IT Help Desk vs. Service Desk Differences Explained

IT help desk vs. IT service desk is a comparison that many managed service providers (MSPs) may find themselves making as they identify the types of services they will offer. While it’s not uncommon for these two solutions to be thought of as the same thing, there are some key differences between them. This guide will help define both an IT help desk and an IT service desk and explain how MSPs can use each of these solutions to support their customers, moving from simple support functions to a full partnership strategy.

What are IT help desk services? 

IT help desk services are simple tech support functions widely considered to be more tactical, by nature, than service desk software. IT help desk services are chiefly designed to facilitate the rapid resolution of the end user’s immediate needs, such as resolving technical problems and incidents. Help desks are reactive but are expected to be fast and efficient. IT help desk services can be entirely distinct from a service desk operation, or may be a subset of a service desk. This potential overlap is why there is often some widespread confusion regarding the difference between a help desk and a service desk.

IT help desk services generally include the following features:

  • They act as a single point of contact for your MSP’s IT support team, so customers know what to do and where to go when they have an issue
  • They use a tracking solution for all incoming issues and incidents
  • They automate ticket tracking and routing, as well as email notifications to keep your team and your customers informed
  • They offer incident and service request management capabilities at a basic level
  • They are able to integrate with other IT service management (ITSM) practices like knowledge and configuration management, although this may be limited
  • They include some areas and applications that are supported by external specialty groups
  • They provide support at level one and two and can transfer incident ownership when escalation is required
  • They provide end users with basic self-service options

A help desk tool set usually provides support for incident and service request management practices with some basic change-enablement capabilities. Smaller companies with low dependence on IT may find that a help desk of this nature is a cost-effective option.

In many cases, small organizations opt for support solutions that are unnecessarily complex or advanced, rendering many of the features unused. This is not cost-effective, and businesses in this position could save a considerable amount of money by opting for a simple help desk solution. Keep in mind that a comprehensive service management solution is not always the best choice, especially for small MSPs.

What is service desk software?

Service desk software, on the other hand, serves a broader function than IT help desk services. Service desks are more cross-organizational and strategic, taking into account wider business requirements and context. While a help desk focuses on resolving immediate user needs, service desks are more comprehensive and strategic.

A service desk is the single point of contact between users and the service provider. A standard IT service desk is responsible for the management of incidents and service requests while also handling all other user communications. Most service desks will have a help desk component, but their main function is to proactively improve business processes on a company-wide basis. Successful service desks are constantly attempting to identify opportunities to make IT processes more efficient overall.

Service desks generally include the following features:

  • They are fully integrated with other ITSM processes
  • They act as a single point of contact for all IT areas, including business processes and applications
  • They track service level agreement compliance
  • They provide self-service capabilities for incident and service requests while maintaining an integrated service catalog
  • They integrate and communicate with the configuration management database

A full ITSM solution is well-suited to mature organizations with complicated IT systems, third-party vendor integrations, and a heavy dependence on their IT infrastructure. Good ITSM solutions will include an integrated service desk component.

What is a service desk ticketing system?

It’s not uncommon to hear the terms “help desk,” “service desk,” and “ticketing system” used synonymously, which can cause more confusion in the IT help desk vs. IT service desk debate. To clear up this confusion, it’s also helpful to be able to explain to customers the definition of a ticketing system.

ticketing system allows IT support to be organized, efficient, and focused. It refers specifically to the intake and management of necessary IT tasks, and its organization can directly impact costs, revenues, customer retention, and brand reputation. Ticketing systems allow you to manage any issues or incidents in your organization, capturing and resolving them.

Ticket management is an essential component of help desk management, and ticketing systems allow help desks to maintain a database to hold and manage customer issues. This database will contain crucial information on customers and solutions to problems. In short, ticketing systems are an integrated part of IT help desk services as they help you efficiently make, address, and respond to customer requests or concerns raised by your own employees.

Tips to optimize your services

The following service desk and help desk tips for IT professionals will provide some tips on choosing the right tools for your MSP.


There’s no need to choose the most advanced and expensive tool on the market if it offers capabilities you aren’t likely to use. This isn’t cost-effective, and some organizations may even discover that the complexity of an unnecessarily advanced solution results in an experience that isn’t user-friendly and can feel overwhelming.


You don’t buy the biggest office building on the block before you’ve hired your first employee, so why should you invest in software designed for large-scale organizations when you’re just starting out? Start small and invest in a solution that will grow with you. By identifying your most important needs, you can start implementing high-priority modules and scaling up by adding capabilities when they become valuable. This allows you to invest your money elsewhere in your business, with a focus on scaling up in the future.


Although IT professionals can draw clear differences between help desk and service desk solutions, there isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to which you should be offering. ITIL and ITSM give you a framework of ideas to help you create an IT support solution that works for your specific MSP. So whether you call it a help desk or a service desk, the only thing that really matters is that it is suited to your individual needs.

MSPs can use either a help desk or a service desk solution to support their customers, giving them the opportunity to start with simple support functions and eventually evolve into a full partnership offering with a more comprehensive ITSM system.

Getting started with IT support tools

If you’re looking for an IT support system but aren’t sure where to start, SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software offers the all-in-one solution that will allow you to hit the ground running. This tool is powerful and versatile while still being extremely user-friendly. It grows with you, allowing you to start small and scale up at your own pace. RMM includes remote access, patch management, managed antivirus, web protection, and recovery capabilities. It also includes ticket and task management capabilities, contract and SLA management, time tracking, and much more to allow you to provide the efficient help desk or service desk capabilities you need. A 30-day free trial is available for MSPs looking to give it a try.

If you’re looking to expand your service capabilities from there, SolarWinds MSP Manager provides robust ticketing and administrative features that help you streamline your service management business. It offers intuitive and lightweight ticketing, batch billing exports, customer and knowledge management, and more. A 14-day free trial is available here.

Regardless of the services your MSP is looking to offer, finding the right tools can make your service business more efficient and effective—which means you’ll be scaling your business up in no time.

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