“Help, I need somebody!” That refrain from one of the songs that powered the Beatles to long-ago pop music success is the perpetual lament of anyone who’s ever run into a brick wall at work with computer or hardware, WiFi access, or a host of other potentially challenging activities. For years, the IT support help desk has been the answer.
But from its inception as a concept, the help desk has too often embodied the “Can’t get no satisfaction” lament of the Rolling Stones, with business leaders complaining that the support team costs too much, doesn’t work well and takes too long.
To be sure, IT support has evolved. Better technology, like CRM and ticketing systems, have helped IT teams. Customer or users data can also be integrated more easily with the help of APIs between applications. Likewise, individual organizations have frequently evolved better ways to route support requests. Businesses often separate out their support functions into tiers, with the first tier perhaps outsourced, and more knowledgeable IT employees solving more complicated issues in Tier 3 or 4.
Cloud, SaaS and increasing levels of virtualization have been part of the changing support team and help desk, as evidenced by the widespread adoption of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to tie together disparate call centers (or individuals) in a more effective system. IT teams are much more likely now to have remote offices or locations under their purview, which adds another layer of complexity to user support. Additionally, those remote locations may themselves be connected to the cloud or using SaaS apps, removing even more visibility for support teams.
In this world of ever-more-complex products and systems needing support, the help desk has just about kept up, usually at a significant financial cost to the sponsoring organization.
The Help Desk of the Future
But a future beckons that is different and better. It’s a world where help desks, and systems management as well as big data analytics, diagnostics, and even artificial intelligence unite to anticipate problems, prevent problems—and to solve problems (quickly) when preventatives fail. This is not a matter of simply strengthening a help desk system viewed as a back-end function. It means integrating systems and enhancing metrics—reaching out and touching the user long before they know they need help.
For instance, subpar user experience (ranging from issues like the total time it takes to complete a task to slow graphic refreshes or functions that time out unexpectedly), often an entry way to needing IT help, needs to be understood and improved (ideally with continuous monitoring). Insights from the user experience front could, for example, be the cue to adding server instances quickly to avoid slowdowns, or pushing a service provider to better meet SLA guarantees. And, that same user experience monitoring could mean providing advanced warning to help desk personnel—and the support systems on which they depend—that specific kinds of problems may be on the verge of manifesting themselves.
Building Technology for the Future Help Desk
What else will we see in future support centers and help desks? Here are a few possibilities.
- Self-service that is easier to use and far more capable. AI and predictive analytics will already “know” what you need and advanced UIs will make it easier to take action.
- What will that UI be like? It’s likely to incorporate voice recognition technology and some degree of interaction with a smartbot. Think of something like Siri or Alexa handling most of this and engaging humans only for the more intractable issues.
- Some other aspects of the help desk that are likely to emerge are: automatic tracking and logging of all sessions, automatic identification of users, and the ability to extract “conclusions” from interactions. For instance, if half-a-dozen users have the same kind of problem with a newly implemented system, automated help systems will be able to ID root causes and suggest or even implement changes to prevent recurrences.
- The help desk function will likely be less bureaucratic and more entrepreneurial, as well as less centralized and more localized.
- In tech organizations, the help desk will become less of a silo and more an element in ongoing enhancement of IT functions. Ideally, a support team will have experts from several departments creating a feedback loop that is part of problem identification and remediation.
In essence, the future help desk is a matter of more advanced technology finally leaping ahead to solve a real problem in a more unified way, much as years of improvements under the hood changed driving for the better
Consider how we no longer think much about spark timing and engine vacuum—technical factors that early drivers had to monitor by instrument and by feel. When they failed to monitor those things successfully, they ended up needing the “help desk” in the form of a tow truck. Modern cars monitor all of those things continuously and solve the underlying operational problems so that we don’t have to. The future of the help desk will be much the same: ubiquitous, invisible and empowering.