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The decision to turn over an IT organization’s help desk function to a service provider has a long and varied history. It is one of the services that helped establish the contemporary IT outsourcing industry. Even so, our research shows that help desk outsourcing is not as common as one might think: Less than one-quarter of IT organizations currently rely on service providers to perform the help desk function, at any level of utilization.
As shown in Figure 2 from our full report, IT Help Desk Outsourcing Trends and Customer Experience, the number of companies outsourcing help desk work dropped significantly in 2016, and has never really recovered. Approximately 24% of organizations outsourced some help desk tasks in 2018, compared to 23% in 2016.—essentially the trend is flat since 2015.
In this report, we define IT help desk outsourcing as contracting with a service provider to provide support for users of an organization’s IT systems. We do not include help desk operations that provide support to external customers for the company’s products or services. For example, the customer service group for a software vendor or a telecommunications provider would not be included in our definition of the IT help desk function. Throughout the full report, the term “help desk” refers only to the IT help desk.
In the full report we find that not many companies outsourcing the help desk function are pleased about the level of service they receive. Many organizations, in fact, have adopted a strategy of keeping all help desk functions in-house to ensure the quality of end-user support. In the best-run IT organizations, the help desk is the primary day-to-day point of contact between users and the IT organization. The help desk also can perform related functions such as asset management, training, tracking user satisfaction, and system monitoring. These activities are more difficult for the help desk to perform when the function is outsourced.
Furthermore, a well-run IT help desk serves as the face for the IT organization, as this is the only point of contact many end users regularly have with IT. The help desk also serves as the first role for many IT professionals. It can give them valuable insight into the organization as a whole, how to work with end users, and much-needed experience. Without the help desk, some companies miss a valuable source for young IT talent.
“The help desk is a people-intensive operation, often comprising 10% or more of the typical IT staff,” said David Wagner, vice president for research at Computer Economics, an IT research firm based in Irvine, Calif., “Outsourcing it takes a lot of planning, but if done right some companies can benefit from reducing costs and improving scale and flexibility.”
IT executives should consider their help desk strategies in light of current trends. The full study measures help desk outsourcing activity through outsourcing frequency, level, volatility, net growth trend, cost experience, and service experience. It also compares help desk outsourcing frequency and level by organization size and sector. We conclude with some key questions to consider.