IT Careers 2014

The help desk is hot again

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."

Make no mistake: Hiring for the help desk is hot again. In a Computerworld survey of 489 IT executives conducted in August and September, 34% of the respondents said that they expect to hire more help desk staffers in the next 12 months.

The help desk was even listed among the top four "hot jobs" for the coming year in a survey by HR consulting firm Mercer and IT research firm Gartner.

"We see that, traditionally, the help desk was very much focused on pretty tactical types of items" such as passwords and software glitches, says Bruce Barge, a Mercer partner. "Now the help desk is starting to get involved with a wider range of activities, such as mobile and apps, that had previously not been automated. Now help desk professionals will have to have a broader skill set or more intelligent support systems to guide them in solving customers' problems."

The help desk now provides competitive advantage for many organizations, as well as the chance to bring "high touch" back to high tech. Today the help desk also serves as a vital liaison between employees' mobile technologies and the networks, servers and applications that support them.

What's more, larger pools of seasoned professionals are seeking help desk positions, IT executives say. They're finding that the help desk can utilize their wealth of expertise while also giving them opportunities to escape the data center, interact with people and directly help the business on a daily basis.

It's all part of a shift in the help desk philosophy -- from order-taker to problem-solver. "We're changing from an organization that just takes a ticket and passes it on, to a group of professionals that can own and solve problems right then and there," says David Stevens, CIO of Maricopa County, Ariz. He plans to add four new staffers in 2014, raising the county's help desk ranks by 20%. "You could make that a career and feel like you're making a major impact on the organization."

So what's driving the change? Help desk professionals and IT experts say the shift has been years in the making.

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