Can an External Vendor Support Your HIT Environment?

Nine Questions to Consider as You Evaluate Your Options - By Robert Barras, Vice President Sales, North America

Clinical service desk

Your healthcare IT (HIT) environment is much more than a collection of software and servers. It is the result of countless late nights, hard-won budget, and years of building relationships. Understandably, the thought of entrusting someone else with support for that environment can make you uneasy.

When does it make sense to use an external help desk vendor? Having worked in HIT myself for about 20 years, I’ve seen both the triumphs and the low points of numerous external service vendors. To help you determine whether and how your organization should engage an external service desk vendor, I’m going to share my perspective on what makes an external help desk succeed.

Let’s start with one big truth many vendors won’t tell you: the success of an external help desk depends as much on the client’s readiness for the project as on the vendor selected. Let’s look at some key areas to review to determine if external support will work and then, if so, plan for engaging an external help desk vendor.

The Tipping Point

Shifting to an external vendor is a major change for your IT department. If you are considering making this move, assess how strong your case for change is. When you are using an external help desk, you are giving away some control of your IT environment, however, the IT department should realize significant benefits as a result. Key questions to ask yourself include:

1. Are you able to innovate and create business value?

If you are rushing around putting out fires instead of serving as an innovation hub for your organization, it’s a sign that an external service desk may be a good solution. One of the most important benefits of an external service desk is that it frees up your staff to handle more mission-critical projects.

2. Is your staff growing professionally?

IT personnel enjoy the challenge of solving new problems and building skills. If service desk obligations force employees to do nothing but respond to routine, boring requests, they may soon be looking for another job, leaving your management team with the task of hiring and re-hiring for hard-to-fill positions.

3. Are IT staff members feeling burned out?

While no one expects a 9 to 5 schedule in the world of IT, too much pressure on employees results in absenteeism and attrition. An external help desk can be a way to alleviate the daily grind while making achieving strategic goals more realistic. To innovate, you will need to pivot your best and brightest to that objective.


To decide whether to use an external help desk vendor, it’s crucial that you know how well they can support you. Comparing your current metrics to those of your potential vendors can be very telling.

4. What is your First Call Resolution (FCR) rate?

If your FCR is over 90%, congratulations! You are performing at a rate comparable to that of a high-performing external service desk vendor and should include that rate as part of your contracting considerations with vendors. If your rate is below that, an external service desk vendor could improve your end-user support and satisfaction.

5. So how is your end-user satisfaction?

If you haven’t quantified that number already, it may be your first sign that an external vendor can help you mature your service desk. If you have, your target for positive response to questions that measure end-user happiness should be greater than 85%. You can hold an external vendor to a much higher standard.

6. Are your physicians satisfied with the service desk?

Healthcare IT service desks are about more than IT support—ultimately they are about patient care, which starts with the physicians. Again, if you haven’t quantified this yet, it’s a sign that an external vendor may be able to help you help mature your service desk. Healthcare isn’t retail or banking; it’s not too much to expect concierge service at market rates. For clinical users, your target for satisfaction should be greater than 90%. 

Performance Anxiety

7. Have you had a bad experience with a support vendor’s performance?

One of the reasons many IT leaders avoid outside vendors is due to a bad past experience. However, an external service desk, staffed by a strong vendor and under a well-written contract, offers many more pros than cons.

But, how do you make sure you find that vendor? Rather than beginning with an RFP, my recommendation is to start with reference calls to develop your short list. It’s the quickest way to winnow out the bad from the good.

8. Are you concerned about external service desk employees learning (or not learning) your environment?

If your help desk vendor has personnel focused on more than one or two customers, it’s likely that they can’t effectively or successfully build organization-specific knowledge. Having a primary team of strong analysts to support your organization is essential. Your teams are dedicated to your environment to provide the best service possible, and your IT service desk vendor should be as well.

9. Do you effectively monitor performance and drive improvements (not just fixes) from trouble tickets?

Look at how your help desk feeds your larger IT needs. Do you conduct root cause analysis and drive improvements from the service desk? Do you document policies and procedures using service desk calls as a basis? Often internal service desk teams lack the bandwidth or knowledge to do a deeper dive into cause analysis. You can hold your vendor to a higher standard. A true partner will help you drive down call volumes by leveraging emerging technologies and working with your training team to understand opportunities for improvement.

In Conclusion

Above all else, I want you to know that it’s really not too much to expect truly great service from an IT service desk vendor. A good partner won’t necessarily be perfect, but they should be proactive and collaborative in resolving issues, and ensure that your users have a genuinely seamless help desk experience while freeing your team to innovate and create true business value.  If you’re thinking about outsourcing or changing from a less-than-ideal vendor, let me know how I can help.


This September 23-27, CTG is a Proud Partner of U.S. National Health IT Week.  U.S. National Health IT Week is a nationwide action week focused on supporting healthy communities across the U.S....
This September 23-27, CTG is a Proud Partner of U.S. National Health IT Week.  U.S. National Health IT Week is a nationwide action week focused on supporting healthy communities across the U.S....
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