Desktop Support Staffing Ratios: Executive Summary

July, 2007

Desktop computers, including laptops and workstations, have become essential items for most employees, who rely on these machines as their primary means of access to corporate systems. Although the reliability of desktop hardware and software has improved greatly since the widespread introduction of the personal computer to business in the 1980s, these machines still require troubleshooting and routine maintenance. Without an adequate desktop service and support function, user productivity and satisfaction with IT services can suffer greatly.

Although there is no question concerning the importance of desktop service and support, determining the number of desktop support technicians can be a difficult exercise. What is an appropriate benchmark for determining the right staffing level?

This Research Byte is an executive summary of our full report, Desktop Support Staffing Ratios. The full report analyzes desktop support staffing requirements by means of a simple staffing ratio: the number of desktops per support technician. This measure provides a means of calculating the expected number of support technicians, based on the organization’s total number of desktops.

What Is Included in Desktop Support?
Desktop support refers to all technical support activities related to desktop computer systems, including laptop computers and higher-end workstations. In most companies, these include activities such as building or setting up new machines, initial installation of operating systems and standard application software, applying periodic updates and security patches, replacing and disposing of obsolete equipment, monitoring desktop usage, and responding to user-reported incidents involving desktop systems.

Outsourcing of desktop support must also be considered when calculating staffing ratios. In order to obtain the most accurate desktop support ratios, we adjust the staff counts in proportion to the amount of outsourcing. For example, if an organization has 15 desktop support personnel but reports that it is outsourcing 50% of its desktop support activities, we calculate the staffing ratio as if the organization has 30 desktop support personnel. Organizations that outsource all of their desktop support are not included in this analysis.

Benchmarks for Staffing Desktop Support
The full version of this report provides an analysis of desktop support staffing based on the total number of desktop computers. (In this study, the term “desktop” includes laptops and workstations as well.) We provide desktop support ratios for the composite sample, by organization size (based on the total number of desktops deployed), and by industry sector. In addition, we analyze how frequently desktop support activities are outsourced, by organization size, and the productivity of desktop support personnel in organizations that partially outsource this function.

The basis for this analysis is our 2007/2008 IT Spending, Staffing, and Technology Trends survey of more than 200 CIOs and IT executives.

Computer Economics Viewpoint
The lack of an effective desktop support strategy can hamper a company’s ability to receive positive returns from its investment in IT. If lack of support prevents employees from utilizing their systems, productivity will fall, competitiveness will decrease, and costs may rise.

The most methodology for many organizations is to boost the productivity of the desktop support technical staff, enabling fewer technicians to maintain a higher numbers of desktops without sacrificing quality of service. For example:

  • Consider tools to support the technicians such as remote testing and computer-aided test programs, which will reduce the amount of time required to diagnose and correct each problem.
  • Standardization of desktop hardware, operating systems, and configurations is a best practice to improve desktop support productivity. Having to deal with many variations, special requests, and custom setups makes it difficult to standardize and automate support tasks.
  • Remove operating system administrative rights for as many users as possible. Allowing users to update the OS or install applications increases the potential for error, increasing calls to the help desk and creating more work for support personnel. Locking down administrative rights has the additional benefit of improving information security.
  • Provide training for desktop technicians on the latest trouble-shooting methods and most rapid means for restoring failed equipment to service.
  • Assess whether the existing desktops are reaching obsolescence by reviewing failure rates and availability statistics. Older equipment fails more often, and replacement may be the most cost-effective method for restoring reliability.

The results of this study show that the solution selected to improve desktop support ratios must be tailored to each organization. No single approach will meet all needs. IT managers should consider the number of desktops, level of outsourcing, industry sector, and user demographics as they decide on the proper approach. Managers should work with their desktop support staff to make the technicians more productive, thus increasing availability while reducing costs.

August 2007

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Desktop Support Staffing Ratios. The full report is available at no charge for Computer Economics clients, or it may be purchased by non-clients directly from our website at (click for pricing).

Do you also need staffing ratios for other IT job functions? Consider this collection of all of our staffing ratio reports, which bundles them all into a single report at a significant discount: IT Staffing Ratios–Special Report Bundle