Remote offices represent additional challenges for IT. Support must be handled long distance, and there is seldom absolute assurance that all IT assets are being run as they should be. Still, the business benefits of having remote offices far outweigh the IT burdens. So what considerations can IT put on its checklist to make remote office support easier?
1: Security—inside and out
Employees at remote sites are usually there to provide local sales and service. They view IT as a means through which they do their jobs, but their performance as employees is not based a how well they do IT. In these environments, security can easily lapse. IT must ensure that practices are in place for the safekeeping of data and the confidentiality of user IDs and passwords. Even the rooms housing IT at remote sites must be inspected to verify that they are locked and secure.
2: Research into support automation opportunities
Network communications monitoring, new software downloads, remote troubleshooting, and even lockdowns of lost mobile devices can be effected with centralized software. The more automation of this nature that corporate IT can install, the faster it can respond to maintenance issues in the field.
3: Annual onsite maintenance checkups
Even if you secure local IT support and perform the rest of remote office support virtually, IT should plan annual visits to each remote site (at a minimum) to ensure that all remote IT conforms to corporate maintenance, as well as environmental and security standards.
4: User hardware and software upgrade policies
When corporate IT is not readily accessible, it's easy for end users to take IT into their own hands. Usually, this comes in the form of remote office workers purchasing hardware upgrades and new software out of general office funds and installing the items on their own. This self-help encourages system incompatibilities, technical complications, and security breaches. There should be an IT policy in place for preventing it—together with a local service option that facilitates the needed upgrades.
5: Onsite point persons
For purposes of communications streamlining and coordination, there should be one dedicated point person for IT issues on each remote site. This prevents IT from receiving multiple calls from multiple users.
Communications are the lifeline of remote offices. They loom even more important when these offices are making thousands of sales transactions on a daily basis. Quality of service should be negotiated with a capable communications provider, along with a comprehensive set of SLAs.
7: Local repair outsourcing
If a remote office user's laptop breaks down in Omaha and corporate IT is in Pittsburgh, it's impractical to ship the laptop to Pittsburgh. One step IT can take is to subcontract support service for equipment breakdowns to local suppliers it pre-certifies for support.
As part of its regular IT audit cycle, organizations should also audit the IT of several randomly selected remote offices. The audit can be used proactively to address any present gaps or future needs in IT policies and procedures for field-based offices.
9: User administration policies and training
Appointing a point person at a remote site is one step toward ensuring that IT is administered in remote offices in a uniform way. But IT should also make sure that existing and new employees at these offices are properly trained in IT policies and procedures.
10: Obsolete equipment
It's common to find old modems and dusty computers and printers sitting in the back rooms of many remote offices. Rather than let this obsolete equipment accumulate, IT should annually inventory remote assets and dispense with them when necessary.
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What steps have you taken to streamline support for remote offices? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.
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.