When I started my IT career as the lone technical support person in a governmental agency of 200+ people my toolset consisted of the telephone, my feet, and my eyes. The phone would ring, my feet would walk me to the caller's desk, and I would observe over their shoulder the particular issue they were having. Not optimal, but practical given that only a few dozen of those 200+ people actually had PCs (the rest had Unix terminals), and the building was only a few thousand square feet.
Today the challenges with user support are radically different.
Users don't just work from the office on a desktop computer. Not only are the workers remote and/or mobile, but so are the support technicians. Now they can be anywhere - at home, in a hotel, in the local coffee shop, or even at the beach. (We'll leave the implications of sand, salt water, and notebook computers for another day.)
The remote workforce is a rapidly growing share of the total workforce.
A 2011 report from Forrester reported that almost two-thirds of information workers in North America and Europe work remotely. Working remotely is advantageous to organizations for many reasons, including positive impacts to the environment and significant reductions in cost related to real estate and office equipment. In a word, the remote/mobile workforce is here to stay; supporting these remote/mobile workers to the same level they’ve been accustomed to when in the office is the new challenge.
Walking down the hallway and looking over a user’s shoulder isn’t practical if they’re across the country in a hotel or at home at sunrise working on a project due at 8am. In addition the ratio of end-users to support technicians has significantly increased, from the few dozen that I supported way-back-when, to several dozen per technician today. The only effective way to provide the necessary level of support at these ratios is through the use of remote connectivity. Remote desktop sharing software that connects the support technician's environment to the end-user's environment is required to make on-demand connections and resolve issues as they are encountered.
A necessary solution.
Desktop sharing software is a critical component of any strategy for managing remote and mobile users. Some key features to consider when evaluating a desktop sharing solution is:
- initiating connections to attended or unattended machines
- initiating connections to attended machines only with active consent of logged-on user
- initiating connections to powered-down machines
- sharing of keyboard/mouse so both end-user and support technician can see/control activity
- support multi-platform connectivity (Windows, Mac, Linux)
- support multi-factor authentication
- screen capture utilities
- real-time chat tools
Sometimes, of course, it’s only necessary to be able to view/change configurations, manage services, get status information, or manipulate files – this is where remote administration tools provide a more effective solution. It doesn’t impact the user currently working on the system, and eliminates the overhead of replicating the desktop environment across the network, particularly if the connection is not on a high-speed LAN.