back to article The True Cost of Desktop Support

Desktop support is something every organisation does using a variety of tools, people and processes, using both trained and qualified staff through to the unsanctioned, and often badly informed “I know someone who can help” approach. In many organisations, it is noticeable how many end users base their entire perception of IT …


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Cutting (or at least loosening) the Gordian knot

Virtaully every organisation I've worked for has at one point or another embarked upon the same excerise and when you really start trying to calculate that it can become impossibly difficult. It 's everso easy to keep unravelling the minuatae of every process, work instruction and interaction, for instance; how to you calculate and cross-charge the cost of an engineer's time wasted by a user-inflicted IT issue (such as installing unauthorised software) or by a user who's lied or withheld a crucial nugget of information required to diagnose the fault (c'mon, we've ALL done it!).

I did work for an emplyer who must've eventually worked it out as all of a sudden desktop computer equipment was charged to the budget of the department requesting it (inc. cost of replacements and third-party engineer visits), the same for software too. Departmental projects that required the services of tech support would have to budget for the cost of the bodies they'd need.

However even with a rough idea of the cost and some measures of mitigation so much in a more general sense comes out of the IT budget than really should. Our cost centre used to bear the brunt of the cost of servicing and maintaining infrastructure equipment bought using capex. The reason the equipment had been capexed was that it comprised the core systems everyone used so it shouldn't come from one budget!

While many of the examples I've used admittedly involve shifting wooden dollars around sometime the best method of prepresenting 'The True Cost of IT' s to position the department almost as if it's a contractor, calculating and billing each department for the services and equipment they use. Whatever your approach, first agree a upon a level of detail you won't exceed, one that's managable for you and your business

Anonymous Coward

I thought we called them "Service Desk" now ;)

Ahhhh ITIL, when will you ever deliver any value other than new words and ways of rearranging existing functions into new buckets?

Oh, so it's not my area but the Help Desk metrics that I've seen:

- Time to answer (x% within y-seconds or minutes)

- % resolution at L1

Quality metrics around routing tickets correctly seem to be a popular ask from clients. As someone who owns L3 teams, if i could I'd have a rework metric to slap them upside the head for getting tickets with the dreaded "Default Contact" or not having followed their scripts and/or documented the results (i.e. "mail not working"... WTF does that mean?).

Funny part is that one of my (very large) clients has different outsourcers doing L1, L1.5 (remote desktop management) and L2 (onsite). I have no idea how they account for that, but I'm pretty sure everything other than projects gets dumped into IT


Still missing the mark

There is an iceberg of costs that isn't even mentioned here: Time wasted by employees to work around artificial restricitions.

You want to take home some work but can't, because IT has disabled your USB-Drive? Now you have to zip/crpyt it and send it through email.

You need to find out a certain parameter of your SQL-Server but don't even have the reading rights necessary? Go off, find an admin, file a lawsuit or just ignore the whole matter until the server blows up.

You can drive down the support calls to zero by not allowing your users to do *anything*, but your business will suffer. Throughput is what matters, not cost!

But because the untold wasted minutes for circumventing IT can't be measured, you just ignore the matter altogether. The result can be watched in almost every larger organisation: Loss of intrinsic motivation, loss of throughput (everything seems to take ages), loss of customers. The response: Cost reductions of course!

Paris Hilton

I can think of another cost not normally accounted for...

What about the psych treatment costs for frontline support people, engendered by having to deal with users all day, every day? Those eventually end up in the company's insurance premiums, don't they? (I wish...)

I'm inclined to suggest help desk staff be rotated, with off-rotation staff assigned to something else. You'll end up with more technically-competent people on the desk more often, because they'll have a chance to learn more about company systems than how to tell a user they've done something stupid without offending them. In turn, fast call resolution will improve. And they'll be less likely to be going through the motions while thinking "I want to dismember you one limb at a time with piano wire," which is likely to be good both for morale on the helldesk and the impression the rest of the company gets when calling in.

I'm tempted to suggest other subdepartments of IT rotate through helpdesk as well, to get a better idea of what's really going on in the field. (avert the SNAFU principle) These people would be the ones in a position to address common global problems instead of having to play whack a mole. But I consider not having to deal with users on a daily basis to be a significant perk of standing slightly higher in the hierarchy, so I think I'll stop short of that.

Paris because she's less irritating than users.


Systems mgmt = win

Whatever the formulaic approach for calculating Helpdesk 'cost', our school district has found to be true, as the author of this article touches on, one of the main factors in taking out much of the guesswork and man hours of going back and forth between end user and IT staff is finding the right systems management tool. There are many options out there, and we decided to deploy KACE since it can be run in a VM, but the luxury of already knowing what every asset on the network, not just limited to desktops, has us flowing through L1's nothing short of an order of magnitude more quickly.


Scaled-back skills

While I agree with a proper system management solution being a necessity (automated network auditing basically), knowing that X user has WinXP with the standard corporate stack installed, and is up-to-date with patches, does not help L1 very much if they're the "less-skilled, cheap" support staff. At that point, L1 becomes merely script-readers and glorified reception/routing staff for the L2s. It is this lack of skill that we all bemoan when we get one of these "did you try rebooting it" people when requesting RMAs and the like.

As for budget accounting charged to the help desk budget: does it serve the helpdesk? An IDS/IPS or firewall isn't a helpdesk cost. Antivirus/malware? Sure. Remote control? Definately. Patch management system? No. Why? That would be desktop management people's responsibility, unless you task your L1s with ensuring desktops are patched up. I don't. Servers? Nope. The ticketing software and system auditing software runs in a VM and has little-attributed cost (besides licensing).

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