Planning for Your School S Help Desk 1

Planning for Your School S Help Desk 1

Planning for Your School’s Help Desk 1

Planning Your School’s Help Desk

Before you can start formally helping others with their computer problems at school, you have a few decisions to make. You’ll need to work with other members of your help desk team to determine what the help desk will be like. You and your team must identify key job roles within the help desk so that it can run as smoothly as possible. You’ll also need to define the type and the amount of services that you will provide to users and for computers at your school. For example, you might decide to offer support for nearly any computer problem that an enduser has, or you might decide to provide support for only operating system-related problems. This chapter walks you through the early decisions you’ll need to make to start a help desk for your school.

What Is a Help Desk?

A help desk is a part of a technical support group established by an organization to keep its computers operating. Typically, the organization has a large number of computers. The help desk is usually run by a group of technicians, sometimes called help desk analysts or support technicians, who are trained to fix the types of computers and software applications used by the organization. The number of computers typically determines the number of technicians on the help desk. And, contrary to what you might think, the technicians don’t all sit at one physical desk; the term “help desk” is really just another term for help department.

In most organizations, the help desk is part of the Information Technology (IT) department. The role of ahelp desk varies widely, but it usually provides both reactive and proactive computer and end-user support. Through reactive support, the help desk resolves problems that users report, helps users perform tasks that they need to know to complete a project, and addresses problems such as computer viruses. Through proactive support, the help deskworks to prevent problems from occurring. For example, its technicians teach users how to perform tasks that will help them avoid common computer-related problems before they happen. The more proactive support a help desk provides the less reactive support it will be called on to provide.

How Does a Help Desk Work?

The help desk is considered the first level of technical support and is commonly referred to as Level 1 support. Level 1 support techniciansare usually generalists. Generalists have broad, but not necessarily deep, knowledge of the types of problems that end users are likely to encounter. Many organizations also have additional levels of support. For example, Level 2 support provides support in specialized areas, such as networking, operating systems, or specific software applications. Level 2 technicians are part of the technical support group, but are not usually considered part of the help desk.

A help desk manages its tasks by using a ticket request system. When end users have computer problems, they usually complete a help desk ticket by phone or online. The ticket request system categorizes requests for help in several ways. One way might be by the type of program for which help is needed. Another way might be by the department in which the end user works.

In addition to responding to ticket requests, help desk support technicians conduct inventory checks and perform routine maintenance and upgrades on the organization’s computers and networks. Another important function of the help desk is the collection and use of data. All ticket requests are logged in a database. These ticket requests provide valuable information thatthe organization can use to make decisions about improving technical support, purchasing new computers and software, upgrading systems, and the need for more training.

Figure 1-1 illustrates the typical flow of a ticket request. When the help desk receives a ticket request, a Level 1 technician attempts to determine the cause of the problem by asking a series of questions. Sometimes the support technician can resolve the problem by instructing the end user over the phone, or by connecting to the end user’s computer. If the technician resolves the problem, the ticket is closed. If the problem cannot be resolved in this manner, a technician is dispatched to the workstation to troubleshoot the problem, or the ticket is routed to a higher level of support.

Figure 1-1

Ticket request flow

How Is the Success of a Help Desk Measured?

An organizationcan measure the success of its help desk in different ways. Typically, a number of indicators are considered, including:

  • The percentage of ticket requests successfully closed.
  • The percentage of ticket requests passed to the next level of support.
  • The time it takes to respond to and close a ticket request.
  • The end user’s(or customer’s) satisfaction with the courtesy, patience, and helpfulness of the technicians.

Roles of Help Desk
Team Members

Thehelp desk team consists of several roles. People on your team might perform one or more roles.Each role emphasizes different duties, and is best performed by a person with specific characteristics or qualities.


Each member of your school’s help desk team is considered a technician. Team members may also hold other positions, such as team leader or data analyst, which are discussed later; however, the most important duties are those of the technician. Without technicians to actually solve and prevent problems, there is no team to lead or data to analyze.

