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back to article Does the Help Desk have a future?

With the rapid development of service desk ‘self help’ tools and the even faster adoption of ‘community’ web sites by many users to help them work things out is the help desk on the slippery slope to becoming a thing of the past? If desktop virtualisation takes off does that mean the end of the help desk as we know it? Or are …

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Way forward ?

From my recent experiences help desks are becoming useless anyway. Its almost impossible to find someone who actually knows whats happening via the helpdesk. i.e. Asking Tiscali why the company internet was down while they insisted the internet connection wouldnt be supplied for 2 weeks. A quick reboot of the router sorted it out. Tiscali still insist they arent providing the internet, although they charge for it. Helpdesks I've built and operated always work on the basis of trying to solve a customers problems. It seems to be financial pressures and outsourcing that turn it into an accountability exercise. If businesses could actually see that it could be used to look for trend problems and even which software people needed to use then it would have a future.

As far as I can make out IT is going backwards rather than forwards. A lot of users know enough work arounds for their normal problems that they dont need to the helpdesks.

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The no helpdesk

While there are stupid users, we'll need a helpdesk!

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Still a need

The help desk will be needed as long as that vulnerable component between the keyboard and the chair is part of the system.

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Until they're replaced by computers

Let's face it: all you need is an AI with a little bit of speech recog for people who still insist on phoning. Most games have some AI built in, a lot of websites offer an avatar to visitors. It shouldn't be long until the knowledge base and intelligence are good enough to ask "have you tried rebooting".

The only question that will remain is who fixes the AI when it crashes.

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Grenade

There will always be a helldesk

As long as users refuse to learn the basics of computing.

Many users seem almost to take a perverse sort of pride in not knowing anything about computers.

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Stop

User help forums aren't the answer

If you need help, and can wait several hours, or days even, for help, a help forum is a good resource. But if your computer is down, and you need it back up RIGHT NOW, you don't have time to wait. You don't have time to hope that somebody out there knows what to do and is willing to tell you, you need to talk to somebody who can walk you through getting things straightened out, and you need it now.

Not only that, but if your computer can't reach the Internet, how are you going to use the help forums? No, we'll always need help desks, and getting rid of them is a false economy.

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Unhappy

Who is virtualizing desktops?

Honestly Desktop virtualization it is all in big corporations, the same that sent the helpdesk to India last year.

A medium business / SBS can not afford / do not need to have 4 or 5 servers and all the licenses, plus the maintenance. In most business workstations have been tailor made to employees who spend a minimum of one/two years in the company. So PC rebuilds do not happen that often anyway.

The desktop virtualization "could" be fine and dandy on a place like a call centre where you get plenty of clueless people abusing the computers, for that

At the end of the day a virtual desktop reload is like restarting the computer, so the restart will continue to be the "fix all the broken IT things" anyway.

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Please stop dreaming

Okay, either you belong to the minority which is condemned and isolated as "nerds" (ocationally, "geeks"), or you have been dreaming. Um, the users are more stupid at this moment than any other. In the past, only engineers used the computers, and they actually read what the hell is in the manual when they did. Heck, going to college was necessary for computer usage.

Nowadays? Nowadays, even the most ignorant person can use the computers. Well, that's normal. How about this: majority of people refuse to read the manual, refuse to study how the computer works, refuse to know what is running their computers. Then, there are a bunch who believe that there is a Nigerian man who passed away and left behind a huge sum of money that they can claim. Wait wait wait, that's not the end. There are yet another bunch (overlap with the previous ones) who believe that the computers are equivalent to either God(s) or miracle, and that they are so stupid that they cannot do anything about it.

It would surprise me if those people can go without help desk. Truly.

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Unhappy

Don't know you need it until its gone.....

The bosses don't want to pay for technically competent people to man the help desks. They believe every computer is the same, works the same, has the same software etc etc and any old monkey with a script can talk a user through fixing the problem. This works some of the time.

So, you have the brain-dead user who will blindly follow the help-desk script and get no-where. Even though they may not actually own a computer.

Then you have the 'slightly more competent than a brick' user, who knows enough to be dangerous and is extremely capable of 'self-helping' their system into a steaming heap of crap.

Finally you have the truly knowledgeable user, who has a genuine problem but who can't talk to a front office techie because they know jack-shit, and can't talk to a back-office techie because they are far too busy dealing with all the crap passed on from a helpdesk that are supposed to be there to help them.

I miss the old days when I used to ring up to log a call and talk to someone who actually knew what the hell I was talking about (and vice-versa)!

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WTF?

@Kurt - Whut?

"As far as I can make out IT is going backwards rather than forwards. A lot of users know enough work arounds for their normal problems that they dont need to the helpdesks."

What users do you have? Can I borrow them? I have to deal with users who pay thousands of dollars for a specialized software package, and assume that means they now get to turn off their brains. These are people who can't figure out how to get past the Captcha to reset their passwords, but can speak four languages and don't want to be "patronized by some techie." These are people who get pissed off when we send them a KB article relevant to their issue - it has the exact error message that they reported in it and a verified solution - but they insist on talking to a person because their issue is obviously different! (No, it really isn't....)

As long as there are people who choose to be helpless, there will be a need for helpdesks.

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Unhappy

Nature of the problem

I'm sure that the very existence of help desks is a symptom of the real problem. Computers.

Look, the fax machine revolutionised the world. Did you ever hear of a fax help desk? The damn thigs came, still come, with a comprehensive manual including an explanation of all the error codes.

