Help Desk or Service Desk?

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

Help Desk BellMaking technology a priority is yesterday’s issue—everyone seems to understand it is important. These days, it seems the bigger issue is aligning and integrating the technology to make it a meaningful part of our work and mission.

We need to stop thinking about the technology. We should instead be asking ourselves, “How do we get our staff and organization to use and understand the technology we have?” And we need to ask this before we bring in more technology!

For years now, I have been on a rant of sorts on how we need to align our technology to our mission. This is very noble, easy to agree with, and critically important. However, my new role at The Cara Program as the Manager of Technology has taught me a few things about the need for a balanced approach. You can’t just focus on the mission; you need to work on the tactical technology, culture of the organization, and relationship with the staff. Often, these have to come before technology can really have a meaning impact on the mission.

In my opinion, to get the buy-in, support, and trust needed to turn technology into a mission tool, you have to earn them. I hear so many tech people say, “I should have a seat at the table. Let me be a part of the strategic planning.”  And I support all of you! Tech staff should have a seat at the table … once you have earned it. But if that seat at the table is just given to you, there is no authority, understanding, or backbone to it. You will still be treated as a tactic in the strategic plan, regardless of where you happen to be sitting.

So where do you start? Before you can align your technology to your mission, technology has to be invisible. Not literally, of course. What I mean by invisible is that your technology must be working so well that people don’t see it, they don’t complain about it, and it just … works. The technology is trusted and relied upon so much that it becomes a part of everything, indispensable. To accomplish that, you need to start with your tactical technology planning.

Once the technology is working, then it is time to move on to policies, process, and procedures. Clean house. Use policies not to create an environment of IT being the “NO” people, but to set clear expectations and explain how decisions are made. This helps avoid blaming IT for when you do have to say no. Spend time learning and documenting the processes the organization uses. This will provide a treasure trove of relationship-building and quick wins. Use procedures to outline how things get done, which helps free up time from continuing to explain the same thing over and over again. It also carries the benefit of teaching people to help themselves.

Now you are on the right track to begin creating a real relationship between IT and your organization and aligning IT to the mission. The next steps will involve a more strategic technology plan on top of your tactical technology plan. It will involve targeted approaches to working with different departments across the organization to meet business goals. It will require looking at the organization as a whole to set a roadmap for your technology. These steps will earn you a respected seat at the table. Once you are valuable to the organization, it will be tougher to leave you out. Stop only asking for an invite and start working on earning one.

By now you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with Help Desk or Service Desk?” A Help Desk is a foundational element to all strategic technology planning. How you manage users when they need help will have a direct impact on how they look at you when you ask them to use new technology.

What is the difference between Help Desk and Service Desk, anyway? A Help Desk is set up to respond when staff are having problems and need help; a Service Desk is a concept which tries to shift it away from a focus on problems, to providing a service even if something is broken. A minor shift in words, but could it have a big impact?

Stepping back from Help Desk vs Service Desk, here’s another oft-asked question: “Do we even really need a Help Desk? We are a super-small organization, so why bother?”

To hear the answers to these questions and more, you will have to come to our session at #15NTC to see how we tie this building of relationships into a conversation about whether you should have a Help Desk or a Service Desk.

Steve Heye
Steve Heye is a Principal Solutions Consultant at NetSuite (Oracle) where he acts as a technical expert on the Social Impact team which donates the NetSuite solution to nonprofits. He is the author of Chapter 1 on IT Alignment in the NTEN book, Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission. With over 20 years experience working with nonprofits and technology, Steve brings a real passion and unique set of experiences to the NPTech community. Previously Steve was the Manager of Technology at The Cara Program. He was responsible for driving the organization's strategic use of technology. He also has experience as the Digital Content Services Manager at the YMCA of Metro Chicago. He was responsible for managing all aspects of the YMCA's digital content creation including the web sites, intranet and social networking. A key role in Steve's past was with the Technology Resource Group at the YMCA of the USA for about ten years. He provided resources, conferences, and training that allows YMCAs nationwide to better leverage business systems and technology. Steve has a Bachelors degree in Finance from North Central College. You can keep up with Steve's thoughts and tips regarding nonprofit technology issues on his blog: