Over a six-year period, help desk staffing levels have waivered up and down as pressure to reduce personnel costs has run up against expansion of the help desk function. Following the weak recovery in IT spending, however, the help desk staff appears to have suffered only minor setback from its pre-recession level when viewed as percentage of total IT staff.
In our study, Help Desk Staffing Ratios, we find that the help desk staff across all sizes of organizations ranged from a high of 9.9% in 2008 to a low of 7.9% in 2010, a two-point swing that reflects recessionary pressure. In 2012, the ratio remains near the low side of the range, at 8.0%, as shown in Figure 1, after showing some signs of recovery last year.
The annual fluctuation in average help desk staffing reflects relative changes in staffing mix. Other positions are growing or shrinking, making the help desk staff appear smaller or larger as a percentage of the total. While staffing mix changes account for some of the fluctuation during this tumultuous period, it appears the help desk suffered a slight, overall decline.
Because the help desk (or service desk) comprises a sizable portion of the IT staff, it can be a target for outsourcing and efficiency gains through improved processes and automation tools. Yet as organizations absorb more applications and technology, including smartphones and other mobile devices, they also can find a need to expand the help desk function. Moreover, enhancing the help desk function can lead to economies in other technical support functions.
As such, help desk staffing levels require ongoing assessment. 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.
The full study provides metrics for benchmarking help desk staffing levels in the current environment. We provide two benchmarks by organization size: help desk staff as a percent of the IT staff and users per help desk staff member. Because the end-user support function is organized in different ways, we also provide benchmarks for the combined help desk/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).
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