IT, as a field itself, is full of jargon. For a layman, it can be highly confusing. When you hear two people from your organization's IT department conversing, they may be talking in a different language altogether. Similarly, ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) has its own language.

You might have often heard the terms Help Desk and Service Desk used by your IT personnel. More often than not, people think these three are the same. There is little or no difference between them; one is just the glorified version of the other. Add the term ITSM and its confusion compounded.

These terms have also been used interchangeably, even in magazines and articles about ITSM. A conversation about the service desk may mean something completely different than one on the help desk. ITSM tools have a 'service desk' associated with them when their offerings exceed the capabilities to support an average IT service desk. A corporate organization may call its IT support service desk, but its employees may refer to it as the help desk.

It is essential to use the correct term when you are conversing. You may end up underselling or overselling yourself if you must be aware of what each word really means.

What is the difference between a help desk and a service desk

These two terms have been used interchangeably for many years now. You can differentiate between these IT support terms by looking at their origins.

The IT help desk was first used in the late 1980s. It was a support feature that came into being to fix IT issues. It stayed focused more on the IT than on the end customer. It adhered to no targets. Their immediate solutions were also a service desk, an evolved IT helpdesk version. This came from the best practice framework of the ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) and viz ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). This looked at managing IT as a service.

ITIL defines the service desk as a single point of contact between the end users and the service provider. A service desk usually looks after incident management and service requests and manages communication with users.

Let us look at some of the main differences between them.

A help desk is IT-centric looking mainly at technology and mainframe computing, while a service desk is IT service-centric, looking at the management of IT as a service.

As the name suggests, the help desk provides help while the service desk offers service focusing on delivering the best to end customers. It leans towards customer service, while the help desk is all about solving problems that are given to them.

The primary function of a help desk is fixing problems, essentially what is known as incident management in ITSM terms. However, a service desk goes beyond that. It not only corrects issues but also offers other services. It can give your customer information on new services and help them with the additional requested information (How to do something). There is no specific reason why a help desk cannot do all of these. The nomenclature given to both signifies particular functions for them respectively.

A help desk was introduced as an add-on to support IT endeavors. A service desk was introduced as an integral part of the service-based ITSM software. The entire IT ecosystem was built around the service lifecycle. This is why the service desk was used more than the help desk in ITIL. Those well versed with the ITSM tools may also argue that a help desk is tactical while a service desk is more strategic. But this depends entirely on the organization and how they function.

A help desk may also be considered a subset of a service desk, or a service desk is regarded as an evolution of the help desk. A help desk is often viewed as old-fashioned by those who follow the modern ITSM framework. A service desk is considered more modern.

At the end of the day, it all depends on your organization and your employees. While one person may call it a help desk, another may call it a service desk. Your organization may call it something else altogether. The name given to it does not matter. What matters is how the team functions, what services it offers, what problems it solves, etc. The features and procedures must be understood clearly, primarily when you are in the service business. There should be no discrepancy between what is told and what is understood. Otherwise, as Shakespeare says - "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," similarly, no matter what you choose to call it, nothing else matters as long as you know the features! No matter what you call it, you should be able to explain the features and functions clearly while conversing. Else there is a risk of underselling or overselling yourself.