The Impact of Mobility on the IT Service Desk

The growing numbers and diversity of mobile devices in the workplace is increasing the IT service desk workload, yet organizations are not adding support staff. I&O leaders must implement new support models to address the increasing user demands.

  • The growth of mobile usage and device diversity is increasing the number of calls to the IT service desk.
  • The lack of new support capabilities for mobile devices is reducing the quality of services infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations provide to users.
  • I&O leaders must create policies that hold IT service desk agents responsible for the quality of data collected from IT service desk tickets.
  • Study the trends of service desk issues related to mobile devices and create an action plan to address the most common support calls.
  • Consider a bring your own device (BYOD) program to offload support to end users, further reducing the workload on the IT service desk.
  • Complement formal support with social support tools to enable greater peer-to-peer collaboration in support of mobile devices, bypassing requests to the support desk.
Strategic Planning Assumption(s)

By 2016, 25% of contacts to the IT service desk will be related to smartphones and tablet devices, up from fewer than 10% today.


The rapid growth of mobile devices is increasing the IT service desk's workload. The majority of organizations are not increasing their IT service desk staff to handle the increased volume. Organizations must consider BYOD and a "consumerized" IT support model to adapt to changing user requirements.

Figure 1. Impacts and Top Recommendations for the Impact of Mobility on the IT Service Desk

fig 1

Source: Gartner (July 2013)

Impacts and Recommendations
The growth of mobile usage and device diversity is increasing the number of calls to the IT service desk

Smartphones and tablets are becoming standard business devices for a growing number of users. In most cases, these devices do not replace PCs; they add to the number of devices people use to do their jobs. The growth of devices has led to increased contacts to the IT service desk, resulting in augmented demand for assistance. In a 2013 Gartner survey,1 81% of organizations reported that mobile devices have increased their service desk workload over the last two years. However, the majority of these organizations also stated that they have not increased their staff to address the enhanced demand (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. What Has Been the Impact of Mobile Devices on Your IT Service Desk Over the Last Two Years?

fig 2

Among those who did increase their IT service desk staff, more organizations chose to increase their Level 1 staff rather than Level 2, suggesting, in part, that these organizations believe that much of the support work for mobile devices can be handled by the Level 1 service desk. This model makes sense, as the cost of Level 1 support is less than at subsequent lines, as well as the focus of the Level 1 on first contact fix and speedy resolution of the incident.

Organizations Lack Sufficient Support Data for Mobile Devices

We also asked organizations what percentage of help desk calls were driven by mobile device support. The most common answer was "unsure," selected by 42% of organizations (see Figure 3). IT service desks often do not track granular ticket descriptions, instead they use generic descriptions, such as "break fix" or "service request," resulting in poor data quality and a lack of valuable trending. The result is that organizations lack the context necessary to understand whether issues are related to mobile devices, laptops, desktops or thin clients. The downstream impact is an inability to plan and implement the necessary operation, tactical and strategic changes to support this ongoing movement in increased mobile devices within the business.

Figure 3. What Percentage of Your Help Desk Calls Is Attributable to Mobile Device Support (All Respondents)?

fig 3

Source: Gartner (July 2013)

Figure 2 showed that most organizations realize mobility is increasing their service desk call volume. This will lead I&O organizations to implement measures aimed at reducing help desk call volume. However, Figure 3 shows that many organizations do not know how much mobility increases service desk workload, if at all. While organizations believe that calls related to mobile devices have increased, the organizations have not been able to quantify the actual impact of the issues. Therefore, it is impossible to know what impact measures to reduce help desk workload would have if the magnitude and nature of the current demand is unknown. Organizations must consistently use a mobile device ticket category in their service desk tool to understand what percentage of calls mobile support represents, as well as calculate the effort required to resolve the issue and the impact to the business.

