Down With the IT Help Desks Caste System

A user caste system creates more headaches than benefits.

Aside from the unprintable adjectives your help desk staff may use, there are a number of ways IT managers may classify a user: Power user or novice? Executive or worker bee? High maintenance or low? Local or remote? Revenue-producing or cost center?

At my company, I recently took part in discussions about varying certain IT offerings such as mailbox size, workstation configuration and help desk service level based on class of user. Creating groupings like these creates technical, logistical and political headaches for IT. What are the categories, and who determines which users fall into each? While IT can certainly participate, the decision as to who is a power user—and deserving of all the perks—should be made by businesspeople, not IT staff. You must also factor in the inevitable deluge of appeals from users seeking upgrades to "first class."

Suppose its decided that "important" users should be at the top of the help desk queue. Once youve determined who those users are—not forgetting their administrative assistants and other special cases—you need to look at your help desk metrics and make some projections. If members of the new, preferred class have already been making most of the calls to the help desk, its likely their service level will not change. However, people excluded from favored service might almost never get service. Alternatively, if your help desk is already delivering top-quality service, you may find that setting up a caste system will have a negligible impact. For example, how much effort would you put into reducing the time a particular user waits for service from 15 seconds to 10 seconds?

Chances are youre already making exceptions to your standards when necessary. Users who work with very large graphics and CAD/CAM files are probably getting more disk space. If your IT department is like most IT departments, youve flagged VIPs in your call tracking system so you and your staff will know which users get courtesies when calling for support. You also may have provided certain executives with vanity workstation peripherals such as flat screens and black mice or vanity e-mail addresses, such as ""

The question is, then, should you formalize how you treat different types of users or continue to informally make exceptions to your standards? Ive found the second approach is best. Establishing formal user categories means that, sooner or later, youll have to defend them to management and users. If there are benefits to categorizing, theyre likely to be small and overshadowed by the headaches of creating them.

Brian D. Jaffe is an IT director in New York and an eWEEK Corporate Partner and contributing editor. He is co-author of the "IT Managers Handbook: Getting Your New Job Done." He can be reached at Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. Send comments or submissions to