Help Desk Outsourcing Rises

FRAMINGHAM (06/23/2000) - This week, MyHelpDesk Inc. in Norwood, Massachusetts, launched FirstHelp, a Web-based computer support portal that includes tutorials, a search engine and a hardware and software directory. Other firms, such as Redwood City, California-based Inc. and Austin, Texas-based Motive Communications Inc., offer products that provide remote diagnostics online.

Ana Volpi, an analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Corp. (IDC), said automated tools are useful for companies with mobile workers who need technical support at all hours. Moreover, if employees can ask and get answers to basic questions online, that cuts down on the amount of time internal help desk staffers spend on any given call, she said.

The worldwide technical support and help desk outsourcing market is expected to grow from about $2 billion in 1999 to more than $3.5 billion in 2002, according to IDC.

Scott Lane, director of technical services at Rand McNally & Co. in Skokie, Illinois, said he's considering using such an automated product to support the company's 1,000 employees. But he probably won't make the investment until 2001, when the products become more mature, he said.

Lane has, however, turned to PC Helps Support Inc. in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, to help manage his company's help desk operations. In April, Rand McNally selected the outsourcer, which provides its own technical support staff to answer questions on any off-the-shelf software applications, such as Microsoft's Office suite. Employees can dial a separate 800 number to speak to one of five Rand McNally technicians about other issues, such as hardware and networking.

Service Levels Improve

Lane said the outsourcing arrangement hasn't reduced his company's internal call volume, but it has improved its service levels. That's because employees typically get answers faster when they call PC Helps. It also gives users more support options, said Lane, whose company will spend about $20,000 on the service this year.

Tony Adams, an analyst at San Jose-based Dataquest Inc., said the challenge of finding and retaining help desk employees is leading more companies to turn to automated products as well as outsourcers. Typically, employees who become proficient in help desk support move on to other work, such as systems integration or a management role. Technical support is a "stressful and underrated position," he said.

But employees often prefer to speak to a "live" person rather than go online to receive technical support, Adams said. In addition, he said, it may be difficult to convince employees that an outside vendor can provide the kind of empathy that users need from support technicians.

Because of these challenges, it's critical to get employee buy-in during the first few months of a help desk outsourcing arrangement, said Adams.

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