While Support Calls Are Increasing, Volume Is Still Relatively Low – Plan Now

In our survey, 58% of organizations had data related to mobile support. As a whole, these organizations state that mobile support volume is relatively low. Almost two-thirds of organizations reported that mobile device support represents between 1% and 10% of service desk calls, and only 3% of the organizations said that mobile device support represents more than 30% of service desk volume (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. What Percentage of Help Desk Calls Are Attributable to Mobile Device Support (Organizations That Have Data)?

fig 4

Source: Gartner (July 2013)

Given the growth of enterprise mobility over the last few years, its relatively low impact on the IT service desk may be surprising. There are several reasons for this. First, eligibility for corporate smartphones has traditionally been fairly exclusive. While the majority of enterprises support corporate smartphones, it's typically only 10% to 20% of the user base that is eligible for corporate mobile phone support. Second, email is still the primary corporate app. Other apps that are used for work purposes (e.g., Dropbox) are coming from the consumer world and outside of IT's purview. It is unlikely that users would call the service desk for help with these applications. Finally, many users call their telecommunications service provider rather than the IT help desk for mobile support.

These conditions are changing, however. Enterprise smartphone and tablet usage is growing dramatically. While only 10% to 20% of users are typically eligible for corporate smartphone support, BYOD dramatically increases the number of users who will use mobile devices for work purposes. These users may have to fund their own devices and services, but they will be entitled to basic IT support. Additionally, organizations are increasingly deploying enterprise applications to mobile devices. By 2015, application development projects that target smartphones and tablets will outnumber projects targeted for PCs by a factor of four. This will lead users to increasingly depend on internal IT support for help with application configurations, performance challenges and networking issues. The diversity of smartphones and tablets will continue to grow as well. The growth of devices and enterprise applications will continue to impact the IT service desk so much that by 2016, 25% of contacts to the IT service desk will be related to mobile devices, up from fewer than 10% today.

We asked organizations what they currently do for mobile support (see Figure 5). More than half the organizations stated that they train Level 1 help desk staff with standard support scripts and provide users with self-help documentation. The use of mobile device management tools was also common. Fewer organizations focused on training the Level 2 desktop support groups, and only a small percentage implemented a peer-to-peer support platform.

Figure 5. What Have You Implemented to Provide IT Support for Mobile Device Users?

fig 5

Source: Gartner (July 2013)


  • Utilize IT service support management (ITSSM) tools to provide the appropriate ability to categorize tickets related to mobility.
  • Study the trends of service desk issues related to mobile devices and create an action plan to address the most common support calls.
The lack of new support capabilities for mobile devices is reducing the quality of services I&O organizations provide to users

The biggest impact of mobile devices on IT support is not the volume of devices, but the style of support that is necessary. First, organizations are increasingly adopting BYOD policies as covered in "Bring Your Own Device: The Facts and the Future." BYOD limits the scope of service the IT service desk is required to provide, and, in turn, puts more of the responsibility on the end user. IT will often provide only "best effort" support. Second, the high degree of heterogeneity of mobile devices (i.e., iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc.) and their high rate of change limits the breadth of platform expertise the IT staff can realistically possess. IT, with its limited staff and resources, cannot provide services outside its scope of control and expertise. As noted earlier, most IT organizations are not adding more support staff in response to increased demand driven by mobility.

Mobile platforms, by design, put more control in the hands of the user. If the user owns the device, IT cannot push changes and configurations autonomously. The end user plays an active role in the process. This means the IT support model must take a "carrot and stick" approach. Some updates and configurations will be more critical than others, and thus the mechanisms that enforce compliance must vary. Critical OS updates should motivate the user to urgently comply, for example, by revoking email access until compliance is achieved. Noncritical policy violations may simply be addressed by prompting the end user to comply.

Self-Support Is Critical

The shift toward personal device ownership and the consumer nature of mobile platforms naturally enhances the necessity of self-support and a long-term goal of enabling self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is a strategy that provides users with the tools and information to progress their ability to help themselves, rather than traditional forms of self-service that focus on just providing answers to common questions. As noted, self-support documentation is the common starting point to providing users with self-service content. Organizations should also adopt alternative forms of providing self-support content. For example, 20-second to 30-second videos demonstrating solutions to common support questions are very effective.

