Help Desk Staff Level Inching Up

March, 2018

Conflicting pressures have resulted in a small increase in the percentage of the IT staff devoted to help desk personnel, but the increase is only part of the story as IT leaders struggle with just exactly how to staff the day-to-day face of the organization.

Rightsizing the help desk staff is becoming increasingly difficult. There is pressure coming from management for the help desk to be more efficient and to reduce costs. IT leaders are encouraged to reduce staff sizes or outsource, and technology is making both strategies possible. Staff members can handle many technology issues remotely these days, reducing the need for on-site personnel and allowing them to serve a greater number of users.

On the other hand, companies are using a wider variety of applications and technologies, and they often find a need to expand the help desk function to solve a wider array of problems. The help desk is also the public face of IT for many departments, and there are strategic reasons for IT leaders to make sure that public face is as efficient as possible. The help desk is also often the first job for many IT professionals, and many opportunities exist for entry-level help desk workers to gain experience and move on to higher-paying jobs.

In the face of these competing pressures, the percentage of the IT staff dedicated to the help desk inched up to 7.6% in 2017, a rise over 7.2% in 2016, as seen in Figure 1 from the full report, Help Desk Staffing Ratios.

HelpDeskStaffing fig 1 - Help Desk Staff Level Inching Up

“While doing our research this year, we were somewhat surprised to find that IT leaders reported that help desk technician was one of the toughest jobs to fill,” said Tom Dunlap, director of research for Computer Economics, based in Irvine, Calif. “What many executives told us underscores how important this position still is, considering all the new technology and applications in the work place. A good help desk technician is hard to find and invaluable.”

In our study, we define help desk staff as personnel who provide first-contact support to end users, typically by phone, email, or chat. The category does not include desktop support personnel or subject-area experts such as network management, systems management, or application programmers who may respond to escalations from the help desk. Nor does the help desk staff headcount include managers or trainers. They are in separate categories.

Finally, to be clear, this report provides benchmarks only for internal IT help desks, which provide support for users of the organization’s IT systems and capabilities. It does not cover customer service desk personnel, who provide support for external customers. This is an important distinction for software companies and other high-tech organizations that have substantial customer service groups for their company’s products and services.

The full report provides metrics for benchmarking help desk staffing levels in the current environment. We look at the trend in help desk staffing over a five-year period and provide four benchmarks by organization size and sector: help desk staff as a percentage of the IT staff, users per help desk staff member, applications per help desk staff member, and first-call resolution rates. Because companies organize the end-user support function in different ways, we also provide benchmarks for a combined help desk and desktop support staff. We conclude with recommendations on optimizing help desk staffing levels.

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Help Desk 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 (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.