CXO

Think the helpdesk is disposable? Time to think again.

Just because everyone uses a computer it doesn't mean they can fix them when they go wrong. Let's kill off the myth that we live in a new age of IT literacy.

There's this idea that in this era of bring your own device and a smartphone in every pocket the IT helpdesk is a quaint and unnecessary luxury.

A justification for slashing desktop support staff is that the modern workforce are armchair computer experts - old hands at downloading apps and holding down five-way conversations on social networks - so why not let them help themselves?

Personally I'm not convinced. Just because nearly everyone uses some computer - be it a PC, smartphone or tablet - it doesn't make them an expert on what makes them work.

Using modern devices like the Apple iPad, with its locked-down OS and apps, is computing on the rails and minus any sharp edges. In some respects it has more in common with using an appliance like a TV - you turn on and it works - than it does a general-purpose computing device.

It was this sense that modern computers and OS hide the nitty-gritty of computing, the likes of command line wrangling and shell hacking, that led to the creation of the Raspberry Pi.

Tablets and PCs are designed to be easy to use - but it only takes an error message or two for the end-user to get themselves into hot water. And when staff still have to be told not to water plants sitting on top of a CRT monitor, it's an indication that general levels of IT literacy still have some way to go.

My experience of trying to set up my own PC at work - and plugging the wrong Ethernet cable into the computer causing a feedback loop in the network - backs up the notion that some tasks are better left to IT.

And even the most straightforward of computing tasks can trip up the unwary. A recent attempt to copy files over to a new Windows 7 PC resulted in me being locked out from accessing my own documents. Gaining access took hours and involved delving several layers into the Windows menu system.

There's nothing wrong with allowing staff the freedom to handle trivial tasks like resetting their passwords themselves, but it shouldn't be used as an excuse to cut back on helpdesk staff. You may save money in the short term but you'll pay dear in staff downtime in the long run.

Being a dab hand at syncing your iPhone doesn't make you a computer expert, and the reality is the average user probably knows less than they think. Let's stop pretending we live in an age of IT literacy.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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