In-house vs. Outsourced Helpdesks: What’s the Difference?
As businesses grow, many inevitably find themselves choosing between an in-house vs. an outsourced helpdesk. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut best choice for everyone. No matter whether you’re a large managed service provider (MSP) or a small service corporation, there are too many local variables you need to consider.
But while we can’t tell you which is the right choice for your company, we can give you the information you need to decide for yourself. This article will walk you through the pros and cons you need to consider about choosing an in-house vs. outsourced helpdesk.
Why Helpdesks Matter Now More Than Ever
The IT helpdesk has evolved. It is no longer just a call center for resolving basic IT problems. Instead, it has transformed into the service desk, a cornerstone of modern IT service management (ITSM) business practices.
Under an ITSM business model, the service desk acts as a single point of contact for internal and external users to request services for the organization. Those could obviously include IT services, like a password reset, new endpoint hardware, or a new development project. But they could just as easily be services from other teams, like finance, human resources, or R&D.
This model sounds straightforward enough, so why would anyone want to consider switching between in-house vs. outsourced helpdesks? The reasons vary, but they often break down to financial or operational concerns. And lately, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, many businesses are looking to get creative and extend their IT resources to support new workflows and distributed workforces.
In-house Helpdesk: Pros and Cons
Let’s start by looking at the pros and cons of keeping your helpdesk in-house.
- In-person visibility on issues: Keeping your helpdesk in-house means there’s always someone available who can come down and look at an issue in person. This capability feels valuable, but it is important to understand its limited scope. The main limitation is it really only applies to end-user issues inside your facility. So, for example, it wouldn’t help if someone had a problem with a laptop working from home. Or it wouldn’t apply to a software development project.
- Part of your company culture: Ideally, when you have an in-house helpdesk, the team will be tightly integrated into how your company works, its values, and its priorities. It takes time to accomplish that level of integration, though. So this benefit is something you’ll need to invest a considerable amount of time into fostering.
- Unified IT infrastructure: This benefit is most important for organizations that are heavily invested in on-premises infrastructure. If you also keep your helpdesk software and server infrastructure in-house, it is easier for your administrators to maintain along with everything else.
- Greater cost: An in-house team almost always costs more. You’ll need to cover salaries, benefits, office space, as well as helpdesk hardware and software licenses. You also need to account for administrative overhead for managing additional employees and the need to build in some surge capacity. For example, do you bring in temp workers to cover spikes in helpdesk demand, or do you retain extra capacity in-house? Those capabilities come at a cost.
- Managing turnover: When you retain staff in-house, you’re responsible for training, managing, firing, and replacing them. If someone leaves at a critical time of the year, then your remaining team is left to fend for on its own. There are no additional employees you can call in on short notice.
- Limited coverage: For most companies, their in-house helpdesk only operates around business hours. If you have employees working off-hours or traveling in other time zones, what do you do when they need assistance? Often the answer is to wait until the next day. For companies that have become increasingly distributed, that is no longer good enough.
- Vulnerability to “black swan” events : Maintaining only an in-house helpdesk means you may be caught unprepared by so-called black swan events. These are unexpected crises that your organization doesn’t have the immediate skill set available to manage. For example, in IT, that might mean encountering a novel exploit and an unforeseen cyberattack. If you don’t have the in-house knowledge to respond immediately, you need to scramble to pull in outside consultants fast and at considerable expense.
Outsourced helpdesk: Pros and Cons
Like their in-house counterpart, outsourced helpdesks can be an excellent solution in the right corporate environment. In recent years, outsourced helpdesks have experienced a resurgence in popularity, and industry experts expect the outsourced helpdesk market to continue growing through at least 2026.
Let us weigh the pros and cons of this alternative to running your own in-house team.
- Reduced costs: When you use an outsourced helpdesk, you only pay for the staffing level you need. You also eliminate the secondary costs, like office space, hardware and licensing, and overhead administration. Costs are also consistent month-to-month. You can sign up for a subscription model helpdesk that keeps expenses predictable and gives you more freedom in your budget for other projects.
- A broad range of knowledge is available: When you sign with a reputable outsourced helpdesk provider, you’re going to be using just a portion of their resources day-to-day. This has two main benefits. The first is that you are tapping into a deeper reserve of IT knowledge than you could in-house. Remember those black swan cyberattacks? An outsourced provider will have security specialists they can bring in at a moment’s notice if you find yourself under attack.
- Flexibility to scale up or down: The second benefit of tapping into that larger pool of experts is you gain more flexibility in scaling coverage up or down. For example, when you predict a seasonal spike in traffic for your company. Or when your MSP is taking on many new clients at once who’ll need additional start-up support. Using a scalable outsourced provider you won’t be stuck short-handed.
- More coverage—typically 24/7: Outsourced providers operate at a scale where they can usually offer 24/7 coverage as a default option. So you won’t need to pay second and third-shift analysts overtime just to cover the handful of staff working long hours or traveling. Just make sure to look for a provider that bases its helpdesk team in your part of the world, so they’re native language speakers and familiar with your business practices.
- Remote support: Having a remote support team they can’t “tap on the shoulder” is a deal breaker for some companies. Today, many of those concerns are mitigated by the broad range of remote support software tools available. Still, some companies just prefer the comfort of having people in the same building.
- Takes some trust: Working with an outsourced provider requires giving a third party access to some of your sensitive IT systems. This takes a level of trust that some companies aren’t willing or able to offer.
In-house vs. Outsourced Helpdesk: How to Decide
There is a great deal of value in outsourcing your helpdesk. It is worth exploring whether a reputable outsourcing provider might meet your needs better than an in-house team.
1. See whether they can work with your infrastructure: For example, you don’t want to get locked into working with an outsourced provider only to learn their interface with your directory service tools is limited. The key phrases you’re looking for here are “RMM agnostic” and “PSA agnostic.”
Remote monitoring and management (RMM) agnostic providers can work with any set of administrative tools. If you’re an MSP, you’ll likely also want to look for a professional service automation (PSA) agnostic provider who can distribute work, manage projects, and track metrics that matter to you.
2. Examine their SLA: You shouldn’t have to take an outsourced provider’s word regarding the response times and scope of services they can offer. A reputable provider won’t hesitate to provide a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that details everyone’s roles, responsibilities, and metrics necessary for ensuring the quality of service you need.
3. Assess location: Don’t cut corners and work with an overseas outsourced provider whose employees aren’t native speakers. For example, if you’re a North American-based company, look for a North American-based helpdesk provider. They’ll be more effective communicators and be more familiar with business practices that matter most to your company.
4. Look for industry knowledge: Look for a provider that specializes in your industry. For example, if you’re an IT managed service provider, you’ll want a helpdesk partner who knows how that industry works. Or, if you’re a telecom, you’ll want a provider familiar with your technologies and business partnerships.