IT Careers 2014

The help desk is hot again

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If you thought the traditional help desk would be outsourced, automated or altogether shut down, think again. Hiring for the help desk is hot.

If you're looking for an exciting IT job with the city of Staunton, Va. -- the hottest action is at the help desk.

"That's actually where most of the work is right now," says CTO Kurt Plowman. "Police, fire, sanitation, water, recreation -- they've all got some sort of technology involved in almost every job," and most of that technology is mobile, which requires even more assistance. Workers who put in water lines, for instance, use GPS devices to locate manholes. "That stuff we didn't have 10 years ago."

The shift has prompted the city to add another help desk employee to its five-person IT staff to help field questions from about 400 municipal workers. "With the consumerization of IT, most of the action right now is at the user level, rather than back in the server room or networks," Plowman adds. "Our help desk is now our biggest interface with our user community."

Driving Competitive Advantage

Help desk expertise is a competitive advantage for KMD Enterprises, a Seattle-based real-time medical billing company. Billers, mostly contract employees around the country, serve as the help desk staff. They are in constant communication with clients who run doctor's offices, answering questions and training people to use KMD's server network and software.

When a biller gets a question, he evaluates the issue and decides whether he can handle it or needs to pass it on to the technical services group.

"We determined that the model just didn't fit our corporate culture," says Chris McCay, director of IT at the Washington-based program and project management firm. "We're a midsize business, but we have a real boutique flavor in the way we try to present ourselves to clients. For me to not present the help desk in that same way to our internal employees, it was creating a real corporate disconnect. So we went back to an in-house model."

McCay hired one new help desk worker, but says he will expand the staff if the business sees the same dramatic growth it experienced in 2012 and 2013 when the firm added 30 employees.

"Help desk is becoming more personable rather than the endless interactive voice response systems -- that makes a huge difference to the customer base," says Rami ElGawly, technical architect at eClinicalWorks, an electronic medical records (EMR) software company in Westborough, Mass. In 2014, the company plans to add more experienced Tier 1 help desk staffers who already have a working knowledge of the EMR product.

For example, Maricopa's new customer service manager, Steve Szoradi, has a background in telecommunications but has worked in customer service for 22 years -- most recently at a law firm before joining Maricopa County in October.

"I know enough technology to be dangerous, but my skill set is working with people," Szoradi explains. "I think this is where I fit in. I can take and develop people and build teams. I am right where I wanted to be."

Another hire is help desk coordinator Jennifer Asher, who worked on the help desk when she started her IT career 20 years ago, then transitioned to being a network administrator and an engineer before ultimately returning to her help desk roots.

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