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IT Service Desk - Definition, Benefits & History

In this guide you will find all the important information about IT service desks: definition, functions, selection criteria and the advantages for your company.

What is an IT Service Desk?

The IT Service Desk is the single point of contact (SPOC for short) between a service provider (IT) and its users.

IT service definition: which activities are carried out by a service desk?

  • Incidents (service interruptions)
  • Service requests (routine tasks in connection with the service)
  • the user communication for topics such as failures and planned changes to services

An IT helpdesk covers a wide range of tasks and is designed in such a way that it can act as the user's sole point of contact for all of their IT requirements. The service desk thus plays a central role in the integration of business processes with the technology ecosystem and the broader service management infrastructure.

We have put together everything you need to know about the IT service desk for you here. Find out more here:

What activities is an IT service desk responsible for?

An IT service desk is responsible for:

  • Monitoring / assuming responsibility for incidents
  • Processing of user (to) inquire
  • Providing a communication channel between other ITSM functions and users

In addition to these core functions, the service desk often plays an active role in recording change requests, maintaining support contracts with third-party providers, managing software licenses and providing support with problem management.

In some organizations, the IT service desk is also integrated into other business processes, such as B. Employee onboarding, acquisition integration, data access management, provider / partner onboarding and offboarding, infrastructure / service monitoring and more.

You can find more information about the functions of the Freshservice IT Service Desk here.

What are the advantages of an IT service desk?

Cost savings and scalability

A well-staffed and well-managed service desk can take over a large part of the routine IT work. The IT Service Desk is a cost-effective way for companies to take over simple work from expensive engineering teams and subject matter experts so that they can focus on activities that are of greater value to the company.

One finger on the pulse of user opinion

The service desk is the starting point for many important processes and services for IT and therefore often the primary interface between users, business processes and the IT services that support them. Monitoring this interaction provides valuable insights into user satisfaction and their opinion of services and functions, as well as requirements that have not yet been met.

Early warning of possible problems

Due to the large number of inquiries processed by the service desk, the company can use the IT service desk as a monitoring tool with the right data to evaluate patterns and trends. The “early warning system” provided by the service desk can enable proactive problem management, preventive maintenance and changes to mitigate the effects of failures for the user.

The story of; IT Helpdesks - What is a Helpdesk?

At the end of the 1980s, the IT help desk function was launched to provide support in solving IT problems. The focus was on the technology, not the end users. Early IT help desks were unfamiliar with the concept of SLAs or time-based targets for solving problems. It was only when ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) came onto the market in the 1990s and defined standards for IT service management that the concept of the user-centered ITIL service desk emerged. IT help desks have since been seen as an integral part of the “IT as a service” concept.

In the mid-1990s, Robert Gordon University's Iain Middleton discovered that the value of IT service desks was not just a reactive response to user problems, but their unique position as a point of contact for daily communication with numerous customers or employees. Information about technical problems, user preferences, and user satisfaction from technical support staff can be valuable for planning and developing IT services.

With the release of ITIL v2 in 2001, the service desk function and its role in incident and request management became one of the core components of IT service operations in many companies. As the decade progressed, globalization and increasing pressure to reduce IT operating costs led many companies to centralize their IT service desk functions and move them to third-party vendors. The outsourcing of IT service desk functions led to further standardization of processes and a growth in the market for help desk ticketing software.

Modern technology trends such as cloud services, the widespread use of third-party components in the IT ecosystem, and advances in detection and monitoring have led to the integration of stand-alone help desk ticketing systems into more comprehensive ITSM platforms. These not only serve the IT service desk, but the entire IT functionality as a hub. In the course of the further modernization and pursuit of initiatives for digital transformation, the IT service desk continues to develop to a stronger focus on the core business with a higher awareness of business processes and data. In many cases, it even becomes an integral part of corporate operations.

IT Service Desk vs. IT Helpdesk vs. Call Center: What are the Differences?

Companies often use the terms “call center”, “help desk” and “service desk” interchangeably, which can lead to confusion. ITIL sees call centers and help desks as limited types of service desks that provide only a fraction of what a service desk covers.

There is a lot of overlap between the definitions of help desks, call centers and IT service desks. The distinction between them is based primarily on the scope of the function and its structure:

Call center: definition & demarcation
  • A call center is a central point of contact for managing customer contacts and interactions in the technical and non-technical areas.
  • Call centers do not interact personally with the inquirer, but typically by telephone.
  • Examples: Outbound call centers are used for areas such as telemarketing, debt collection and market research. Inbound call centers are often used for product support, customer service, order processing and 24/7 telephony.
Helpdesk: definition & demarcation
  • A help desk is a point of contact that provides customers or internal users with information and support relating to a company's processes, products and services.
  • Helpdesks do not have to be IT-oriented and can be used throughout the company in the event of deviations from normal operations.
  • Help desk support can be provided through a variety of channels such as physical locations, toll-free numbers, websites, instant messages, or email.
  • Examples: technical support centers, product support / warranty functions, desks for employee benefits and service centers for facility management.
IT service desk: definition & demarcation
  • Service desks not only concentrate on supporting IT services, but also take on reactive "help" services as well as routine tasks such as resource provision, access management, etc.

