4 reasons the help desk of 2020 won't be the same

In my recent post on the CIO of 2020, I highlighted a number of significant demographic trends that will shape the way we live and work. Just how different isn't always obvious to those of us caught in the daily grind. Even the tools that support IT in the future must be transformed to enable greater transparency and agility between the IT staff and their "customers" while simultaneously ensuring the security and governance requirements that most enterprises are subject to.


Even the humble help desk and the practice of IT service management have the potential to be transformed by our changing demographics. It's the changing mix of age, geography, language and culture (along with an increasingly fragile planet and its resources) that have the most wide reaching impact on us, because, well demographics is us. And we're going to be a very "us" in the next 10-20 years.


Old versus new


What we think of today as the employees of the "developed" world will generally fall into the "graying" category, being both more experienced, but contending with the inevitable challenges that age throws at us. While in the "developing" world we'll find people who are generally younger, more upwardly mobile and a consistent source of potential talent for skill hungry employers.


This has real implications for where and how we work. We're going to need to accommodate a generation of workers who are today between 30 and 60 years of age whose work habits and processes tend to be more oriented toward structured processes and systems  versus working through chains-of-command, sequentially organised processes and clear accountability and responsibilities. And while we're not stuck in the past, chances are we're also going to be less inclined to adopt the new languages and customs of younger generations from developing economies.



The flip side is the majority of younger, well educated people entering our workforce will be from places such as Russia, Indonesia, China and India. It's a safe bet that most of them will speak a second or even third language, they'll also be the first generation of so-called "digital natives," those who have literally grown up around mobile computing, social media and always-on connectivity. This truth hit home when the CTO of a large European bank told me one of his younger group of developers had been collaborating to solve bugs in the bank's application source code on Facebook!


This showcases their fundamentally different attitude towards collaborating and sharing. Both forms of working have their merits and their pitfalls:


  • Traditional structured processes and workflows fail to recognise the talent you need may not be working on your problem (or worse still, that the work is being done by someone not getting the credit - your so-called "most valuable player" or MVP)
  • The seemingly chaotic world of unstructured collaboration presents a potential nightmare for regulators trying to demonstrate compliance and controls in mission-critical environments such as healthcare and finance.

Making matters worse, neither group wants to change the way they work today, leading to potentially compromised solutions where neither group is happy.


Then there's communication, specifically language. I vividly recall having to debug a customer problem that appeared to have been solved by someone in Japan, but I couldn't completely understand the solution because part of the text was in Japanese. Fortunately the snippet of computer code I read was enough to put me on the right path, but it made me wonder how many other wheels were being re-invented all over the world due to a digital Tower of Babel.


Finally, almost every IT process we use today was designed for a time when central or even departmental IT had complete control over the end-user experience - from procurement to daily operation. If there was a problem brewing, IT knew about it, if there was a new system or application being rolled out, IT was in the loop. Today's reality is very different. Digital natives often identify, troubleshoot and resolve their own IT problems without ever speaking to central IT and if they can't fix it, they can easily find a workaround using third party services and bring-your-own-devices eventually leading to a massive shadow-IT problem.


The resulting pressure on traditional service management and help desk processes has reached breaking point.


Most people (including me) who'd seen this coming assumed that the way to solve the problem was to forklift out the old service management process and software and replace it with something completely new. The reality is that it's not always cost effective, nor is a completely new working model likely to be welcomed by IT staff more accustomed to working in traditional process environments - and that's before we even start looking into the regulatory implications. Recently I learned of a novel approach to the problem pioneered by some HP researchers based on four fundamental principles;


1). Take control of shadow IT by making it quick and easy for end-users to order their own products and services through intuitive self-service portals that integrate multiple suppliers without having to change the existing help desk technology.

2). Reimagine service management as the "central stock exchange" for IT support information from multiple help desks - internal and suppliers rather than trying to create the "mother of all help desks."

3). Make collaboration a seamless part of working with existing tools, rather than forcing the adoption of a single, new tool.

4). Use the power of multi-lingual, meaning-based computing and apply it to IT's own support of Big Data to break down language barriers and to proactively identify "hot spots" of user frustration before they even log a support call or surprise the CIO at the next board meeting.


I recently had the chance to meet with some of HP's researchers and take a "sneak peak" of what the future of work for IT might look like. Starting with HP's recently announced Propel service catalog which acts as a central portal for all IT requests and unusually, doesn't require the existing help desk to be swapped out, but instead acts as a central clearing house for requests before routing them through existing processes and systems. I witnessed how the next incarnation of HP Service Anywhere 3.0 uses advanced meaning-based technology to identify "clusters" of hot topics being discussed in trouble tickets and feedback across an enterprise's service and help desks enabling IT to get a jump on brewing issues before they become boardroom topics. I also had a glimpse at some NDA technology that promises to change the way we collaborate, but I will have to leave that story to another time.


While many of us lose sleep over the implications of the changing workforce and a do-it-yourself attitude to IT, I personally welcome the idea that we'll be able to work differently, confident in the knowledge that central IT is still there, but orchestrating and enabling rather than controlling. Sleep well.

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About the Author
Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsib...

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