The help desk is typically the poster child for IT being labeled as a cost center.  Here is a way to turn that perception around.


The help desk is typically the reactionary group in any IT organization. But one way to minimize the reacting aspects of your help desk is to leverage the ticketing system for analytics and your project management group for longer term fixes.

If you do not have a ticketing system, then you should get one. If you’re starting at a new company, these systems are great for understanding exactly what IT is doing. You’ll find that your IT department will be telling you what they do on a day-in and day-out basis, but what they tell you and what the ticketing system tells you are two different things.

This, of course, assumes that your ticketing system is being used appropriately. And that in turn, assumes that your ticketing system was set up appropriately. What has worked for me in the past is designing the help desk ticketing system so that it can be used for decision support and to quickly determine areas of opportunity.

First, I leveraged the ticketing system to be the master record for computer asset management. Every PC, laptop, and blackberry has its hardware configuration, warranty term and software license and version information. This allowed me to quickly evaluate the impact on the organization of a new software product. I could view the PC configurations for those needing a new software application and see if their PC meets the minimum requirements. Additionally, all the administrative “stuff” is in one place.

Now tickets can be associated with particular pieces of hardware or a particular user. This comes in handy. If you see an inordinate number of tickets associated with a PC, you can choose to proactively replace the hardware. If you have ever owned a car when the warranty starts to expire, all of those little things start going wrong. A dummy light comes on or maybe the button that rolls down the power windows sticks. The same happens with PCs. Sometimes you just get a lemon. Where a user is concerned, you can judge whether it would be wise to enroll them in a computer class.

The next step is to set up the categories that help you describe the issue. The purpose of these categories is to have them specific enough to determine the root cause, but general enough to allow you to create a project to address the root cause and not over-burden the user or the help desk staff with documentation requirements.

Finally, you need escalation and communication procedures. Probably the most important aspect of the system is expectation setting with the user community, customers, and management. If a ticket is generated, how long should it be before the help desk addresses the issue? If the help desk cannot address the issue in that time period, what level 2 group should get the ticket to address? How critical is the issue? How many employees can’t do their job? How many customers are impacted and how are sales expected to be impacted? How often and via what channel should you communicate with the user making the request and the group affected by a broader outage or issue?

So let’s walk through an example that I went through in a previous company.  We set up a new ticketing system where we ported the asset management system to it.  A quick review found that about 30% of printers were out of warranty. Should we purchase new warranties for the printers? Should we just buy new printers? How much will either of these scenarios cost? So I can quickly send a number to Hewlett-Packard and they can send me these costs in less than a day.

Next, we looked at the trouble tickets to see if there were a lot of printer issues. When we looked at the tickets, we saw a huge number of tickets focused around toner and paper requests. We also looked at the type of toner to see if there were any savings we could address via volume discounts.

What we saw was that there were 200 or so printers for 300 or so employees and about 50 of these employees had no need to use a computer. So, basically, almost every user had their own printer. We then looked at the annual costs to maintain these printers. Aside from the depreciated capital costs for the equipment, we had about $40k annually in direct costs. We also found that printer issues were the top trouble ticket for all issue types in the ticketing system comprising about 20% of all requests. If we add the costs to the help desk and also look at productivity opportunities (i.e., we can improve service level agreements with other critical systems by X with the same resources if we can reduce or eliminate these tickets.) What is the value of that?

Next step was to take a survey of users to find out why they need their own printer. Responses came back like convenience, privacy/security, different paper requirements, color requirements, etc.

Now we know that by addressing this issue from a root cause perspective, we can kill a bunch of birds with one stone. We can reduce or eliminate tickets in the help desk system which will reduce the help desk from reacting to low-value tickets. We can improve service levels on other, more critical systems. We can reduce costs by standardizing on toner. We can create toner and paper storage areas that will let users change these things with training on just one or two types of printers. We have the opportunity to add capabilities that will help us proactively replace toner or paper before there is an outage. Additionally we have the opportunity to monitor consumption and look for ways to conserve on paper, toner and power.

We also determined that printing, although essential, was a commodity. It was not something that was core or strategic to the organization. That instantly became an opportunity for outsourcing. So we started looking at vendors that were providing service like copiers and the new big document stations. We liked these to solve the privacy/security concerns of the users because the user can PIN/Password protect a print job so that it will print only when the user is at the document station. Additionally, these units can fax items directly from the desktop. A lot of these companies can take on the printer monitoring services as well.

In the business case, we pulled together all of the numbers. These included fax lines. We had a number of possible solutions. Some were short term and some were longer term and all with different pay-back time frames. We decided on the longer term solution. Payback was estimated to be 18 months for just the direct costs. The productivity savings and the opportunity cost recovery were just added benefits. The solution was a document station contract as a primary way of printing. All other workgroup printers were standardized and the color versions of these printers were located near those who needed color printers. Users were trained to replace toner and paper and we made sure the contract with the service provider made sure that toner and paper stocks were located at each printer. The service provider would monitor consumption and replace the stock on a weekly basis as needed. If there was a mechanical problem, the service provider would be monitoring error codes. We had the error codes generate tickets in the ticketing system with all the escalation rules associated with them and we allowed the service provider access to the ticketing system to receive alerts and close out tickets.

Bottom line: We eliminated 20% of the help desk tickets, and within 18 months we were actually saving money. Additionally, we were able to increase service levels on a key CRM system and provide more capabilities (like desktop faxing). Most importantly, our user community was much happier.