Supporting the customer – remote management developments

November 27, 2006

This post is a supplementary to the post on what ails customer support. The post discusses the various factors affecting the quality of customer support and how big companies mostly have lousy customer support.

Here I intend to discuss the special emphasis placed on customer support in Small and Medium business and how it affects the life of the IT administrator. I will also look at the technological help that is available to these harried lot including some of the latest developments in the field of remote support.

Customer support in a small business falls into two categories. One is your internal helpdesk. The other is the support that you provide to the customers. Traditionally a lot of emphasis on customer support is placed in Small and Medium business. Reason is quiet straight forward. Usually small and medium business need to make a mark in an existing market. They need a chunk of the market share and ususally it is customer support that differentiates the big from the small. A Small medium business is also more agile and fast, which means that it is not possible to exercise the kind of controls that are available to IT admins in bigger organizations.

So the IT admins in SMB’s are a busy lot. They need to be at the bleeding edge of technology to keep moving. Most problems that are solved in bigger organizations by controls and process do not work here. If you go with a policy for protecting your computers you will be asked to find out a technology that gives them the freedom to work and still takes care of security. BTW did I say that the solution should be dirt cheap.

Usually you dont have an expansive IT help desk hence remote assitance is widely used in SMB’s. In SMB’s you will find many people working from home and always on the move. Remote troubleshooting comes in handy here too. Hence Iam always interested in Remote troubleshooting tools.

Traditionally VNC and Remote Desktop are probably the widely used tools for remote troubleshooting. Though they are very good tools, they also suffer from some disadvantages.

1. Both of these require the machine to be powered on booted up and available. So the troubleshooting happens right in front of the customer wasting away his/her time and making them impatient.

2. Usually there are problems when firewalls are involved.

Recently there seems to be some momentum in making remote management of computers a breeze.

Intel launched its vPro platform in April aims to solve the first problem. Built around Intel’s proprietary Active Management Technology, vPro aims to help manage desktop computers even when they are switched off. There is an inbuilt mechanism of remotely starting a machine applying a patch and shut it down. A patch can be applied even when the machine is shutdown. It also greatly improves the ability to isolate systems that threaten network security. Thus this technology is a boon for internal IT management.

But before you jump and order your vPro, just be informed that this technology is just gaining momentum and still at early stages of adoption. Intel’s technology is a properitary one and Dell for example is not planning to use vPro and instead deploying management technologies defined by the Distributed Management Task Force standards body, such as the Alert Standards Format 2.0 and standards currently under development by the Desktop and Mobile Work Group. But I feel that this technology is definitely worth watching and keeping track of.

The other new development that I feel will be a great help to Remote assistance is CrossLoop. This solves the second problem usually associated with remote assistance, (ie) firewalls. CrossLoop is a FREE secure screen sharing utility designed for people of all technical skill levels. It allows secure screen sharing without changing any firewall or router settings. This downloadable stuff networks computers in a peer to peer mode. CrossLooop is based on UltraVnc. Cross loop can become an important tool for remote assistance particularly for remote support for customers, travelling employees and home offices.

I should say that I have not tried it but it looks promising. Someday Iam going to try and post the review here.

Wish in the days to come, technical support becomes a much more enjoyable experience both for the IT technicians and the customers.

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Want to start a small business?

November 21, 2006

Even before you think about having a SMB IT, you should have a small business. Well how to go about starting a new business?

I found some information here that may be useful. The article talks about JackRabbit a beta site hosted by Intuit for startups and those planning to start a business. Looks like in today’s world when everything is in eternal beta, JacRabbit has come of age. The URL for intuits website is http://jumpup.intuit.com/

Jumpup (previously JackRabbit) is a combination of three things:

  • Tips and Tools – It includes some general advice. Of course, lots of sites give advice. The part where I got excited, though, is the easy way you can find a number of interesting free online tools. There are several online calculators and other free tools offered in conjunction with third parties, such as Palo Alto Software (makers of BusinessPlan Pro). There is also a link to download a free copy of QuickBooks Simple Start, a scaled down version of the famous QuickBooks software. I suppose you can locate many of these tools on your own, but half the battle today with so much information available on the Web is just finding — and remembering — the most useful tools. JackRabbit helps you do that.
  • Bookmarks – The site has “bookmarks” or links of helpful business resources and websites. Bookmarked sites can be any kind of resources you need when starting a business. Anyone can add a bookmarked site or Web page. You can even add tags (equivalent to keywords), to make it easy to search for bookmarked sites by topic. The sites you add are visible to others, and also saved in your own page (”My JackRabbit”) where you can find them readily.
  • Contacts – JackRabbit has a streamlined way you can network with other small business owners who are members of the site, and save them in your “My Contacts” area. This social networking aspect of the site is a key feature that sets the site apart from most content-based websites. Even so-called community sites such as discussion boards rarely make it easy to connect directly with other users of the site. For instance, on most small business sites it is difficult or impossible to save a list of contacts with each person’s name, photo and contact details for future reference.

Checkout Jumpup  some time

How big is the SMB segment

November 9, 2006

Working in a SMB comapny I always used to wonder what the size of the SMB segment was. Google gave me this link. The pyramid in this link should say it all. SMB segment is really big.

To quote a recent figure from marketresearch

To give an idea of the scale of the sector, there are 19 million SMBs in the EU and in most of the member states they make up more than 99% of enterprises. SMBs generate a substantial share of European GDP and are a key source of new jobs and business ideas.

Obviously there is a lot of buzz in this segment and so are the challenges.

Welcome to Small Business IT

November 9, 2006

Small and Medium Business segment has been growing a lot in the recent years. Part of this growth is due to the widespread use of IT. The challenges faced by the IT department at these companies is markedly different from the big enterprise. In this blog I wish to share my experiences as an IT head of a SMB company.