Help desk, rebooted: Social, mobile remake tech support

Device-toting users are taking help into their own hands, but enterprise apps still need enterprise help.

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Enterprise applications need enterprise help

Bill Benoist believes help desks will remain important despite changes brought about by the cloud and BYOD for a key reason: the large number of homegrown, custom applications used by enterprises that can't be supported externally.

"There is no way you can Google them or go outside to get help because those applications don't exist except in-house," says Benoist, vice president of information services for Calabasas, Calif.-based real estate company Marcus & Millichap. When users have really tough IT problems, the help desk is still the best place for them to get assistance, he says. "These people are not in the technology field, they're in real estate."

So far, Marcus & Millichap, which supports about 2,000 users, is exploring BYOD but has not implemented any policies or plans, says Benoist. "I don't see the cloud or BYOD leading to the end of the help desk," he says. "Many of our calls are application-specific and often involve user education and training rather than troubleshooting. These calls will still be with us whether or not the application is on the local desktop or in the cloud."

Where help desk calls have been going down, he says, are in areas such as hardware, malware and viruses due largely to improved computer operating systems, better virus protection and better hardware from vendors.

At New York-based clothing wholesaler and retailer Warnaco, CIO Michelle Garvey likewise agrees that crowdsourced help isn't appropriate for business applications specifically configured for a company's infrastructure. "If it's a problem with an SAP or Oracle application, I don't think that's possible, because those problems are very situation-dependent."

Where social media could be a beneficial tool for enterprises is in sharing internal legacy knowledge about core business functions -- which in Warnaco's case center around retail details like successful product displays and locations, she says. But for solving individuals' problems, not so much.

"Having 4,000 people describing what they did when their Excel spreadsheet didn't work really is a waste of resources," says Garvey. "There are just so many more interesting things to talk about in a social media platform than discussions of questions that would normally go to a help desk. Discussing technology is way down the list in terms of where that would be most valuable."

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