Another common form of self-sufficiency comes in the form of social management tools for collaboration. While only 11% of organizations provide a peer-to-peer support platform for end users today, we believe that this will grow. Organizations with particularly tech-savvy users should aggressively pursue a peer-to-peer model to reduce the demand on the service desk and improve user self-sufficiency.

Internal Walk-Up Services

Organizations are also increasing implementing walk up support models akin to the Apple Genius Bar. This is primarily driven by the desire for IT to provide a higher quality of service than the traditional remotely accessible help desk model. The walk-up support model is particularly well suited for BYOD for several reasons:

  1. Most of the popular mobile platforms do not allow remote IT control of the device (see Note 1) for troubleshooting.
  2. Traditional help desk canned "scripts" are based on standards. A remote help desk technician can't assume that his or her support scripts will work on a user's mobile device, since personally owned devices cannot be managed with enforced standards.
  3. An internal walk-up service gives IT the opportunity to influence device choice. Work usage has a significant impact on a person's personal device choice; almost two-thirds of users reported that their device choice was influenced by how well they can do their jobs with it. A walk-up service that includes sample devices for users to examine could influence them to choose a device that is better suited for work purposes.
  4. Some organizations are using the walk-up service to promote and cultivate self-service. During the in-person interaction, an education process takes place that can make the user more self-sufficient. Additionally, the IT support person can use the interaction to promote the self-service platform.
Traditional IT Support Capabilities Are Still Necessary

Critical enterprise applications will still be supported through traditional IT support functions. Even for personally owned device support, IT organizations cannot realistically expect users to become completely self-sufficient overnight. Business users will continue to contact the help desk, even for issues that are unrelated to the corporate environment, although that may dwindle over time (see Note 2). The need for the IT service desk as a core IT function will not end anytime in the near future. Standard help desk scripts that address the most common issues on the most common platforms will continue to be necessary for mobile device support. This underscores the importance of possessing reliable help desk data.

Mobile device management tools also reduce help desk volume. These products automate several processes that might otherwise require help desk assistance:

  • Mobile policy verification
  • Enrollment into the MDM system
  • Configuring devices for connectivity to corporate applications
  • Configuring native mobile corporate applications
  • Application distribution

The use of MDM tools has grown substantially in the last three years. Their initial purpose was to protect data on mobile devices. MDM tools will become increasingly important for productivity as users increasingly rely on mobile devices as critical business assets.


  • Consider a BYOD program to offload support to end users, further reducing the workload on the IT service desk.
  • Complement formal support with social support tools to enable greater peer-to-peer collaboration in support of mobile devices, bypassing requests to the support desk.
  • Review Gartner material regarding business productivity teams and walk-up support models to understand the options and determine the appropriateness for your company.
  • Bolster existing processes and automation around support of mobile devices to ensure that the appropriate level of assistance can be provided by the IT service desk.
  • Implement MDM tools to automate the support of mobile devices.

The implementation of consumerized support models is part of a broader transition. The IT support organization must evolve beyond the traditional service provider model toward a partnership with the end-user community. The user has more control over the device and the applications. The support model must adapt to this paradigm change.


1 Survey Methodology

Gartner conducted a survey of IT and business leaders to understand their perception of relevant hot topics.

Organizations surveyed were regionally concentrated in North America and Europe, across industries and with average revenue of more than $4 billion.

The data was collected in January 2013, and administered online using the Gartner Research Circle, a panel composed of IT and business leaders to reach the right type of organization and respondent.

N = 392 for respondents for the specific questions regarding IT help/service desk mobile support.

Source: Gartner Research Note G00251936, Terrence Cosgrove, Jeffrey Brooks, 17 July 2013
Note 1
Android and Remote Control Functionality
Some variations of Android are starting to allow remote control functionality. It is possible to build remote control functionality into iOS apps, but not the device itself.

Note 2
Service Desk Contact Frequency
Organizations have reported that users of personally owned devices contact the service desk less frequently than users of corporate devices.