ITIL® Study Guide: Introduction to the Service Desk

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These days, you don't find a service provider or a product company that does not have a call center.

Call centers have become an integral part of the system, and one cannot imagine living without them. The need for such a call center is to provide a contact line from the company, or as it's called in IT terms, a single point of contact (SPOC).

In Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) framework, the first point of contact or the SPOC is called as the service desk.


Difference Between a Service Desk, a Call Center and a Help Desk

Service desk is similar to a call center but differs in the way it functions. You can say that a call center is the interface between a customer and a company representative. And, calls made by the customer land in a call center and a call center employee's communication does not go beyond customers and vice versa. Call centers only exchange information and do not indulge in resolving technical issues.

In a service desk, a service desk agent communicates with the user/customer (as in a call center) and alongside, they interact between the technical people who resolve issues, third party service providers, and other departments within the company. So, their interactions are multi-dimensional and apart from the communication, there are other responsibilities that are bound to the service desk function which I am going to discuss in the reminder of this article.

In between a call center and a service desk, you have another entity called as a help desk which is not a part of ITIL®. A help desk is a call center which is capable of resolving technical issues. They do not liaise with any other resolver groups, third party service providers and other departments.


Responsibilities of a Service Desk

Being a single and first point of contact with customers/users, resolver groups, third party service providers and other departments, is not the only responsibility of the service desk, although it is their primary role.

The service desk is responsible for taking ownership of issues that are reported by users, and track the issue until closure. At different stages of issue resolution, they have to communicate with the users and other stakeholders apprising them of the resolution status.


The Service Desk Environment

ITIL® governance is followed primarily in the service industry. A service industry can be defined as any organization which performs certain tasks for a client, and mainly the work revolves around maintaining IT infrastructure, applications and other business processes.

Service desk is best suited for service organizations, although non-service organizations can easily customize the concept to suit their needs.


Different Types of Service Desks

A service desk can be implemented in a number of ways. Each type of service desk has its own set of pros and cons and has a different price tag attached to it. An organization needs to be prudent in choosing the one that's most appropriate for them.

To explain the different types of service desks, I'm going to consider an example of an organization which is located in eight locations around the globe. Two of their offices are in Australia, one in India, one in the UK and two in the US.

1. The Local Service Desk


If the organization decides to set up a service desk in each of the eight locations, they would be setting up a local service desk. Calls from the Indian location would land in the India service desk, UK calls in the UK service desk, and so on. You get the idea, right?

Pros: Being a local service desk, lingua franca can be the mode of communication. Users and the service desk personnel can relate to each other which can lead to a better understanding of the issues on hand, followed by quick resolutions. Customer satisfaction will boom as well.

Cons: Local service desks are expensive. The organization will have to set up eight service desks around the globe, which includes personnel, infrastructure and management around it.

2. The Centralized Service Desk


As the name suggests, the service desk is located centrally and all company locations dial into the centralized service desk. And, it is up to the company to decide on the extent of centralizing it.

For example, they may decide to have a centralized service desk for the US located in one of the locations and another covering UK and India. At the end of the day, it is the company's decision and they will need to think over cost implications mainly, along with availability of personnel, office space, etc.

Pros: Centralized service desks ring several bells, the most important being costs. Cost savings are immense and companies can leverage on technologies like VoIP to further reduce the calling costs from far locations.

Cons: As the saying goes, further the distance, farther the heart; the personal touch imparted by a local service desk is an obvious miss. Also, any breakdown in the calling infrastructure or issues with telecom service providers will hamper the purpose it is set to serve.

3. The "Follow the Sun" Service Desk


follow_the_sunFollow the Sun is a support model which works best for service desks that work around the clock, i.e 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

The organization which we are using in our example has offices spread worldwide and the Follow the Sun support model works wonderfully well for it. We can strategically place service desks in the US, Australia and India to provide 24X7 support to all locations.

The concept works something like this: During the US day time, service desk in the US is operational, and all calls from each of the eight locations land in the US service desk. As the sun moves away from the US and towards Australia, the service desk function is picked up by the Aussie counterparts and all the calls land in Australia, and the same process follows when the sun moves towards India. Hence, the name Follow the Sun.

The Follow the Sun service desk works best for larger organizations with bases spread across the globe, similar to our example.

Pros: Resiliency is the biggest advantage in such a model. If any of the service desks are down, the company will have at its disposal other service desks that can take over, and hence eliminate single point of failure. In some countries, staffers will need to be paid extra if they are to work beyond a certain time in the evening; this model eliminates this burden.

Cons: It may not be as cost effective, because you would need a dedicated management to keep a finger on the service desk's pulse. Coordination will be the biggest challenge and you would need able managers to run the show ably, and as you would expect, good managers come at a cost, usually inflated.


Service Desk Makes a Difference

Many companies feel that the service desk is an overhead and hence optional. But, what they fail to understand is that the service desk integrates different departments of the company, and can help a smooth passage of communication if used strategically.

A company without a service desk is like a football team that zips its mouth throughout the game.

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Abhinav Kaiser

Abhinav Kaiser is a veteran in service and in project managements. He advises businesses, organizations and enterprises on how to build service management framework and deliver value. He is currently penning a book on communication in organizations, specifically aimed at IT departments. He holds PMP, ITIL© V3 Expert and Cobit 5.0 certifications and is an accredited ITIL© trainer.