Help Desk Staffing Levels Holding Up

August, 2009

Because the help desk (or service desk) comprises a sizable portion of the IT staff, it can be a target for cost reduction, outsourcing, and efficiency gains through improved processes and automation tools. As such, determining appropriate help desk staffing levels for an organization is critical. An overstaffed help desk can be a drain on the IT budget, while an understaffed operation can sap an organization’s productivity and create dissatisfaction among users. Benchmarking against industry standards is an important starting point for determining whether a service desk is appropriately organized for delivering quality service at the lowest possible cost.

This Research Byte is a summary of our full report, Help Desk Staffing Ratios.

Over the past three years, help desk staffing levels have remained constant for our composite sample when viewed as a percentage of the IT staff. In Figure 4 from our full report, we see that the median is 6.9% for all three years. Note that these medians include all organizations in our sample, regardless of whether they staff this function or outsource the help desk function. The trend line indicates that the help desk staff has not been disproportionately targeted for layoffs or outsourcing during the economic downturn.

Staffing Fig4 - Help Desk Staffing Levels Holding Up

The full version of this report provides guidelines for help desk staffing. Key metrics include number of users and number of PCs per help desk staff member. It provides both metrics for the composite sample and by organization size. It also examines help desk staff as a percentage of the IT staff, the trend in help desk personnel over time, and the impact of outsourcing on help desk employee headcount. It concludes with recommendations on optimizing help desk staffing levels.

For IT organizations, improving service levels is a top priority today, and the question of just how large of a help desk staff is required to optimally service the organization’s IT users is a critical issue. The help desk not only plays a key role in maintaining user productivity, but also serves as the face of the IT department and influences user satisfaction with the IT organization’s services. For those organizations adopting an IT service management philosophy, as promulgated by such programs as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the help desk takes on an expanded role as the “service desk.” The help desk not only logs and resolves routine incidents, but also becomes the front end for all complaints, change requests, and other issues that touch upon the user.

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.

Attention Help Desk Managers: this report is also included in our special publication, Read more and download the first few pages of the report, free.