Help or IT support desks are organizations’ including contact centers’ “IT emergency wards”, providing quick, timely and accurate diagnoses, fixes, patch ups, prescriptions and referrals to keep them going and productive. Yet they are “cost centers”; they have no opportunities to drive in revenues unlike many customer-facing service and external tech support desks. They are therefore under pressure to keep expenses down.
Juggling rising demand and limited resources can therefore create big headaches. The issue then becomes: how does one effectively and economically “support the support?”
Fortunately there is an increasing array of helpful and sophisticated prescriptions that provide quality affordable and high ROI assistance to IT support desks. Helping the helpers will enable them to help their organizations’ operations, leading to greater customer satisfaction and income, lower total costs and greater net returns.
Better Support, Lower Costs
Available over-the-counter to IT departments are new solutions that aid in resolving issues including improved and more accurate communications with users.
Numara Software is enabling support reps to be more productive with Numara FootPrints 9.5 service desk management solution. It features a home screen and customizable toolbar with a layout that provides easy access to the most frequently used options, permitting quicker issue resolution. It also has easy-to-access icons, varied font colors to highlight priorities and in-line editing. These components, says the company, shaves minutes off tasks reps perform most frequently, such as updating tickets and monitoring hot issues.
The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Version 3 (v3) Service Catalog Management enables IT support desks to publish to user organizations and staff, such as contact centers and agents, access to online, well organized and easy-to-navigate menus of services offered via service catalogs, explains Riaz Mohammed, director of sales and marketing, Monitor 24-7 (News - Alert). These service catalogs organize and display all services with easy-to-understand descriptions, browsing and search capabilities. They provide single access points for all of organizations’ service delivery needs. The catalogs allow IT departments to enforce repeatable and measurable service delivery processes.
Monitor 24-7 has just come out with IncidentMonitor, Version 9 (v9) that it says is in line with the firm’s continued commitment to ITIL standards; the solution has achieved PinkVERIFY certification for 10 ITIL v3 processes. PinkVERIFY objectively assesses a software tool’s enabling applications against ITIL definitions and workflow requirements. IncidentMonitor v9 allow users to search their service catalog, view all service details and submit requests for services. This view allows the business access to services they are authorized to request.
IncidentMonitor’s service catalog functionality provides the business with an entitlement-based view of all services. For example, a manager can submit a request to initiate the new hire process. They will be presented with an electronic, security-controlled form which will capture all required information to deliver the service right at the request submission. All other users will have access to services such as requesting a new laptop and password resets.
IncidentMonitor v9 has many other features that support ITIL v3 processes. There is change management, release and deployment management and service asset and configuration management integration which allows organizations to efficiently oversee strategic and tactical IT services. For other services such as enterprise resource planning or ERP the underlying infrastructure – hardware, software, interfaces – that support them is documented and viewable by the IT support staff. Any infrastructure changes results in the creation of a new version of the service with full audit and history details available to the IT support staff. The IT support personnel also know what users have which product variations so that they can assist them accordingly. The net result is consistency and repeatability that reduces downtime and ensuring smooth rollouts says Monitor 24-7.
IncidentMonitor v9 also offers knowledge processing by which the software enables capturing, vetting, approving and publishing phone-based and field support reps’ knowledge, and when done so making it available to other reps, plus users via self-service. This feature facilitates issue resolution to company-unique circumstances and applications. An archiving function enables future support for hardware and software that is no longer currently used and/or supported by their manufacturers but is there just in case a unit or program shows up.
“What is a company’s greatest asset with regards to internal support?” asks Mohammed. “It is what is in your technician’s head. IncidentMonitor Version 9 makes that available through a systematic process to ensure accuracy to other techs who come across a similar issue and to end users to help them solve their own issues.”
Managing any service requires accuracy throughout the entire process, starting with documenting every event from its opening until their resolution. Yet when using phone and e-mail for support there are risks that key information will not be entered correctly or in their entirety, which means the recommended solutions may not fix or make the problems worse. These techniques also add to service costs because they require time-consuming manual data entry.
SysAid has come out with an alternative to both voice and e-mail in its SysAid IT 6.5 and its most recent 7.0 releases: live chat. This mode enables IT administrators to communicate in real-time with end-users, providing them with the ability to conduct several different chats simultaneously, while monitoring the users’ IT assets at the same time.
