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Help Desk vs Service Desk What are the Differences?

Help Desk vs Service Desk:

What is a Help desk?

The digital explosion of the last twenty years has increased the need for technical support and service. Commercial organizations must offer customer service for their products, and internal IT organizations need to help employees be productive in an environment where computers take centre stage.

The help desk or IT help desk has become a single point of contact that offers technical support to technology users within an organization. Organizations may define help desks differently, but the core of the definition is that the IT help desk provides technical support to users in an organization.

Historically, the IT help desk has its roots in the customer service desk, an organization that took calls for sales and service organizations as businesses began to grow. As the use of technology grew, the need to be able to answer simple questions and provide how-to information also began to grow, and portions of the customer service desk began to focus on technical support, eventually spinning off into the standalone IT Help desk.

Key Benefits of the IT Help Desk:

  • The help desk provides a single point of contact for customers experiencing technical issues, regardless of which IT department provides the application/system.
  • By providing fast answers to common questions, the IT help desk enables people to get back to work quickly, increasing efficiency.
  • A single IT help desk can be operated at a lower cost than having embedded support teams within each IT department.
  • Finally, the IT help desk builds a relationship with the customer and increases their trust in the products provided by IT.

What is a Service Desk?

The service desk help desk difference can be defined as providing the single point of contact for all IT-related requests and support needs of an organization.

The IT service desk goes beyond the mission of the IT help desk, combining customer service with technical support, thus enabling callers to make requests, obtain general information, and obtain the same technical support often provided by the IT help desk, which becomes a portion of the service desk in its new structure.

Unlike the IT help desk, which provides only technical support, the scope of the service desk is designed to take in requests for goods (products) and services as well as providing end-user technical support and resolution.

Key Benefits of the Service Desk:

  • The service desk provides a single point of contact for all help desk, and IT support, not just for technical help, as well as providing a contact point for collecting updates and disseminating information internally, keeping both customers and IT personnel up to date on incident status.
  • The expanded role of the service desk supports service management practices by providing inputs into these practices and acting as a communication hub for their activities.
  • Using service management tools, the service desk ensures the flow of information about an asset or application throughout its lifecycle by logging incidents affecting that asset, ensuring all changes to it are logged in the tool building a history of its configuration and repairs, and documenting problems associated with it or its model. This formalizes the service desk’s role as a hub for technology information.
  • The service desk plays a full customer service role, making it the face of IT for the business and impacts the customer’s impression of IT.

Help Desk vs Service Desk:

It’s becoming difficult to distinguish between the IT help desk vs service desk as the IT help desk has ultimately evolved into a service desk and often remains embedded within the service desk. Thus, the differences have become part of its evolution:

Scope and Scale

While the IT help desk always provided end-user support and technical instruction, the service desk expands that support to include requests for products and services.


The IT help desk is focused on providing support to end-users, where the service desk is the single point of contact for both IT customers and between the service desk and IT support.


Where the IT help desk focused on providing user support and passing issues to the appropriate team, the service desk retains ownership of all support needs and requests from initiation to resolution or fulfillment.

The service desk concept was originated with the ITIL framework, a collection of best practices for managing the delivery of services to the business. ITIL’s primary focus is to define the business processes IT supports and documenting the services used to do so. It shifts the focus from supporting users to supporting services. It also shifts IT’s focus to proactively delivering services by formalizing common practices and organizational structure in a way that supports a more business-focused, proactive approach to IT management.

The service desk is one of four main functions defined by ITIL, the other three being application management, technical management, and operations management. Together with formal service management practices, these functions deliver support for all services offered by IT. Essentially, the service desk is the link between the service desk and IT support.

Within the ITIL structure, the service desk’s responsibility exceeds that of the IT help desk. The IT help desk operated on its own, maintaining contact with end-users and providing the technical support they required. The service desk jointly owns the delivery of IT services with the other three functions of IT. This shifts from providing end-user support to delivering IT services and ensuring the customer receives the intended value of these services. The IT help desk answered questions; the service desk is a true customer service partner with the business or their external customers.

Using formally developed ITIL practices, the service desk partners with the other functions in supporting business service delivery:

Incident Management

An incident is defined as an interruption to the normal operations of a service. The service desk will identify an incident as an outcome of technical support and then own its resolution by coordinating with the technical or application management teams. Unlike the IT help desk that passes the issue along, the service desk will stay involved in resolving all incidents until their resolution.

Problem Management

The problem is the underlying cause for an incident. The service desk will identify incidents that become repetitive, refer them to the appropriate teams, and participate in root cause analysis activities until the problem has been permanently resolved.

Knowledge Management

The service desk will typically take the knowledge collected by an It help desk for internal use and ensure it is able to be used by end-users directly. They will also generate knowledge articles as a follow-up to incident and/or problem resolution, providing workarounds for commonly occurring issues until they are permanently resolved.

Change Management

While the service desk doesn't play an immediate role in executing or planning changes, they are generally the first to learn of deployment issues, and they help ensure technical and application management teams are aware of the impact.

Asset Management

Through the request fulfillment practice and by ensuring there are adequate procedures for the deployment and collection of assets, the service desk supports the asset management practice.

Information Security Management

The service desk is involved in this area from two perspectives: making sure requests for access to systems and applications are properly authorized and by communicating security safety practices to end-users.

The service desk’s role in these practices greatly exceeds any role the IT help desk plays in direct service and support for systems and applications. This is the biggest difference between the service desk and the help desk.

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The service desk’s role in these practices greatly exceeds any role the IT help desk plays in direct service and support for systems and applications. This is the biggest difference between the service desk and the help desk.

The diagram below provides a visual representation of the difference between the help desk vs service desk, as well as the relationship between the service desk and the other IT functions. While the IT help desk is involved primarily in end-user support and operations management is focused primarily on running daily operational activities and supporting events identified by monitoring systems, the service desk takes inputs from these personnel and works with IT to support incidents, problems, and changes to systems and applications. They also manage the request fulfillment practice based on end-users direct requests and repair needs that arise from incident management.

Help Desk vs Service Desk

This diagram clearly highlights the differences between the IT help desk vs IT service desk.

While the help desk is only involved in end-user requests for technical support, the service desk is involved in every aspect of service delivery shown in the diagram.

The value of the service desk and the service desk tools they employ over the traditional IT help desk becomes when seen in this diagram. Before the formalization of the service desks, IT help desks became overwhelmed with supporting growing support needs in a reactive IT organization: repetitive incidents, outages to vital business systems, and constant requests made it difficult for them to get the job done, sometimes resulting in their reputation as the “helpless” desk. The evolution to the service desk gives the IT help desk the responsibility and tools they need to ensure great service delivery.