Should You Outsource Help Desk Functions?

July 1, 2005
A Google search for the phrase “help desk outsourcing” produces more than a million hits in a fraction of a second. While that punctuates how help-desk outsourcing has grown, help-desk service providers must still prove they can provide around-the-clock, expert-accessible, immediate service that clients demand.

“When we look at a help desk, we look at it as a 24/7 operation. That’s typically where our customers live every day,” says Sam Boggs, vice president of help-desk services for Siemens Business Systems (www.sbs.usa.siemens.com), in Mason, Ohio. “It’s very critical to know that there is someone on the third shift who can reach out to a help desk and get a solution to a problem.”

Those middle-of-the-night, what-do-we-do-now situations, which test whether vendors can deliver on their promises, are tailor-made for a help desk. It links problems with real-time or near-real-time solutions. For example, Bosch Rexroth Corp. (www.boschrexroth.com), based in Lohr-an-Maim, Germany, offers around-the-clock, single-point coordination of service calls. UniPress Software Inc. (www.unipress.com), of Edison, N.J., even recently unveiled a help-desk helper. Its software-training and professional-services program allows organizations to streamline and automate help-desk and customer-support operations.

Why outsource help?

What, though, drives the price-value relationship that leads a manufacturer to choose an outsourced help desk? “The biggest thing in any outsourcing environment is that you want to make sure that the provider has the capability to deliver services at a higher level than you can do internally,” Boggs says. Companies that are considering outsourcing their needs to a help desk should remember that there are also other ways of resolving problems, he notes. Those include Web tickets, used for account profile information, live on-line chat sessions, multiple chat sessions and also a complete self-service environment.

But some things are non-negotiable regarding what prospective clients should examine before engaging external help-desk services. “The determining factors are flexibility, service orientation and technological advances,” Boggs says. Flexibility means the provider continuously invests in people and money to supply current information.

Service orientation, he says, involves how good the service provider’s people are and whether they able to resolve problems. Technological advances range from help-desk calls—for example, to get the status of some operation—to network-management tools for monitoring servers or equipment on manufacturing lines, Boggs says. Other advances include dashboards, server farms and remote management of local-area or wide-area networks, he says.

These technology advances are a critical requirement for multiple-manufacturing-site environments, Boggs says. “That means support for different operations, domestically and internationally,” he explains. “It also includes supporting administrative locations. It is the ability to offer multi-place channels of communication through the Web, e-mail and telephone.”

Less obvious uses of help desks exist. Help desks can accumulate information, for example, that can be analyzed and then used to advise the client about trends in manufacturing or even equipment status. Every time a customer touches a help desk, it’s an opportunity for a provider to gain intelligence and shape what’s provided and how problems can be avoided, Boggs says. This all amounts to user education, he explains, which can lead to fewer calls and, ultimately, lower costs. Another less-apparent, but broader, function of help desks is assisting manufacturers in assessing and managing their core businesses. Help desks can be roadmaps for chief information officers, chief operating officers and chief technology officers on how to outsource, Boggs says. But the help desk’s main purpose is service delivery and user satisfaction, he emphasizes. “Our goal is to put the help at the other end of the telephone.”

C. Kenna Amos, [email protected], is an Automation World Contributing Editor.

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