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Justifying The Help Desk - Business Case



One of the biggest issues is that you’ll need to make a business case for the help desk. That is, you’ll need to demonstrate that the help desk has definite business value. The problem is that does not always produce any tangible object for the company. If your help desk is designed for the customers who are buying your products, at a minimum, the help desk is a necessity (or necessary evil). In some cases, like with many software vendors, the help desk or hotline actually generates revenue. However, a purely internal help desk does not have this benefit. Even if you do plan to charge other departments for your services, you do not have as strong a business case as when you’re able to sell the service for hard cash.

Instead of the tangible benefits that you can see in other cases, the initial justification for thehelp desk may have to be built solely on nontangible benefits. Most likely, those of nontangible things will be something like "time saved in solving problems" or "increased user satisfaction." However, if you already have experience with a help desk in your company, such as when updating an existing one, you probably have some tangible information that you can include. Since the justification for both a new help desk and improvement to an existing one is basically the same, let’s first look at the kind of information that you might have or probably will have if you already have a functioning help desk.

The first thing to consider is whether or not your current help desk keeps accurate records of problems and their solutions; then you’re in the similar situation to someone who is just starting out. That is, there is no tangible information to justify developing or expanding the help desk. However, there are certain estimates that you can make that can help you come up with some fairly accurate numbers. The most important thing for the company’s management is money. Since time is money and a help desk is used to save time, the help desk can be used to save money. Therefore, a good place to start is to look at those places where a help desk will save time.

Let’s assume the medium-sized company with 1,000 computer users. Let’s assume further that only 10% of the users call to the help desk on any given day. This means that the help desk gets an average of 100 calls per day. If each call averages six minutes, that would be the total of 600 minutes or 10 hours per day. If you can reduce the number of calls per day to 60 and reduce the average time per call to four minutes, you’ll spend just 240 minutes or three hours per day. In other words, by reducing the call load and the length of calls by just 40%, you’re saved seven hours per day. If the average hourly wage is ten dollars, you save 70 dollars per day. If you figure an average of 200 work days per year, that’s savings of $14,000 per year. Over two years, you are just about at what one of the better help desk products would cost.

At first glance, you might think that the help desk pays for itself within two years. However, what we didn’t mention here was the work involved in getting the help desk running. On the other hand, by amortizing the help desk software over three years, you’re closer to getting a reasonable return on your investment.

The most important things to note about the times I just mentioned is that I referred to them as the "average." Experience has shown me that the six minutes is much closer to a minimum than it is to an average. What many people fail to consider in their evaluations is the time spent either looking for or implementing the solution. Even something as mundane in as resetting someone’s password can take that length of time.

You need to consider the time it takes for the system administrator to start the User Manager, find that user’s entry and input the new password. The time to do this is less if the User Manager is already running, but what about other issues? You need to look at all the processes in which the help desk is involved and measure how long each takes. Monitor how often each of these calls occurs in a specific period of time. It is then a fairly simple matter to get the average amount of time spent on your calls. However, don’t forget to consider the calls that occur with less frequency, but take a long time to complete.

If you already have some method of recording your calls, the time it takes to do this and otheradministrative chores also needs to be considered when estimating the average call time. Here also, you need to consider the calls that are out of the ordinary. For example, the user calls in needing assistance in connecting to a network drive. Normally, this kind of call takesabout five minutes. However, the user is a very new to computers and as a result needs the alot more "hand-holding." This means the call takes 15 minutes. (Believe me, these kind ofcalls happen more often then you can imagine.)

You need to be careful with what you do with these numbers. For example, the numbers youcome up with might indicate savings equivalent to one or more employees. This might make you think that once the system it is in place and running efficiently, you will be able to reduce your staff. However, the savings are not as tangible as with dollars. On the other hand, if you end up with tying savings equivalent to five or 10 employees, you are probably overstaffed.

Regardless of what these numbers should show, consider the many other things that need to get done in your department before you start sending out those termination notices. I have worked in departments before that never seemed to complete any significant project, because they were too busy fighting fires. By implementing some changes to their help desk, they were able to reduce the number of people working on the help desk and free people do to work on other projects.

When estimating the time it takes to solve a problem, one thing that is often not considered is how much time it takes for the user to get to the right person. This problem shows itself much more dramatically when there is not yet a help desk in place. People will look up the phone number of their favorite system administrator and give him or her a call. Even if this administrator has the skills or knowledge to solve a problem, they may not be the best choice. First, someone else could solve the problem faster. Second, he or she may be in the middle of doing something that is more important than solving this one user’s problem. When the administrator redirects the user to the appropriate system administrator, all of this time is nonproductive.

In my experience too, it is rarely the case where the administrator simply says, "I am not the right person. I will transfer you," but rather a certain amount of time is spent explaining thesituation to the user. Depending on how much the user begs and pleads for this administrator to help, this could add a couple of minutes to the total time it takes to solve the user’s problem.

You should therefore estimate the number of such calls you get in the given period of time and multiply this number by at least two to determine the number of minutes spent redirecting calls. It may not seem like two minutes is something to worry about, but if it happens 150 times a month, that is 300 minutes or five hours.

A central data store is an important aspect of the help desk and should be mentioned in theproposal. This helps both the system administrators and the users themselves to solve problems more quickly. How much time this central store or knowledge base can save you depends on all of the factors involved in deciding on the help desk, such as technical level of your users, complexity of the programs, and so forth. However, in my experience, a well-set-up and well-maintained knowledge base can save at least half of the time spent solving problems.

Preventing problems from occurring rather then cleaning up the mess they leave is anotherimportant way to save time. Depending on the kind of problem prevention, this can even equate to saving money. For example, if you give a customer a number of files on a disk that contains a virus, your customer will probably not be pleased. This results in you losing business and therefore money. It is therefore a good idea to address the issue of system administration and monitoring tools in your help desk proposal. What things to look for in these tools is something we’ll get to later.

If you have a boss like I have had, it is definitely a good idea to discuss the negative aspects of the help desk implementation in your proposal. For example, the help desk will not spring into being overnight. The knowledge base will not be magically filled with information. You obviously need to invest a certain amount of effort to get the help desk to the point where it is running efficiently. I have found that by discussing such costs in your proposal, the true costs of the help desk implementation will be clear. It is therefore easier for management to make a decision and may be more likely to get additional funds later if your boss is not "blind-sided" by the costs you failed to mention in your proposal.



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