SysAid allows looking up all of the users’ recent requests as well as similar inquiries, and how they were solved for them and others into a knowledge base built into the application. Chat conversations are entered into existing or new service requests along with all of the details. By having end-users utilize one of SysAid’s several automated processes for submitting requests, organizations can reduce each submission length by an average of 60 seconds as compared to manual entry by the IT teams.
Improved Issue/Request Tracking and Asset Management
To help organizations help other users there are new and enhanced solutions that track incidents and user requests, changes and problems and manage assets. TechExcel’s (News - Alert) Service 8.5 and its companion product for external support, CustomerWise 8.5, include APIs for managing knowledge and asset information, incident time-tracking and time roll-up, administration reports, customer surveys and web forms, incident linking for e-mail and automatic closure options and software asset management. There are also improved e-mail notification settings.
TechExcel also offers an updated project planning tool, TechExcel ProjectPlan, that provides integrated project planning and resource management for IT managers and service teams. ProjectPlan gives managers complete control over project information, scheduling and resource management through its real-time integration.
One growing issue is with supporting home-based and mobile and field staff and ensuring that their computers keep up to date, secure and to the same standards as those in the rest of the organization; they do not have help desk reps that can readily walk over and get inside their devices. Numara Software provides the next best option. The Numara Asset Management Platform can deploy intelligent software agents onto the remote users’ PCs, thereby permitting these devices to be as secure and compliant with IT standards as those at employers’ premises. This feature enables IT staff to monitor, patch, push software and remote control to any machine anywhere.
“Having someone in the office makes it easy to solve their Outlook issues, but the problem becomes more challenging when they are not in the office,” explains Umesh Shah, senior manager, product marketing, Numara Software. “Break fix is just one issue, ensuring the remote device is just as secure and compliant with IT standards as an in-house PC is also a concern. How do you ensure a remote user doesn’t install software on their machine which could introduce a virus to the company network?”
The best IT support solution is often one that enables end-users such as contact center agents to fix their own problems. These include internal online and downloadable FAQs and intelligent search applications. This is multi-win by reducing help desk costs, getting users back up and running ASAP, which improve their productivity and ultimately end-customer satisfaction. For home-based agents and mobile staff, such tools are not support alternatives but are the first-at-hand methods.
FrontRange’s HEAT Self-Service module allows IT support departments to run issue templates, making it quick and easy for users to request routine services. It also has a banner feature for internal support site screens that rapidly advises users of high profile issues such as software glitches; users can choose to “subscribe” for updates to particular issues.
RightAnswers’ RightAnswers Enterprise Gateway, an add-on component to its Unified Knowledge Suite provides a bridge, or gateway, between a firm’s search system, the RightAnswers solution
and their help desk system. It gives end-users a single source to find answers by leveraging the existing enterprise search system. It also permits content created by the IT support team can be made available to internal or externally-accessed search engines.
With RightAnswers, users see results in a solution view which is enriched with features from the self-service portal such as “See Related Solution” and “See Other Users’ Solutions” portlets and feedback buttons. They have quick access to relevant information and to links to the service incident management system and have a central repository for their search needs. RightAnswers’ Enterprise Gateway accomplishes this by converting unstructured content into structured metadata-driven solutions.
Remote access is the “expressway of IT support”, delivering information, instructions, and downloadable solutions. It enables reps to get inside hardware and software to diagnose and fix problems. The method also ensures user compliance with IT policies including security. With more employees, including contact center agents working from home, remote access becomes even more critical in keeping operations going and safe and with more organizations centralizing their help desks; the nearest tech may be tens if not hundreds or thousands of miles away.
LogMeIn, whose solutions enables remote control, file sharing, systems management, data backup, business collaboration and on-demand, has bolstered them by supporting Intel’s Remote PC Assist Technology (RPAT), powered Intel’s new vPro Technology. It is now standard in the LogMeIn Pro² product.
With LogMeIn and RPAT, IT help desks via their organizations’ managed service providers (MSPs) can access, support, and manage home, mobile and remote computers via the Internet – even if their computers are turned off or if the operating systems (OS) are unavailable from hardware or software failure. IT support reps can power on the devices, eliminating the need for users to leave their machines on or in sleep mode to receive critical upCustomer dates or perform back-ups. Support reps can access remote units at the BIOS level in the event of an OS or hard-drive failure that often accompanies the infamous blue screen of death.
