Who ya gonna call?

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Published on 13 July 2023 by Andrew Owen (2 minutes)

IT support staff are the unsung heroes of every organization. According to the Gartner Group, between 20% to 50% of all support calls are for password resets. It can take anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour and a half to manually reset a password, leading to annual losses of hundreds of hours. The lesson is that it pays to have a password reset feature in place. But whatever the nature of the problem, it’s IT support who should be able to solve your problem and get you working again.

Back in the 1990s, when I first wrote about these departments for Computing Magazine, they were known as help desks. Now they’re more commonly called service desks or just IT support. The internet had yet to take off, and most users only had to remember the password to their own computer. How things have changed. The number of passwords has grown exponentially (which is why you should use a password manager), but the amount of downtime for password resets has remained consistent.

At the time, dedicated IT support software was a new field. Now software-as-a-service (SaaS) IT support solutions are ubiquitous. Standards, training and certification had yet to be established in any meaningful way. But companies including Compaq, Ford, IBM and Microsoft were at the forefront of developing dedicated support departments. For the Computing article, I interviewed several attendees of the eight annual Helpdesk User Group conference and exhibition.

Derek Gardener, a project manager at Littlewoods, said: “The IT department should be seen as being a service provider with customers in the rest of the company. They must be aware of this role. If you have a professional helpdesk, you make the customer feel important. Helpdesks have been neglected in the past, but in future companies should think more about customer helpdesks.” That’s still true.

I also interviewed Peter Brown, who was head of user support at SIMS (School Information Management Systems). In a twist of fate, Capita Education Services bought SIMS and I ended up working with Peter in my first job as a technical writer. He said: “We are a software company and so the feedback from users goes straight into development. It is quite central to our organization.” Capita has since sold the entire education software division.

I’m not sure what happened to the Helpdesk User Group, but there are now a plethora of annual service desk conferences and regional events. And next time your service desk solves an IT problem for you, don’t forget to show them some appreciation.