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IT Help Desk vs. Service Desk: Is There A Difference?

IT is full of jargon. Technical subjects require technical language, which is why jargon and industry phrases clutter the IT landscape.

Help desk and service desk are two phrases that get kicked around a lot. You might be thinking, “aren’t they the same thing?” And if not, does it matter?

Some people, inside and outside the IT industry, think of service and help desks as the same thing. But there are some differences. This is useful to know because if you are working with an external IT outsourcing partner, you might want to know exactly what services you are buying into before signing a contract.

Here is how to make sense of the Service Desk vs. Help Desk debate, and why it matters.

What is an IT Help Desk?

IT “help desks” were created in the 1980s, as a response to the growing importance of IT in large and later, medium and small businesses. As the price of computers, connectivity equipment, printers, software, phones and other pieces of technology dropped – and therefore more technology was utilised across companies and organisations - businesses needed more IT support.

Back in the day technology wasn't as easy and accessible as it is now. Businesses started to need IT professionals to make tech work, to fix things when they broke and make sure all this shiny, yet confusing new tech didn't disrupt business progress. Often, what this meant in practice was a back office with tech guys fixing tech issues; often without targets or concern for the user’s needs.

In many respects, some help desks are still like that. They focus on the tech, not the customer or business needs and objectives. Even some IT contractors and help desk companies are more interested in technology than the companies they serve.

Unfortunately, this tech-focused mindset still exists because although most of us have smartphones in our pockets and a familiarity with software, the tech that powers businesses have got smarter, more complex and, in many cases, requires specialist knowledge. So when an IT team member or contractor says you need a very confusing sounding, very expensive piece of kit, some managers and finance directors simply agree. Companies often spend more than they need on IT because many of us are inclined to listen to the experts, even when they don't make a sensible business case.

An Evolution: IT Service Desks

IT Service Desks started as an evolution of the help desk. A move away from tech-focused thinking.

As a workable idea, the service desk was created out of IT service management (ITSM) concepts and best practice frameworks in the 1990s. This was based on the concept of managing IT as a service, instead of a tech-focused resource centre. Finally, the customers’ needs started to be put first. Businesses could make decisions based on criteria that finance directors, managers and boards could understand.

Over time, these concepts evolved further. Service desks focus on providing a service for customers, whether they’re internal or external. Targets are set. Customers should expect resolutions within an agreed timescale. Going beyond service and support, some IT partners and service desks are now committed to driving forward digital transformation and massive IT projects within organisations. Service desk has become an enabler, helping companies and organisations drive forward business strategies.

Unlike help desks, service desks are held to a higher, internationally agreed standard, thanks to the Service Desk Institute (SDI). Thousands of organisations are members, benefiting from training, international benchmarking, award schemes, and a commitment to delivering consistent IT service improvements.

Whilst help and service desks may sound similar, they are, in reality, two very different ways of delivering IT services to companies. Pick the services you need, get the help your company requires not only to ensure IT systems, hardware and software run smoothly, but to drive growth forward using consistent IT improvements and enhanced capabilities.

To explore whether you need a help desk or an IT service desk contact me to discuss your business requirements. Call 0845 643 6060 or email

service desk institute

Kerry Burgess

About Kerry Burgess

Kelly Burgess is the Service Desk Assistant Manager at UKN Group and a key point of contact for customers and employees alike.

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