What Is the Difference Between a Help Desk & Service Desk?

A help desk manages reactive functions, such as daily end-user technical support, troubleshooting and guidance, while a service desk facilitates strategic activities built on an organization’s long-term business goals and technology processes.

Aug 18, 2021 | 5 min read

Illustrated computer with hands reaching out and tech icons floating around workspace

When businesses implement a comprehensive solution for employee assistance and data protection aimed at managing day-to-day operations, an effective infrastructure must also be considered to ensure the system runs smoothly. 

This infrastructure includes mechanisms that guarantee end users will have the help and support they need should any challenges arise. The mechanism in question is often referred to as a company’s help desk, though some label it as a service desk. But while these entities are similar in some ways, each one functions differently in how organizations receive assistance to achieve their goals.

Whether your organization is a large or mid-market corporation, small business, or nonprofit, an optimized help desk assists in managing technology processes and challenges. Help desks also boast other reactive functions, such as end user technical support, troubleshooting, and other forms of guidance.

On a more comprehensive level, the service desk facilitates strategic activities built on the organization’s long-term business goals and technology processes. These functions could include incident and configuration management, service requests, executive-level communication, and third-party vendor and toolkit integrations. 

The usage of both terms was updated in 2007 when the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) released Version 3 of its service lifecycle structure concepts. Now referred to as ITIL 2007 Edition, it separated the help desk and service desk, considering each to be its own entity with unique functions. Despite this official update, we believe the differences require further explanation. 

Did you know the help desk is actually considered a service desk subset.

Though often deployed in tandem, a comprehensive service desk can only function with a help desk, rather than vice versa.

As technology increases as a main business function, at least one of these services will become a necessity. According to research conducted by IT industry association CompTIA, more organizations are reconsidering how they view technology. For example, the report states that 40 percent of respondents plan to include IT as a core competency within the scope of their business.

With these findings, more and more businesses of all sizes are adding day-to-day tactical functions, and strategic initiatives. 


Below we’ll discuss the benefits, functions, features, and differences between both of these critical business solutions. 


What Is a Help Desk?

A Managed Services Provider (MSP) offering a 365/24/7 help desk handles core functions, such as documented processes, ticket escalation alerts, and outlined service-level objectives (SLOs). 

This also includes improved workflow improvements, effective communication protocols, integration, and other functionalities. Having on-site, knowledgeable technicians is a value-add when troubleshooting and solving important end-user issues. As organizations have additional on-site, remote, or hybrid employees, help desk technicians must also be proficient in additional protocols, such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Mobile Device Management (MDM) policies.

An MSP boasting an optimized help desk has a solid understanding of customer expectations, such as general ticket management and defined workflows, business improvement processes, clearly-documented Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), goal setting, and streamlined communication protocols. 


What Is a Service Desk?

Regarded by the ITIL as a contact point between the MSP and customers, the service desk concentrates on proactive and comprehensive strategic initiatives. This includes incident management, service requests, and executive-level communication.

This initiative also facilitates communication and configuration management, along with third-party vendor and toolkit integrations. Due to its processes-oriented role, most service desks can proactively address myriad situations for a positive outcome. 

Whether your organization is a large or mid-market corporation, small business, or nonprofit, an optimized help desk assists in managing technology processes and challenges.


Service Desk & Help Desk Comparisons

While each offers similarities in function, role, and technologies, there is a distinct difference: The help desk supports individual end users, while the service desk focuses on a strategic, comprehensive-level approach.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Service Desk

  • Evolved From a 2007 ITIL Best Practice Update
  • Focuses on Big-Picture, Cross-Organizational Processes 
  • Long-Term, Comprehensive Tracking & Reporting
  • Evaluates Current Services 
  • Maintains & Implements New Processes as Needed
  • Ensures Minimal Disruptions or Service Outages 
  • Service Delivery Monitoring & Maintenance
  • Consistently Reviews & Analyzes IT Processes & Functions

Help Desk

  • Day-to-Day, Reactive Troubleshooting for Individual End Users
  • Focuses on Incident-Based Issues
  • Considered a Subset of a Comprehensive Service Desk
  • Handles Documentation, Communications & Ticket Prioritization
  • Quickly Addresses Issues & Manages Expectations 
  • Provides the Organization With Consistent End-User Engagement 
  • Addresses & Troubleshoots Immediate End-User Needs
  • Tracks All Incoming Issues
  • Offers Guidance on Applicable Software & Hardware Products

On a more comprehensive level, the service desk facilitates strategic activities built on the organization’s long-term business goals and technology processes.


Implementing Help Desk & Service Desk Tools

With a help desk solving critical issues enabling IT teams to be more transparent, efficient, and collaborative, a service desk boosts the relationship as an interface between the MSP and the organization’s leadership. 

When choosing the right tools for either solution, consider an array of factors, such as company size, number of employees and locations, technology requirements and accompanying functionalities, vendor relationships, and how the MSP operates its own help desk and service desk. 


Discovering the Differences

Whether you require a help desk, service desk, or both, LincolnIT can assist with any of these solutions for your organization. With a focus on People, Process and Products, our culture is built on services-oriented solutions to ensure the best possible scenario for any challenges, issues, or assistance. 

contact us

LincolnIT provides both help desk and service desk features and functions for businesses of all industries and sizes through our ITCare brand. Contact us for more information, or to request a proposal. 

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