Got PC Problems? Help Yourself

Jan. 1, 2004
It’s an occurrence repeated many times daily at some information technology (IT) help desks: the phone rings, and on the other end of the line is an employee who has forgotten his or her password to an application or system.

Gartner Inc. (, a Stamford, Conn., research firm, estimates that up to 30 percent of all calls to internal help desks are related to password reset issues. Not only can these calls be aggravating to help desk personnel, but they also come at a big cost to the organizations. Each call may eat up several minutes of a help desk technician’s time, as well as that of the forgetful employee. Gartner estimates the cost at $51 to $147 per incident.

Given those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to understand why self-service systems that enable employees to securely reset their own passwords are finding wider use. By eliminating the need for involvement by help desk personnel, the payback can be rapid. “Most ROI (return on investment) calculations show that a self-service password reset tool will pay for itself within six months,” says Diana Grupposo, senior product manager at Intuit Inc.’s Information Technology Solutions Group (, in Tampa, Fla., a vendor of help desk automation and IT asset management software.

Don’t call

Across the board, there is a broader trend toward more use of self-service in help desk technology, says Grupposo. When employees have problems with their personal computers or other IT assets, they are more often being asked not to call or send an e-mail to the help desk, but rather to go to a Web site or internal corporate site to log in their own service requests. The approach saves time for help desk staffers, notes Grupposo, and can also provide a higher level of access for employees, who can revisit the site at any time to check the status of their requests.

More companies are also developing internal knowledge bases, including answers to frequently asked questions, that employees can access for self-help on common issues. And for known problems related to widely used software products, companies such as Clark, N.J.-based RightAnswers L.L.C. (, among others, provide Web-based self-help and technical support database services for use by company employees and help desk technicians alike.

“We’ve got more than 100,000 solutions to the most frequently asked questions for about 150 off-the-shelf software products,” says Andrew Rawson, RightAnswers vice president of marketing and business development. The list ranges from Microsoft Office and Lotus applications to those from Oracle and SAP. “We find that companies use our knowledge base to offload the simple stuff from their help desk personnel, so they can spend more time focusing on the complex problems,” Rawson says.

Rawson expects continued rapid growth of self-service products for the internal help desk market. But he also predicts wider use of technologies that will more smoothly blend self-service systems with traditional technician-assisted support.

Let’s chat

One such technology is text-based chat, he says, which is already being used increasingly in the world of Web-based customer service and support. “You may be searching on a knowledge base site, and you’ll see a little button there called ‘live chat,’ and you’ll be able to click on it and chat with a help desk technician who can help you find solutions.” Rawson explains.

For internal IT help desks, says Rawson, the benefits of chat will be significant. Traditional phone-based technical support is a serial activity, he says; technicians can handle only one call at a time. “But when you start using text-based chat for support, you turn it into a parallel activity, and you’ll get huge gains in productivity because the support rep can now manage four or five chats simultaneously,” Rawson contends.

Remote control tools for help desk personnel are also destined for wider application, Rawson believes. With these systems, help desk technicians, while on the phone with an employee, can remotely take control of the employee’s PC in order to demonstrate an activity, or to search out and resolve problems.

Technologies such as text chat and remote control are not new, says Rawson, but they haven’t yet been used widely by internal help desks. “It’s just a question of vendors getting the stuff integrated and delivered to the market,” he notes. “I think you’ll see finished suites that offer remote control, chat and knowledge bases within the next 12 months.”

Wes Iversen, [email protected]