Knowledge Management

Service Desks and Spontaneous User Combustion

firefighterIf we listen to all the gossip and naysayers, it sounds like Death is coming for IT at least once a week. The latest nail in the supposed coffin of IT is the emergence of spontaneously created community help desks amongst users. The fear is that users will support themselves and render the IT department obsolete. A blog post by Rob England questions whether this fear is founded.

England notes that in retail, most vendors intentionally make their support poor and inaccessible so that users will seek out their own support amongst each other. However, in organizations where legitimate effort is placed into creating a useful and efficient help desk, he questions how often anyone feels compelled to develop spontaneous user support. As time goes on, the definitions of support and the help desk lose their clarity and start to become defined solely by context, so perhaps IT should be careful in this sense, but the threat of losing out to spontaneous user support seems tenuous:

I'm starting to feel that spontaneous support is like spontaneous human combustion: it may happen but it is very rare and the few cases get talked about a lot. If we do find examples, I'm curious as to what proportion of traffic gets resolved independently, what the impact on the service desk was, whether it a passing phenomenon or it sticks, and what the users felt.

He literally asks readers to tell their stories of spontaneous user support if they exist, because he, like us, is genuinely curious to know when or even if it ever occurs. One anecdote has arisen from the UK of local experts in a department of government morphing into a “local IT” branch over time, even having signage. Whether such occurrences are few and far between still remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to throttle the life out of IT any time soon.

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