  • IT service desks can be physical locations that are personally visited by users. But they can also be remote operations, such as a call center.

Service Desk Examples - Why Use Service Desks?

Companies have operated IT service desks for many years. A number of service desk examples have been developed from the experience gained. How do you design customer service based on best practices?

Customer engagement
  • Use SLAs and classifications to prioritize requests.
  • Solve problems during the first interaction and avoid handovers, escalations etc.
  • Provide a Self Service Portal that is accessible 24 hours a day.
  • Understand your customers' needs thanks to regular satisfaction surveys.
Service desk management and reporting
  • Use real-time reports and dashboards to correct operations if necessary.
  • Formulate escalation and transfer processes in a clear and understandable way.
  • Reduce the time and effort involved in creating reports with the analytics capabilities.
  • Educate the management about the to-dos and challenges of your agents.
  • Treat service desk workers as professional communicators and problem solvers.
Use of technology to support the IT service desk
  • Implement workflow functions for the organization of escalations and handovers.
  • Provide automation capabilities for common user requests.
  • Use the service desk software for easier communication between agents and inquirers.
  • Integrate your service desk system with the broader ITSM to give agents better access to information about the IT environment.
Knowledge management
  • Implement a knowledge base that can be accessed by many people.
  • Provide answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) directly to end users.
  • Keep your knowledge records up-to-date and accurate through regular reviews.

Service desk software that supports your IT

An effective IT service desk requires a solid technological base for the tools and information agents need to effectively meet the needs of enquirers.

Help desk ticketing

The help desk ticketing system serves as the central transaction platform for the IT service desk. There, both incidents and service inquiries are processed by the entire service desk and all extended support teams. The essential functions of the ticketing system include:

  • Workflow management
  • Notifications / escalations
  • Automated routing
  • Contract / SLA management
Knowledge management

Knowledge is the service desk's most valuable resource. In order to maximize the operational performance, he needs information about the available knowledge in the best possible quality. A knowledge management system is critical to ensure that organizational knowledge is made available to those who need it. The essential functions of a knowledge management system include:

  • Knowledge database (KMDB)
  • Knowledge management workflows to support a knowledge lifecycle
  • Database for Known Issues / Known Errors (KEDB)
  • Separate views of the knowledge data for agents and end users
  • Suggestive keyword search based on the incident description
Self-help for end users

Many problems can be solved by users with the right tools and information. Self service support enables users to resolve their problems faster without having to wait for an agent. This relieves the team in the IT service desk and the company saves additional team capacity. Some of the most common self-help features include:

  • Knowledge search
  • Self-service diagnosis
  • Automated common processes
  • Service request forms
Management & reporting

Management and reporting functions are critical within the IT service desk. Executives try to optimize operating costs, identify business-relevant problems preventively, manage user satisfaction and ensure compliance with SLAs.

Thanks to the right software, service desk managers get a holistic picture of their processes and data. So they can make informed decisions. Some of the most important management and reporting functions are:

  • Manage major incidents
  • Service performance and availability dashboards
  • Agent / call management metrics reports
  • SLA compliance reports
  • Analysis of known problems

Service desk integration with other ITSM functions

The IT service desk works as part of the larger service management operation of your IT function. While he can work independently, combining the IT service desk software with other parts of the company's ITSM system increases performance and value. The interaction with:

Configuration Management Database (CMDB)

Enables agents to access the complex network of technical dependencies and information on component configuration in order to better assess the effects of incidents.

Change management

Many technological problems are caused by planned changes. With access to the change management system, agents can react more quickly to change-related incidents.


Service and infrastructure monitoring offers a real-time overview of the state of the IT environment and warns if something is not going according to plan. By integrating monitoring functions into the service desk system, many incidents can also be identified without notification.

Problem management

The best way to address incidents is to avoid them. The integration with problem management functions not only helps service desk agents understand which known problems are already being worked on, but also enables them to focus on the problems that cause the most incidents.

Asset management

IT service desk interactions with users are an ideal time to review and update asset management information. Giving agents the ability to view and update asset management data can be an effective way to improve the quality of this important ITSM data set.

IT Service Desks - Summary

The IT service desk is an essential part of the ITSM function of modern companies. Technology is an integral part of business processes and shapes the user experience. It is therefore essential that the technology services work well and are accessible to users. The user-centered IT service desk unites

  • User orientation,
  • carefully organized workflows,
  • extensive organizational knowledge and
  • Connections to the rest of the IT organization.

This makes it the crucial link between users and the IT organization.

Every company is unique. Therefore, your service desk and the tools you use should be tailored to your business needs. Freshdesk is your partner in finding and coordinating a solution for your company. It does not matter whether your company is more technology-oriented or has a broader approach. Find out today how Freshdesk can help your business thrive with bespoke solutions!

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