledge base: As noted above, a service desk needs to codify its broad range of experience in a transparent knowledge base. This ensures that it can address any type of IT request quickly and allows users to access the knowledge base themselves for assistance.
  • Availability around the clock: A service desk should be available at any time to meet the needs of a 24/7 work environment. Critical incidents like service outages may arise at any time, and a service desk has to be on standby to respond immediately.
  • Comprehensive reporting: Service desks should collect important information about every issue that comes their way, such as the end result of a request or how long resolving a certain type of issue takes on average. Analyzing this data is the only way to achieve continuous improvement and deliver more efficient results.
  • Integration with other ITSM processes: Service desks must be prepared to integrate with almost any kind of IT service management process. This means that they must have the capability to evolve along with the organization’s IT needs and work with even rarely needed IT staff or processes.
  • Online service portal: Service desks should use online service portals to facilitate easy communication between users and service desk personnel. During the process of acknowledging, analyzing and resolving a ticket, users can log into the system to provide information and track progress, while service desk personnel can monitor and update the status of all ongoing issues using an intuitive dashboard.

Take Advantage of an IT Service Desk Without Breaking the Bank

The features described above are key for any service desk, but creating a service desk with those capabilities is beyond the resources of many organizations. Thankfully, affordable outsourced service desks are available to fill the gap. Outsourced service desks that are designed around the principles of ITIL are able to provide these important capabilities at a fraction of the cost of setting up an equally well-equipped in-house service desk.

An outsourced service desk offers a variety of other benefits as well:

  • Identify recurring patterns. An outsourced service desk has a pre-existing, robust knowledge base. Thanks to the wide varieties of problems it encounters, it’s likely to be far more comprehensive than that of even the best in-house service desk. This allows an outsourced desk to easily identify common issues and even direct users to the knowledge base for self-service solutions to recurring issues.
  • Avoid miscommunication during service outages. Service outages are inevitable, but breakdowns in communication aren’t. An outsourced service desk is always available to inform your users of unexpected issues and then work to resolve them around the clock.

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  • Make incident resolution processes efficient and reliable. The best outsourced service desks immediately assign a request or incident to a specific agent who is responsible for regularly updating the ticket status to keep the user informed. In addition, if resolution time approaches that set in the service level agreement, escalation rules within the incident management system will notify the relevant parties to take further action to resolve the issue.
  • Take advantage of transparent user data. Outsourced service desks can use integrated CRM and ITSM systems to gain critical insight into user data, such as the type of device a user has, its service history, or the type of software it’s running. This information is key for efficiently resolving issues, and less sophisticated service desks have to spend valuable time obtaining this information.
  • Guarantee superior service. In-house service desks are there to stay, so they aren’t exposed to the competition an outsourced service desk faces. Outsourced service desks are motivated to justify your investment each day, because they know that if you aren’t satisfied, you can easily look elsewhere. They’ll do everything they can do to deliver great results, up to and including implementing a formal quality assurance program.

For a service desk that delivers all these benefits and more, look no further than Contegix. Contegix’s service desk can address any type of IT-related need and is available 24/7, 365. Take the word of companies like Chobani, Welch’s, and Knoll — outsource your service desk to Contegix, and you’ll love the results.

Contact Contegix to learn more.