28/03/2023 |

Help Desk vs. Service Desk
What are the Differences?

Help Desk vs. Service Desk. Know the key differences, functionalities, and benefits of each. Optimize your IT support today.

Decades ago when IT first came into existence, many people needed help with their technology. Organizing all of these technical issues and requests was necessary, so the help desk was born. It was a single point of contact for users who needed assistance.

Over time, user needs changed and IT organizations became more business-oriented. A framework, known as the IT infrastructure library or ITIL, was developed. This guided organizations as they began to deliver “IT as a service”.

Service desks supported IT teams in delivering services and their related processes in this new way. They offered enhanced customer service and strategic service delivery that we’ll take a look at below.

What is a Help Desk?

A help desk is a team of people who have enough knowledge to fix what’s broken. The function of a help desk is to gather up requests about things that aren’t working right – from external or internal customers – and get to work on repairing these.

The requests can be handled in many different ways, but to save time and money most use help desk software to organize and structure customer break-fix requests.

Help Desk Focuses

As noted, help desks focus on the handling of break-fix requests, meaning that they are responsible for repairing something that is broken. Sometimes, help requests come from customers; other times, they can come from the team itself, management or another party.


Help desks may have many people who are working on many repairs all at the same time, so it’s helpful to manage their work by using tickets.

Each time something breaks, it would be recorded in a ticket. This ticket has a uniquely identifiable number so that it can be easily located by the person who is doing the repair or the person who reported the incident.

This ticket captures all information related to the incident at hand. For instance, it:

  • includes information about the person who reported the issue,
  • tracks the status of the repair,
  • documents products or equipment that are involved in the problem, and/or
  • handles communication with the user or other teams as they work on fixing the incident.

By using a ticketing system, it is much easier for the help desk team member to keep track of all of the details that are involved in providing a fix or a solution.

Request Routing

Of course, as with most teams, help desks often have people who are experts in specific products or services. In order to fix things quickly, it can be important to get the experts involved as soon as a need arises by routing requests to the people who can resolve the problems best. Software can often aid in this by automatically sending the right tickets to the right teams based on what incident is reported.

What is a Service Desk?

As noted, the service desk does have some of the same responsibilities for tracking and organizing break-fix requests as does the help desk. But, a typical service desk manages the relationship between the team and the rest of the organization and focuses on work efficiency. A service desk offers more customer-oriented opportunities.

Service Desk Focuses

A service desk focuses on making things easier for the end user, as opposed to simply getting work done. As such, service teams tend to rely on more sophisticated tools, such as IT service desk software, that help them handle many areas of service delivery.

Service Request Management

Service request management is similar to the tracking and ticketing of the help desk, but instead of being focused on things that are broken, it is focused on helping end users answer questions related to technology. For instance, an end user may want to know how to access the wifi or which type of software is best for managing a certain task.

Service request management handles requests for services with ticketing just as they would if the end user was contacting IT with an incident so that each request is tracked independently and resolved well for the customer.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management brings structure to information that needs to be shared. This may be information that needs to be shared with end users, such as “how to login to the wifi”. In this case, it benefits the end user because they receive consistent easy-to-follow guidance. And it benefits the support team because they don’t have to craft the same reply over and over to the same question.

Knowledge management can also support the IT team itself. For instance, if there is solution that requires the same steps to be repeated by an agent each time, this may be documented. This offers the agent a quick “how to” guideline to follow, thereby resolving incidents and requests even more quickly.

Incident Management

A service desk incident management in much the same way as a help desk. If something is broken, a request for support is made. It is tracked in a ticket and communication about the incident and the steps taken to resolve it are all tracked in one location.

Problem Management

Problem Management helps IT teams find the root cause of incidents – or potential incidents.

For instance, a problem may be identified when several end users report similar incidents. By implementing a structured approach to handling these incidents, the IT team can see that the same thing is happening repeatedly.

This means there is a problem. With service desk software, they are able to categorize prioritize the problem. Then, they begin to analyze the cause of the problem and take steps to mitigate it.

Service Level Management

Service levels are agreements are made between the IT team and their customers. These define which services will be provided and what expectations the customer can have in terms of their delivery.

These agreements must be tracked and performance of the IT team must be measured against the agreements. Service Level Management is the practice of managing these agreements. The inclusion of service level management in service desk software helps the IT organization stay on top of how well they are providing the agreed upon services.

Asset Management

Assets are the things of value that are overseen by the IT team. This can include tools, technology, or knowledge. For IT teams that want to control costs, understand the status of various services and plan for the future, it is important to track where these items are and what their current status is through IT Asset Management.

Help Desk and Service Desk in ITSM

As noted above, the difference between the traditional help desk and a service desk evolved from the establishment of ITIL. ITIL provides a framework for delivering IT Service Management. In its most recent version, it identifies 34 practices that IT leaders should consider when considering how to define and positioning IT Service Management (ITSM) within their businesses.

Both solutions have their place in ITSM.

Help desks are narrowly focused on one practice – the service desk practice. It makes the work of the service team faster and easier as they handle incoming break and fix requests from end users.

On the other hand, service desks bring together many of the practices that are outlined in ITIL, such as service request, incident, problem, knowledge, service level and asset management. It has the same benefits for the support team, but offers much more in terms of shifting the focus of IT to a being a service provider and business partner.

Both a help desk and a service desk can be key parts of the business. Deciding on which approach to take has a lot to do with what the expectations are for the team and how it will interact over time with the business in general.

  • Will they simply be fixing and solving problems, or will they be offering a more holistic approach for their services?
  • Is it useful for your team to document and define knowledge for reuse?
  • Will you be implementing a service level agreement (SLA), and do you need to track how well you are meeting these?
  • How mature are your support processes? Do you have tiered levels of support, and are several of your team specialized in certain areas? Are your IT operations and processes service oriented?
  • In what ways will your workflows interact with other organizations in the business?

As you think through these questions, learn more about help desk software and it service desk software to get a better idea of how they can help your team improve support and manage work more easily.

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