Avoiding the Help Desk Backlog

Raz Rafaeli | February 21, 2021

Settling back into work after the holiday season is a challenge for any employee. However, for IT professionals, the new year can be an incredibly stressful time. As employees return to work, they inevitably subject help desks with a barrage of new support tickets while simultaneously opening up potential cybersecurity weaknesses. In 2021, this scenario is likely to be compounded by the lingering impact that COVID-19 has had on employee working environments. In response, this holiday season and beyond, enterprises need to take a proactive approach to minimize helpdesk overload.  

Taking steps to remedy today’s helpdesk backlog is vital because, even as the prospect of an eventual end to the COVID-19 pandemic grows nearer, the rise in remote work shows little sign of abating. In a recent Gartner survey, 47% of organizations say that they will allow employees to do their jobs entirely remotely regardless of whether the pandemic is an issue or not. Compared to the 5% of workers in the US who worked remotely full-time pre-COVID-19, this marks a profound shift in how organizations will operate going forward. If recent experience is anything to go by, this is not necessarily good news for IT professionals.

On one level, physical separation from employees has made remediating support issues more difficult, while on another, remote employees are also increasingly unlikely to let IT teams know about the problems they encounter. Coupled with a disturbing rise in “shadow IT” — where employees install unauthorized software on their work devices — these issues show a widening disconnect between IT teams and the employees they work with. 

Here are five tips for avoiding the helpdesk backlog after the holidays that will also help organizations succeed in the long term.

Go Passwordless 

No one likes passwords, especially not IT professionals. First conceived in 1961, the idea that users should enter a memorized string of characters to get access to files or applications frequently puts critical organizational security assets at risk.

For users, it also entails remembering passwords or dealing with repeated, often onerous, multi-factor authentication protocols. For IT teams forced to deal with thousands of passwords, password support presents a constant human resources burden. The best long-term solution for these issues is for enterprises to go passwordless. However, more than just a way of making logging into applications easier, going passwordless is a paradigm shift when it comes to enterprise security and operational capability. This is because passwordless authentication allows a more user-friendly login procedure to mesh with increased security and reduced upkeep. 

With access credentials centralized in one secure system, onboarding and offboarding new users as well as allowing access to new applications or dealing with changing access configurations is made both simpler and safer. Passwordless authentication enables enterprises to get new applications in use more quickly, remove a major cybersecurity weakness, and ultimately reduce the burden of password management that IT help desks have to deal with.

Make Security Awareness Training Job-Specific

In a recent CISCO survey of IT decision-makers, a lack of security awareness training emerged as respondents’ biggest challenge when embracing long term remote working. Whether through accidentally opening a phishing email or connecting to an unsecured network, employees are ill-equipped to navigate the security concerns that their “new normal” creates. Delivering practical security training to mitigate this knowledge gap is often hampered by budget constraints and the productivity drain that training entails. 

In response, training needs to be specific, bite-sized, and engaging. Giving employees access to job-specific security awareness training that doesn’t take up hours of their time is vital. With security awareness training tailored to how an employee works, system operational downtime is minimized, and content becomes more engaging and relevant.

Roll Out Self-Service IT Support  

For organizations still using password-based authentication, enabling employees to reset their passwords can dramatically reduce backlogs. Indeed, Gartner estimates that password resets account for up to 50% of all IT helpdesk tickets and that each employee reset costs their company around $70. By allowing threat actors to impersonate employees through publicly available employee data, a password reset also creates a potential security weakness.

A more secure alternative is to roll out self-service password authentication (SSPA). By allowing enrolled users to reset their passwords within an SSPA system, after first verifying their identity through a secured MFA methodology, helpdesk involvement in password resets can be minimized. Of course, in the long run, a better solution is to remove passwords altogether.

Simplify Your Systems 

Overly complicated application stacks are a significant issue for many IT teams. This problem is particularly acute when it comes to cybersecurity. Increased cybersecurity investment in recent years has created a proliferation of detection centric solutions. The result? IT teams are often barraged with false threat alerts. Swamped with more data than they can deal with, this situation can quickly fatigue even the most well-resourced team.

A more sustainable alternative is to assess what systems deliver a return on investment when it comes to security and productivity. This thought process can be applied across every type of system or platform an enterprise uses. From collaboration to communication, using less rather than more solutions reduces the number of applications your helpdesk needs to support and naturally minimizes helpdesk backlogs. 

Prioritize and Automate

Not every support ticket is created equal. In resource-constrained remote working environments, IT teams need to be able to apply a triage system to tickets overwhelming their desk. Some incidents, such as user authentication, will always require immediate attention, whereas others, like mundane user inquiries, won’t. To help manage the never-ending flow of queries, enterprises can leverage automation to support their IT helpdesk teams. 

Repetitive requests can be streamlined into backend services and knowledge bases with a virtual service agent or chatbot. Leveraging the power of AI and machine learning, automation can create a 24/7 service for dealing with minor queries while automatically upgrading more urgent ones to help desk staff.

Final Thoughts

With over 69% of organizations allowing BYOD policies for employees, there is a real risk that new employee devices received over the holidays could become tomorrow’s unprotected endpoints. To make safe, productive, and long-term remote working a reality, a refreshed approach to how IT support is going to function in a remote environment is vital.