What Are The Differences Between IT Service Desk And Incident Management?

difference between IT service desk and incident management

An IT support team’s purpose is to ensure an organization’s computer systems and networks are running. The team also offers technical support for user issues and queries.

Inside this realm of IT support, you may have come across several terms like help desk, IT service desk outsourcing, incident management, and customer support, among others. These terms are often used interchangeably as well.

But there is a difference in the scope of work these team’s handle. As a manager, you are responsible for understanding these subtle differences, as it will help you prioritize issues and serve users better.

In this article, we will understand the role of IT service desk and incident management and their differences.

What are the Differences Between IT Service Desk and Incident Management?

A service request can be a simple ticket like a new employee requesting access to a tool. On the other hand, an incident can be an unpredictable issue, like a server going down.

Let us understand in detail the difference between a service desk and an incident management team and the type of work they handle.

1. Purpose

An IT service desk is responsible for handling service requests. A service request can be a straightforward ticket for information, access, or approval. There can be a predefined set of neatly categorized offerings for the users.

As the name suggests, an incident management team deals with incidents. Now an incident can be an unpredictable and unplanned interruption of service. It means that something is broken or down in the IT infrastructure. And as a result of the service being unavailable.

2. Resolution Time

In the case of service requests, the resolution time can vary according to the type of request. For example, a low-priority ticket will be created if a customer requests product information. It does not demand immediate attention. Depending on the SLA set, the request could be responded to in, say, about 24 hours.

Another example could be a performance issue on an employee’s laptop. As the device is still running and the problem affects one employee, the ticket priority may be set low and will be worked on in the order it was received. SLAs for such tickets could be 2 to 3 working days.

On the other hand, incidents demand immediate attention. Incidents can be urgent as they can have a widespread impact on business operations.

Similar to service requests, you can set SLAs for incidents. For example, incidents must be responded to in 5 to 10 minutes; the agent has to set up an incident call and involve responsible parties for a quick resolution.

The issue here can be a server being down. For example, if it is a file server, no user will be able to access the file. If it is the server that your reporting tool runs on, then business users will not be able to view or generate reports. Thus, owing to the impact of the disruption, incidents need to be resolved as soon as possible.

3. Predictability

The service desk deals with tickets that are predictable by nature. There would be a neatly categorized set of services that a user may choose from. For employees, there would also be a defined process on how such requests will be handled.

For example, a new employee can request access to MS Office. This is a predictable service request. The agent will create an account for the employee and set it up with the required privileges.

On the other hand, the incident management team has to deal with unpredictable incidents. For example, a printer may stop working all of a sudden.

The agent will have to adopt troubleshooting means to identify the root cause of the issue. It could be a problem with the network, the device giving the command, or the printer itself. Common causes could be mentioned in the team’s knowledge base, but the agent will still have to follow the troubleshooting process.


When a service desk receives repetitive questions or requests, they can choose to automate such offerings. This eliminates the need for a service agent and lets users handle issues on their own with easy-to-use self-help guides.

Offering self-service portals would be a good initiative. According to a report, 81% of customers try to resolve issues on their own before reaching out to a service agent.

When it comes to incidents, users will need the assistance of an agent. If we consider the printer example, the user can troubleshoot their workstation to verify if they cannot print to a particular printer or if none of the other printers works as well.

But if the issue is with the printer, then an agent has to step in for a resolution. Self-service portals are not yet an option with incidents.


As mentioned above, service requests are often a predefined set of services. So, examples of a service request can include an employee requesting access to a tool to complete their deliverable or another employee requesting for the RAM on their device to be upgraded.

Printer relocation, projector services, booking of conference rooms, hardware or software upgrades, and password resets are other examples of service requests.

Incidents are unanticipated interruptions of services. So, examples of incidents can include a printer not working, a server being down, a data breach, network issues, security issues, asset malfunction, application issues, and phishing attacks, among others.

Why Should You Have a Separate IT Service Desk and Incident Management Team?

As we have seen above, service requests and incidents have different priorities and are handled differently.

If the same team manages service requests and incidents, it can negatively impact the quality of service offered. For example, service requests would lie unresolved if the team is engaged in incidents. In addition, organization, prioritization, and ticket reporting can also become troublesome.

Thus, it would be best to have separate service and incident management teams.


For a seamless user experience, both service and incident management teams have a role to play. Service requests are a set of predefined requests that can be handled according to the SLAs.

Incidents are unplanned interruptions that can impact a larger number of users and would thus require immediate attention.

Having separate teams will help you respond to issues on priority, manage the ticketing queue better and provide a better user experience.

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