The typical duties of a technician include:

  • Providing an average of at least five hours of service per week on the help desk and logging those hours in the database accurately and appropriately.
  • Responding to ticket requests to the best of his or her ability.
  • Carrying out regularly scheduled routine maintenance.
  • Acting as a lab assistant where possible.
  • Tracking ticket requests throughout their life cycle.
  • Participating in weekly meetings and all required training sessions.
  • Making an ongoing effort to provide high-quality customer service.

Sometimes, help desktechnicians in large organizations specialize in a particular area, such as hardware support or operating system support. The more specialized a help desk technician’s knowledge, however, the less likely he or she is able to solve a wide variety of problems. For your school help desk team, technicians should strive to build as broad a base of knowledge as possible.

Exercise 1-1: Characteristics of a Successful Technician

Working in groups of three to four, identify 10 characteristics that a successful technician should have. Share your list with your class.Record the characteristics that other teams identify, which are not on your list.






Team Leader Duties

The team leader functions as the student manager of the help desk. His or her overall responsibility is to use organizational, communications, and leadership skills to ensure that the help desk is operating optimally. In addition to his or her work as a technician, the team leader’s specific day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Coordinating the weekly schedule to ensure maximum help desk coverage.
  • Overseeing the response to ticket requests.
  • Ensuring that routine maintenance tasks are being completed.
  • Assisting in the coordination of special projects.
  • Ensuring that technicians are properly logging help desk data.
  • Facilitating communication among team members.
  • Providing the teacher/faculty adviser with periodic updates.
  • Overseeing the upkeep of the team’s base of operations,or the place where help desk team members do their work and keep their tools.

Your help desk team must decide how many team leaders it should have, and how team leader duties should be divided among those people. You might also choose to have some of these duties performed by your faculty adviser.

Exercise 1-2: Characteristics of a Successful Team Leader

Working in groups of three to four, identify six characteristics that a successful team leader should exhibit. Although team leaders are also technicians, focus on the unique duties of the team leader, not on the duties of a technician. Share your list with your class. Record the characteristics that other teams identify, which are not on your list.






Suggest the names of two team members who have some or all of the characteristics listed above. Describe why you think they would make good team leaders.

1.______would make a great team leader because ______.

2.______would make a great team leader because ______.

Data Analyst Duties

The data analyst manages data and information related to the help desk. Filed ticket requests provide data that can be used to improve the quality of help desk services.This continual improvement is an essential component of successful help desks. The data analyst is responsible for making certain that this data is collected and used effectively. In addition to her or his work as a technician, the data analyst’s specific day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Compiling regular reports for the help desk team and the teacher/faculty adviser
  • Coordinating efforts to use help desk data to support and modify services and to determine the help desk team’s training needs.
  • Working with the teacher/faculty adviser to plan and implement customer service surveys.

Exercise 1-3: Characteristics of a Successful Data Analyst

Working in groups of three to four, identify six characteristics that a successful data analyst should exhibit.Although data analysts are also technicians, focus on the unique duties of the data analyst, not on the duties of a technician. Share your list with your class. Record the characteristics that other teams identify, which are not on your list.






Suggest the names of two team members who have some or all of the characteristics listed above. Describe why you think they would make good data analysts.

1.______would make a great data analyst because ______.

2.______would make a great data analyst because ______.

Determining Help Desk Goals

Before you define the services that your help desk team will provide, you should determine the help desk’s goals. Unlike industry help desks, your goals might be as much educational as they are support-based. Each school is different, and your goals will depend on the resources you have available, the number of computers and users you will support, and the network on which the computers reside. The following are examples of goals you might want to consider for your help desk team.

  • Ensure that each help desk team member is able to successfully complete each exercise in this course.
  • Resolve all computer problems that fall within the scope of your services within a specific amount of time (for example, within two days).
  • Provide a defined number of hours of computer support for end users each week.
  • Create and maintain an inventory of computer hardware and software for your school.
  • Ensure that the operating system of each computer is updated with the latest security updates and virus protection on a predefined schedule (for example, within one week of any updates released by Microsoft Corporation).

Businesses and their help desks often formalize their goals in the form of a mission statement. A mission statement is a concise statement that defines overall goals and priorities. It is usually shared with customers and other stakeholders to inform them of the purpose of an organization.

