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It's 2021: Your Help Desk Needs Help

Workers are demanding a frictionless, consumer-grade experience. Automation is here to deliver that.


The heroes of the pandemic—the IT help-desk teams that shipped laptops and secured networks for remote workers—are under siege. 

Monthly tickets from workers requesting help from IT service management (ITSM) teams shot up 35% from pre-pandemic levels, according to a survey of 400 global companies from ITSM optimization firm DeepCoding. A Tanium survey found that 31% of help desks are being overwhelmed by employees needing assistance.

All these remote workers clamoring for help with complex connectivity and software issues have led to a 30% increase in the cost per service ticket, which has spiked from an average of $20.44 to $26.51 since the pandemic began in 2020.

Unfortunately, harried workers aren’t getting what they need: Employee job satisfaction and customer satisfaction with help desks has fallen by nearly 10 percentage points since the pandemic began, according to the DeepCoding survey.

Tanium’s Cyber Hygiene Assessment: An actionable path to better endpoint management and security

Today’s chaotic and spread-out work environment means that IT help desks often lack accurate contextual data about endpoints on the network—whether they’re a worker’s laptop, tablet, or virtual machine in the cloud. Faced with employee complaints about glitchy software or problems with logging into the corporate network, ITSM professionals are often left fumbling in the dark and slow to respond.

Remote life on the edge of the network

Working from home is certainly convenient, but it also opens organizations to myriad new cybersecurity risks, says Rick Holland, chief information security officer at security software provider Digital Shadows.

“Our attack surface has increased,” Holland says. “Most organizations have more unmanaged devices like phones and tablets accessing corporate resources than ever before.” And the issue isn’t going away any time soon: 82% of business leaders say they plan to enable greater remote work even after the pandemic.

Home networks, by definition, lack the same security controls as companies deploy for those working in an office. Home-based employee web browsing often isn’t inspected, for example, if it flows outside a virtual private network. Endpoint-based security controls become even more critical in the absence of on-premises network security.

Add to this basic security challenge the rising pressure of employee expectations about customer service and support amid the “consumerization of IT.” In the past, workers were mostly fine with phone, email, or website help. But, today, their expectations for customer service have risen, and they now expect help through collaboration platforms, AI-powered bots, and virtual agents. Nearly a third of organizations are already using either virtual agents or AI bots, most frequently for customer service and security compliance, according to a survey from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).

Legacy ITSM tools do little to streamline help-desk interactions with employees.

Legacy ITSM tools do little to streamline help-desk interactions between employees and IT. When an employee submits a ticket, the help desk has almost no visibility into, or context about, the state of the device in question. Even basic support and common resolutions, such as patching the operating system, killing a process, or rebooting a machine, require a time-consuming remote session.

IT employees need greater visibility and control, while line employees need instant access to help, with minimal disruption. The mismatch has never been greater.

Tools that tame the chaos

Many of the tools IT teams use to provide help-desk support are connected via brittle integrations that are expensive to maintain. That lowers their resilience. IT teams must switch from tool to tool and align service-ticket requests to specific devices and products, leading to slower response times and additional work for already overburdened teams.

[Read also: Why real-time data is essential for IT help desk effectiveness]

Organizations lack easy ways to proactively identify and remediate issues across the enterprise. Data in ITSM systems are often inconsistent and inaccurate. It’s hard for ITSM teams to know which applications an endpoint is running, if the operating system is up-to-date, if software has been patched—or, worse, if malware is running in the background. Without this information, IT organizations are flying blind and putting the business at risk.

Overworked and lacking visibility, ITSM leaders require a new way to sense and respond. And companies need visibility and control to empower the IT help desk as they make better, faster decisions.

Companies need visibility and control to empower the IT help desk as they make better, faster decisions.

One option for easing the burden involves automated ITSM software. These platforms no longer feature simple ticket systems for incidents and requests. Robust applications automatically handle routine IT service requests as well as HR, field services, and facility and workflow management. They simplify the complex. More than half of all enterprise and mid-market organizations are well on their way to implementing these kinds of systems, according to a late 2020 survey by the Enterprise Research Group.

Automated ITSM software can improve employee engagement and retention, boost efficiency, and improve customer satisfaction. According to research from EMA, half of respondents saw these tools as “transformational,” frequently lowering costs and downtime, improving problem resolution and unplanned work, and boosting employee and customer satisfaction. 

A new ITSM vision for the new normal

Work is unlikely to return to a pre-pandemic baseline in the near future. Many companies expect remote work to continue indefinitely to some degree—even after the pandemic has ended. 

To handle the load, ITSM teams will require modern tools to manage digital assets and ensure that employee devices are secure, patched, updated, and compliant. They will need to proactively remediate incidents and detect and resolve problems in real time. 

For sure, automation can be a big part of the new normal. But for the time being, IT operations leaders should take the following steps:

  • Make the endpoint the center of the IT universe.
  • Perform initial triage, diagnosis, containment, and remediation automatically.
  • Reduce the number of steps employees need to take to resolve an issue. 
  • Set an alert and proactively fix it before a ticket is ever entered. 
  • Make accurate data a requirement in an ITSM solution—not an afterthought.

Service teams need to be more flexible and agile in their approach. Organizations need to rethink how they rise to the challenges of greater visibility and control that IT help desks and employees require. As security risks proliferate, given the increase in remote work, the imperative for change has only multiplied.

Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray is the Editor-in-Chief of Endpoint. He is an award-winning journalist who has traveled the world covering business and technology. His work has appeared in Wired UK, The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He is a former business news producer at CNN and the former executive editor of Popular Science.

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