What was the last printer that came with ascii tables, centronics interface definitions, and an explanation of escape sequences? What was the last version of MSdos that came with a manual listing all the commands, parameters and switches? and explaining the dirve letter-sub directory paradigm? When was the last time you bought a computer that included any sort of manual at all? let alone one that expained what the POST beeps meant?

And then there are operating systems. Windows users, god help them, still map network drive letters and then get confused why mailing links to the bloke on the next desk does not help. We have had fully qualified paths (and the twee "my network places") for the last 10 years at least and no-one uderstands them. Any cut-and-pasted link should be absolute, even if it doesn't look like it to the original user, and there should not be half a dozen legacy ways of doing the same thing. Instead of making the new software look like the old one, how about including some instructions for a change? No, not meaningless help pages. Printed books.

And applications. Instead of finding a way (? an instruction book?) to explain using preset styles, word converts every casual bit of re-formatting into an automatic style and makes the styles thing so confusing that the proles ignore it. Oh, and the wretched vomit inducing style navigator that appears on the right hand side has such awful ergonomics that you are far more likely to make accidental changes to the styles than to find and apply one.

People need help desks because people need help. It does not have to be like this. I can get in any car, anywhere in the world, and drive it safely and legally, because the control layout is understandable, the symbology on signs consistent and well researched, and information about direction and speed limits is available when I need it in a rugged, reliable way.

Oh and then there are the employers.

Can you think of any other business process (machinists at lathes, accountants with double entry, salesmen with liability legislation) where companies assume people know what they are expected to use the tools for without training and assesment? Yet the poor bloody workforce has computers dumped on their desk filled with all sorts of software and are expected to pick their way through it. When they get stuck they call a help desk, who has no idea what the business processes are or the implications of what they are asking. (I'm a service engineer who works on capital projects, and the help desk regularly asks me to 'come into the office and give the laptop to the team for a few days'. They get told to sod off, usually.)

Computers are used to increase productivity, and yet both the choice of them and the training of staff is left to PFYs who have no interest in, or methods for, improving the productivity of the people using them. Whose very job is quantified merely in closing the call in the shrotest time, with no consideration of consequence, impact, or effectiveness. (My second ethernet port does not work with a fixed IP address.'well, use DHCP then'. I am trying to talk to a machine tool with a fixed IP. 'set that to DHCP too and connect it to the network. We'll tell you tomorrow what its IP address is' It is on a customer site, not in your office. 'Oh, sorry, there is nothing we can do then') In no other business process is the outcome merely assumed from the act of making the investment.

The day the last help desk closes down will be the day that the last bad computer has been consigned to the scrap heap. Ansd the last bad company

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Badgers

Lockdown

When corporate IT policy locks down user PC's so hard you can't do anything that requires "admin" access (like installing necessary software), and locks you out of half (or all) of the internet, the helpdesk is a necessity.

Having said that, I have found our IT support acceptable for all my workstation issues so far. (Including replacing dead mice).

Badger because my work pc is badgerproof.

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stupid users? need a help-desk?

There are fewer stupid users as there used to be. I don't think they were ever really stupid anyway. The hardware and software were just too complicated to put into the workplace and home when they were. It's taken a long time for users to catch up.

Now the major reason for a help-desk is to act as a buffer between users and developers. It's the way companies compensate for poor software design and lack of documentation. That probably won't change. It's too expensive to develop up to a level that eliminates the need for a help-desk.

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WTF?

Eh?

So next time some custom application on our AS/400 goes down, and 250 of our branches can't trade, instead of calling the Service Desk and asking them to get the guy in the data centre to sort it out, I'll look on a forum.

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Printer Helpdesks

Can be a problem , as found after I purchased a Hewlett - Packard Ink jet Printer.

The help person was obviously in India , and apart from being difficult to understand, was also obviously reading off a script on a screen .

Acted on the "expert" advice which did not work, Returned to get more help , got the same answer, which was that I needed to install a card with USB connectors on it, because the problem was with existing USB connection.

Gave up , went to see my friendly local computer man. He found the problem was with the XP OS , and he fixed it .

My next printer will not be an HP.

A pity because the printer is good , but the help desk is shit.

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Anonymous Coward

@elderlybloke

Way back, my Dad had problems with an HP CD Burner. I was in correspondence via email with the HP helpdesk and it wasn't getting far. My Dad gave up waiting and brought a HP PC in a shop that had the same burner in it, but without the burner as we could fit that ourselves - that way he knew it would work. Well at least that's what he thought...

It took about a month of to-ing and fro-ing with the helpdesk to get it working so yeah, I've not been overly impressed with HP. What was more annoying is that when the HD died on the PC, just out of warranty, despite the PC coming with Windows, we then had to not only buy a new hard drive but also buy the Windows disc from them, IIRC, because the Windows on the hard drive was obviously not accessible.

I've not had too many problems with HP printers but yeah HP helpdesks, PCs and cd burners have caused me a great deal of grief in the past. Then there's been the problems my family has had with Dell machines too. They seem to have a knack at causing issues with PCs somehow. These people are the reason that the helpdesk exists.

That said, when I am old and grey and my kids are hopefully keeping me up to speed on things IT (like I try to do with my Dad), will I be the one needing a helpdesk then, for when my kids are too busy with their families or will I have the skills to suss it all out myself - I'll sure as hell give it a good go. What I'm saying is, won't there always be a generation needing help?

And anyway, once even the most technical user has tried everything, they eventually have to call the helpdesk as they can't contact 2ndline/replacements/etc directly and I can't see that changing anytime soon.

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