Service Desk: Single point of contact

Service Desk function is one of the best designed and described features in ITIL. One of the proofs of its maturity is the fact that just a few cosmetic changes happened in the text during the last 2011 refresh.

I strongly recommend taking the ITIL® Service Operation book very seriously, and especially going through 6.3. Service desk function several times, making sure that all that is written there makes sense. Because in practice, it really does. I have very little, if anything, to add there, so the following will be my comments and recommendations regarding the implementation.

Service Desk vs. Help Desk vs. Call Center

I feel the need to move this dilemma out of the way in the beginning. I have included the Call Center in the subject just to augment the nonsense of the question. Call Center is a function organized to provide rudimentary info and help to customers regarding one simple technology or area of knowledge. If customers need more complex help, we will organize the Help Desk. It is a tactical organization created to provide help to mostly outside customers over and over again.

Now, if there is a need to implement best practices and even the simplest ITIL processes, we will organize the Service Desk function. Even if we are in a small- to mid-size business, we will not lower our standards. It has to be the Service Desk, since there is no Help Desk in ITIL. There was, in Version 1, but it evolved into Service Desk in the late ‘80s.

Service Desk is a mature strategic function crucial for service operation, but also for all five ITIL lifecycle stages.

Single Point of Contact

Being a single point of contact is the one most comprehensible definition of the Service Desk, especially to people who had an IT problem at work and then were pointed to the Network team, and then to Infrastructure, and then to Development.

Service Desk has to own every ticket raised, and follow its lifecycle from beginning to customer confirmation that it is resolved satisfactorily.

Service Desk organization

There are several Service Desk structural organizations described. I will take the liberty to add a few words from the perspective of an average mid-sized business.

Local Service Desk. This type of organizing has its justification in industrial production businesses, and also businesses with dislocated offices with a lot of VIP/critical users. In all cases, they should be managed from the central location and trained to use common tools.

Centralized Service Desk. This is the most efficient and cost-effective organization for most businesses.

Virtual Service Desk. The latest expansion of technologies can enable the organization of the Service Desk function with dislocated units to appear to the customer as a centralized function. It is important to carefully address quality, culture, training, financial and organizational issues here.

Follow the Sun. Organizing geographically dispersed Service Desks around the globe can be a very interesting concept for global organizations, having in mind cultural differences and technology specifics. It can prove to be efficient, since employees are working only one shift. On the other hand, the organization has to have in mind the larger set of potential drawbacks: quality levels, tools used, escalation procedures, etc.

Specialized Service Desk Groups. Organizing separate entities focused on different services would be the least recommended way to go here. Whenever possible, separate specialist groups should be just another queue or an assignment group in the centralized Service Desk.


Service Desk is one of the rare organizations where employees prefer the open space work environment to separate rooms. It is VERY beneficial if the second- (and sometimes third-) level groups can be put together in the same open space. Common refreshment areas often help to break the natural barriers between Service Desk staff and specialist groups. This also speeds up the transfer of knowledge between them.


People are different. Working in a stressful environment can bring out the best, but also the worst in people. Human Resources (HR) plays a crucial role in forming the Service Desk. Inform your HR about all issues in 6.3.4. Service Desk staffing (ITIL® Service Operation book); it is a very useful read.

Along with all the mentioned training methods, it is recommended to employ periodic transfers of knowledge from specialized groups/projects in the form of short workshops, during off-peak hours or shift changes. Deploying a serious Knowledge Management System (KMS) and Learning Management tools will shorten the learning curve and enable the staff to provide higher-quality service with better First Call Resolution rate.

Mentoring and shadowing are the most efficient methods of knowledge transfer to a new operator. HR can be of help in training the mentors’ knowledge-transfer and teaching skills.

Super Users are an extremely powerful concept. They are skilled, trained users with high interpersonal skills. Super Users act as liaisons between the user community and IT Service Support, offloading from the Service Desk simple, repetitive requests from less skilled end users.


Service Desk is a key function in ITIL. It is not mentioned in ISO/IEC 20000, since 20k is a process-oriented norm. Nevertheless, if you implement ITIL or ISO 20k processes, having a single-point-of-contact first-level support organization according to ITIL best practices is a must.

Having an under-par Service Desk will certainly create a bad impression about the IT organization as a whole, while a well-organized Service Desk can help to create a much better picture of IT to the customer.