As anybody who's spent long stretches of time on the phone with customer support knows, the help desk is one area of professional life that could use a refresh. This is true of external customer support departments, which are beginning to use social tools to augment their existing operations. It's also true of the internal IT help desk.

We're already seeing clues about the future of the IT help desk today. The workforce is beginning to become more distributed and mobile, while the nature and number of devices people use day-to-day changes rapidly. That will have an impact on the way companies operate, especially as they continue their move toward the cloud.

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Mobile, But Probably Not That Social

As much buzz as there's been about social CRM in the last year or two, the trend toward socially infused customer support probably has only a limited relevance to company IT departments, whose "customers" are really internal staff. And while some employees may take to Twitter with a knee-jerk complaint about crashing apps or connectivity troubles, most of these interactions will continue to happen directly.

That isn't to say that IT issues will necessarily be resolved face-to-face. Indeed, between solid help desk and ticketing Web apps and remote support solutions, there's almost no need for the IT team to ever interface with staff, who will increasingly be distributed across geographic regions.

Not only is the nature of the workforce itself becoming more mobile, but so too are the tools used by IT staff to fix problems. We're already seeing really solid mobile and tablet apps for things like help desk software, remote desktop support, accessing servers via SSH or FTP and managing networks, to name a few. As smartphones and especially tablets become more ubiquitous and powerful, we can realistically expect to see even more robust administrative tools built for them.

Supporting A Wider Range of Devices

It used to be that IT departments had only one set of devices to worry about: the desktop computers or laptops purchased by the company for employees to use. Today, organizations struggle with the blurry lines imposed by personal mobile devices and tablets and how to deal with them from a support standpoint. We can expect this to continue as both smartphones and tablets continue to proliferate.

In the future, it may not just be tablets and smartphones, but other connected devices as well. As the Web continues to grow outside of its original desktop boundaries, the list of devices IT departments need to support could grow as well. Anything that connects to the Internet and has a potential professional use is something that IT staff will at least need to be familiar with, even if they're not fully supporting it.

How the Cloud Can Help

Cloud computing is all the rage among enterprises and smaller businesses now, and that trend doesn't appear to be going anywhere. In addition to lower IT costs, the cloud can also help companies better troubleshoot IT problems.

As data gets bigger and the workforce gets more geographically decentralized, IT teams will need operations to be that much more centralized and easy to manage. As operations continue to move into the cloud, that will become easier, thanks to the rapid deployment of servers and applications, as well as individual virtual machines. Not only can IT solutions be deployed more rapidly, but they can be managed and troubleshot more easily, with many issues capable of being handled from a single, centralized dashboard.

Will IT Still Need to Use the Telephone?

Among customers, one of the most painful parts of seeking technical support is waiting on hold on the telephone, especially with bigger companies. For internal users, this pain may be minimized, but they often still have to deal with waiting in a queue one way or another.

At the end of the day, the telephone is one of the least efficient tools in the IT staff's belt. Phone-based support is already giving way to a host of other solutions, from Web-based ticketing to real-time chat. In time, we may see it disappear entirely, or at least be relegated to certain problems for which a voice conversation is better suited. In the meantime, the immediate future may see an approach that integrates voice with Web-based tools.

What are your hopes for the future of the IT help desk? Whichever side of the help desk you're on, what are some changes you'd like to see down the line?

Photo by Bill Rice