Providing IT to remote locations isn't necessarily easy. Complications can arise — from disaster recovery (DR) test plans you have to customize to fit IT scenarios at different sites to who controls the relationships with vendors and makes IT buy decisions in the field.
Here are 10 things that should be on your checklist whenever you implement IT at remote locations.
1: Environmental factors
What are the temperature, humidity, dust, and other environmental characteristics of the remote sites you're placing servers in? These factors can be extreme if you're adding servers to a feed mill with grain dust or a plastic/metal fabrication facility that could also have a high airborne particulate count. Even if your remote servers are in relatively dust-free sales offices, there are environmental factors (such as conditions local users might subject equipment to) that you can't always anticipate. Before placing servers into any remote facility, assess the environmental factors and try to mitigate them if they present problems. The more you do up front to ensure great environmentals, the less likely equipment will fail.
IT should have a set of security standards for remote sites that includes not only software-driven computer access, like user IDs and passwords, but also physical site security (alarms, locks, etc.). Auditors will certainly be looking for this — and if IT is on its toes with regular site reviews, there shouldn't be any out-of-compliance issues.
3: Store and forward technology
Some industries (like banking and retail) use store and forward technology, which temporarily houses transactions performed at remote sites on local site servers when there is a failure of the central computing system at headquarters. This allows the business to keep going at remote outlets without interruption — and updates to central databases can be made after central services are restored. Store and forward at remote sites is a nice capability to have as part of your DR and business continuation plan.
4: IT support
You will need a clearly defined IT support strategy for remote sites. Which problems can you troubleshoot and resolve remotely and which necessitate onsite visits? Do you centralize all your IT personnel or do you have some staff stationed in remote geographies that carry heavy compute loads? Finally, what service levels are you promising to your remote sites — and when should they contact IT for support? These guidelines should be laid out and communicated to both IT staff and remote users before remote computing is implemented.
5: In-field vendor support
Should IT contract with third parties to service in-field locations that are very remote? If the answer is "yes," IT should have service support standards written into its third party contracts — and metrics against which vendor performance is measured. IT should maintain direct relationships with these vendors, because it is the only way that quality of service can be ensured.
6: IT infrastructure
Do you implement virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and cloud-based delivery of computing to remote offices — or do you use physical servers in field locations? Virtualization has some natural advantages because it is easily provisioned, monitored, and serviced by central IT. But if you are a bank or a retailer, you might opt to use physical servers at remote locations for purposes of store and forward technology.
Much has already been written about the millions of mobile devices that are lost each year and about the ongoing security challenges that mobile devices present. When you have remote locations, these threats are compounded because more of your business users are in the field. IT should have firm security standards for mobile devices that include not only user IDs and passwords, but data encryption, lockdowns for lost devices, and a clear set of guidelines for mobile device acquisition if you have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy.
8: Buy decisions
Remote offices can be tempted to run to a computer box store to pick up a low-priced software package that they fund out of petty cash. There is nothing wrong with this — as long as the software meets corporate IT standards, the vendor is reputable, and IT is engaged when there is a desire to integrate this software with other IT solutions. On a quarterly basis, IT should check with remote sites to see which purchases have been made independently so it can be aware of what's "out there."
9: International hardware and software purchases
If your remote offices cross international borders, you will want to include universal quality of support in every RFP you issue to vendors. Why? Because a vendor with superior support for its product in the UK might not have much of a support organization in France or Germany.
Especially in accounting methods and software, different countries have varying standards and regulations. If you are purchasing software that will be run by locations in other countries, make sure that the software can handle these different requirements.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.