For example, a company that provides help desk support has the following mission statement:

“Our mission is to provide quality technical support via help desk service technicians (desk-side), on-site services, and/or 24x7 CallCenter support, to employees, contractors, vendors,and partners.”

A student-run school help desk team might have the followingmission statement:

“Our mission is to provide a hands-on learning opportunity for all help desk team members while striving to maintain all computer lab equipment, and to help users solve their computer problems as quickly as possible.”

Defining the Scope of Your Help Desk

When you define the scope of your help desk, you are identifying the range of issues for which you will provide support, as well as how and when you will provide that support. It is extremely important that you do not try to do more than you are capable of doing well. But, you also do not want to underestimate your capacity. You can control what end users expect from the help desk by carefully defining the scope of your support efforts. This requires finding a balance between the resources that are available and the computer support needs of your end users.The remainder of this section discusses some of the topics you should consider when trying to determine the scope of services you will offer.

Evaluating Your Resources

The first step to defining the scope of your services is to determine what support resources you have available.Available resources might include the following:

Existing Help Desk or Other Computer Support

Does your school have a professional help desk or IT department? If so, you will need to determine the scope of their duties and services. Your faculty adviser can help you obtain this information, and negotiate how the help desk team will work with these professionals.

Computers for Help Desk Team Members

Are there computers available specifically for help desk team members to use for support?If so, how many are available and where are they located?Is the area secure?If computers are available, you might be able to provide real-time support for users. We’ll explore real-time support in the next section.

Telephone Lines

Are there one or more telephone lines that can be dedicated to the help desk during working hours?If so, how many? The availability of phone lines can determine your ability to offer real-time support over the phone.

Team Members

How many help desk team members are available to work? On average, how many hours per week will they be available?

Types of Support

In industry, most help desks offer real-time support; that is, end users can call in and talk to a support technician who helps them solve their problem immediately if possible. Some help desks offer real-time support by using chat programs instead of phone calls. In schools and other organizations, real-time support is not always possible. In that case, asynchronous support is offered. Asynchronous support is performed sometime after the request is made. For example, an end user might request that a computer be fixed Monday morning, and the help desk technician then fixes it when time permits. With both real-time and asynchronous support, the help desk team should define acceptable time limits within which tickets must be resolved.

Exercise 1-4: Evaluate Resources

In this exercise, you’ll work in teams of two or three to fill in the information on availability and resources.


1.Use the following chart to fill in the hours for days of the week that each member of your group is available to work on the help desk. Transfer this information to the availability chart provided by your faculty adviser.

Team Member Names / Mon / Tues / Wed / Thurs / Fri

2.Refer to the availability chart you completed to answer the following questions.

a.During what days and hours are the most help desk team members available? ______

b.During what days and hours are the fewest (or no) help desk team members available? ______

Physical Resources

3.Where will the help desk team’s base of operations be located? ______

4.Are there computers available for use exclusively by help desk team members? If so, how many and where are they located?______

5.Are there computer labs where students take classes? If so, what type of help is the help desk team responsible for providing support during these classes? ______

6.Are there one or more phone lines available for use exclusively by help desk team members during the hours you want to provide support? ______

7.How many computers will the help desk team be responsible for? ______

8.How many end-users will the help desk team support? ______

9.Does a hardware and/or software inventory for these computers exist? If so, how up-to-date is it?______

Support Areas

You can furtherdefine the scope of help desk servicesby limitingthe support it offers within different support areas. Consider the following:

Hardware Support

Hardware support includes creating and maintaining an accurate inventory, evaluating and replacing non-functioning parts, and performing routine maintenance. This coursediscusses the skills you need to do these tasks. However, the schedule on which you perform maintenance or create the inventory can be affected by the resources you have available.

Operating System Support

Supporting the operating system(in this course, Microsoft Windows XP Professional), includes performing installations and upgrades, installing software updates and patches, and periodically performing operating system maintenance, such as disk defragmentation. The effort needed to install updates and patches is largely determined by the capabilities of your computer network.If computers are on a type of network called a domain, these updates can be performed automatically. If the computers are not in a domain, they will have to be performed manually, which requires more resources.