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4 Remote IT Support Tips For SMBs

Stuck managing a hodgepodge of PCs and mobile devices for a spread-out team? Consider this advice.

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The mobility boom has unleashed a diverse, evolving list of devices and the operating systems that power them. This presents a support problem for IT pros: How best to troubleshoot issues on all of those devices whether or not they're in the office?

That challenge can be particularly pressing for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) operating highly mobile or virtual teams. Nathan McNeill, chief strategy officer of Bomgar, recommends several areas of focus for SMBs looking to optimize their remote support approach to keep things running smoothly. Bomgar is a back-end technology provider to internal help desks, customer support organizations, and IT outsourcing firms.

1. Embrace the multi-device world. When it comes to remote support, you could try to restrict employees to certain devices and a single operating system--but is that headache worth the trouble?

"I would liken it to not wanting to fight gravity," McNeill said in an interview. "[Employees] are going to have smartphones, they're going to have tablets, and not all of them are going to be ones that you issued or standardized on."

Even if you do issue corporate standards for mobile and other devices, Bomgar said it's best to plan for contingencies, adding that it's a matter of when--not if--those scenarios will surface. "As soon as you have a salesman who's trying to close a big deal, and he's running it off his iPad even though you told him he couldn't, you're going to let him and you're going to need to support it," he said. "It's best to just to have the plan for how you're going to do that versus having to make one up on the spot."

Consider multi-device support when defining remote support requirements, particularly if your organization embraces consumeriation. If you already have a system in place, be sure to consider a complete list of devices and software, even if some of them aren't currently being used. This will keep you covered for when support needs do come up for non-standard tech.

Another tip: Enable multi-device capability for support reps, too, so that they don't necessarily have to be in the office or in front of their desktop to resolve issues.

2. Think through security requirements carefully. The mobile workforce comes with a host of potential security concerns. Remote support tools need to help--rather than add more complexity--on this front.

"Remote support is a gateway into your IT infrastructure," McNeill said. Put another way: It's another threat vector, so secure it as such.

McNeill said security is especially important to SMBs that deal with thorny compliance issues, such as financial firms and healthcare providers. Regulatory agencies don't make exceptions just because yours is a small company.

"You have all the same [regulatory] requirements, but not the same bank account," McNeill said.

He listed two must-haves in a solid approach to remote support: the ability to create a complete audit trail, and configurable, rules-based permissions for users. In terms of an audit trail, McNeill stressed the important of visibility into who is using the system, what they're doing, and when they're doing it. This should include any authorized users outside of the company, such as third-party IT providers. (More on them below.) In a similar vein, you should be able to set specific permissions for how each user can access the system and take action when logged in. For some industries such as banking, multi-factor authentication may be another critical requirement.

3. Enable third-party access--but on a short leash. Since many SMBs rely on outside technology providers and partners for help, it's often a good idea to enable third-party access to your support platform. Doing so allows someone outside the company to assist with troubleshooting infrastructure or applications when appropriate. That said, don't just grant unfettered access.

"You're trying to balance easy, seamless integration with your service provider so that they can act as a extension of your organization, but you also want tight security controls," McNeill said.

That gets back to the rules-based permissions mentioned above--all users, internal or external, should have a defined function in the system. Permissions should balance enabling people to do their jobs well while mitigating the risks associated with granting external users access to the company's network.

"You can let anyone use a platform," McNeill said. "The question is whether there's a thought process behind that use of the platform.

4. Provide multi-channel support. The old support paradigm was centered largely--if not entirely--on the phone call. That means still has a place, but should be part of a broader mix of channels for end users to choose from. McNeill is a fan instant messaging, SMS, and other text-based channels for initiating and resolving support requests in mobile organizations.

The upside for IT pros in servicing multiple channels: More speed and efficiency. McNeill notes that calls typically have to be handled one at a time, whereas several text-based requests could be managed simultaneously.

"A lot of times, [technicians] are just watching progress bars," McNeill said. "You're allowed to work on multiple systems effectively at the same time."

Read our new report, State Of The IT Service Desk: Change Management Remains Key. Download the report now. (Free registration required.)

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