Maximizing Help Desk Efficiency

May, 2008

For many IT managers, improving service levels has become a top priority, and the question of just how large of a help desk staff is required to optimally service the organization’s IT users has become a critical issue. This Research Byte is a summary of our full report, Help Desk Staffing Ratios and Outsourcing Trends, which provides benchmarks to assist IT organizations in answering that question.

Help desk staffing is becoming a high priority for IT managers for several reasons. For example, the help desk plays a key role in maintaining user productivity in increasingly complex IT environments. For many users, the help desk staff is the face of the IT department, and they play an important role in influencing user perception of the IT organization’s quality of service. For those organizations adopting an IT service management philosophy, as promulgated by such programs as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the help desk also 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 any other issues IT users might have. Moreover, because the help desk comprises a sizeable portion of the IT staff–about 8.5% of the typical organization today–it can be a target for cost reduction, outsourcing, and efficiency gains through improved processes and automation. But determining appropriate help desk staffing levels can be a perplexing issue, and benchmarking staffing levels against industry norms is an important starting point.

Staffing Trends Among Organizations That Do Not Outsource
One of the most common benchmarking practices is to calculate a simple staffing ratio: the number of IT users per help desk staff member. Alternatively, some organizations may prefer basing the staffing ratio on the number of personal computers (including desktops, notebooks, workstations, and terminals). For example, a retailer may have a large number of users whose only requirement is to operate a point-of-sale system, which requires fewer help desk personnel per user. In this case, a more appropriate metric might be help desk staff per PC.

The full version of this report provides guidelines for appropriate staffing levels. We provide help desk ratios by number of users and the number of PCs serviced by each help desk worker. These statistics are based on our survey of more than 200 IT executives and managers. Because an organization’s size and industry has a large impact on appropriate staffing levels, we examine the impact of these factors, too. And, finally, because help desk is a common target for outsourcing, we also examine current trends and levels in the use of outside service providers to deliver IT help desk support.

Computer Economics Viewpoint
Choosing whether to perform help desk tasks in-house or to outsource them is a decision that affects an organization beyond the immediate cost of the service. The level and quality of assistance offered by the help desk determines how well IT systems are applied and how effectively investment in them is recovered. Failure to provide adequate help desk coverage can result in long-term decreases in user productivity. The help desk can also influence user perception of the IT department, and IT organizations moving toward an IT service management strategy will require an integrated service desk as a single point of contact for the delivery of IT services.

We recommend an approach that emphasizes help desk efficiency, which allows the minimum size staff to provide high quality service. The full version of this report describes several best practices that IT organizations should employ to optimize the productivity of help desk personnel.

The results of our study indicate that organizations must tailor their help desk solutions to their unique needs and corporate cultures. No single solution will address all situations. Instead, managers must take into account the size of their companies, industry sector, and individualized way of conducting business to make the most appropriate staffing decisions. This approach has the potential for boosting help desk productivity, which satisfies the twin goals of raising user satisfaction and reducing costs.

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Help Desk Staffing Ratios and Outsourcing Trends. 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