Research by Intel confirms that support issues which remain irresolvable in the OS account for approximately 46 percent of support costs. LogMeIn, when used with Intel RPAT, enables MSPs to address many of these issues without a truck-roll or equipment return.
Intel RPAT enables connections to the Internet through an encrypted connectivity gateway. Upon the end-users’ acceptance, an encrypted, private connection is created with a trusted MSP using ISV (independent software vendor) tools that are integrated with the service. LogMeIn and RTAP work with both landline and wireless Internet connections.
One critical issue that arises with remote access is the lack of effective means of tracking remote support, which is typically point to point reports Nathan McNeill, vice president-product strategy and co-founder of Bomgar. IT departments often have no information as to the interaction duration, what was accessed, what tasks the reps carried out on users’ machines and how successful were the fixes.
“What you typically have in remote access is a piece of software on one end a piece of software on the other and nothing in between,” McNeill points out. “You get hundreds of support interactions going on all day in larger organizations. Yet from a management perspective there’s no record of these interactions ever taking place. Without these records to explain what happened during the remote support session you don’t have a good answer for your corporate auditors when they analyze your support functions.”
McNeill’s firm makes the “Bomgar Box”: an appliance loaded with specialized software that is attached to a company’s web server, at its DMZ, sitting between the support desks and users, that tracks interactions including enabling supervisors to see if the fixes were correctly done. The unit is owned and hosted by Bomgar customers. This avoids, he says, the thorny legal issues that can arise with SaaS (News - Alert)-based solutions where support session details (including any sensitive data accessed by the reps) are routed through external offsite systems: as opposed to being housed and secured internally.
McNeill finds the appliance approach superior to software-only because it avoids competing with other demands on his customers’ servers and allows for faster troubleshooting. The appliance model also permits Bomgar to speed product development, as demonstrated with the company recently releasing its newest offering, the B400. The B400 supports up to 6,000 managed remote desktops, up from 1,200 in the B300 that had required support organizations that needed more capacity, such as large IT outsourcers, to maintain multiple appliances.
“We’re finding that more organizations are switching to appliance-based remote management to supervise point to point remote access of systems and that is what is driving the need for larger appliances,” says McNeill.“This is especially a concern for enterprises operating in heavily regulated industries, such as the financial and healthcare sectors.”
Sophisticated Solutions, Sophisticated Support
There are new, sophisticated and bandwidth-intensive tools among them CRM, unified communications (UC) and workforce optimization in contact centers and across enterprises that require careful management and quality support, and suppliers are responding.
Psytechnics’ (News - Alert) Experience Manager 5 with Service Desk ensures UC voice and video quality and rapid issue response by combining quality of experience data with call detail records with fault descriptions generated in plain English for quicker action by IT support teams. It identifies problems such as packet loss, jitter and latency. It also marks the applications’ performance, including voice/audio issues such as echo, noise, distortion, delay, and incorrect speech levels and video issues such as compression, image-size, frame rate and video image quality. In doing so the Psytechnics solution removes having to scale IT support for new UC-based services while slicing call quality incidents by up to 80 percent.
The sophisticated tools are also adding to the already-complex contact center agents’ desktops, whether support issues from glitches or slow performance from the hardware or software, the application interfaces or by how agents are using them. Lori Wizdo (News - Alert), vice president - marketing Knoa Software says her firm frequently encounters more than 25 applications accessible through agents’ computers.
The costs of these issues, such as slow or faulty applications add up. For example a consumer services company which implemented Knoa’s Experience and Performance Manager (EPM) performance monitoring technology discovered that cumbersome application interfaces were contributing 20 seconds to a 250 second average handle time.
Knoa EPM 5.5 can help contact centers handle these issues. Dynamic baselining identifies instances where performance is trending downwards. IT operations teams can then take action before service level thresholds have been breached and business has been disrupted. Multi-dimensional drill-down capabilities identify cause-and-effect relationships that might otherwise go undetected.
“Complex systems are hard to install, costly to maintain and difficult to use,” says Wizdo. “I don’t believe that we can engineer that out of the contact center business systems. One approach to managing the risks is to leverage top-notch application management tools to identify the problems, rapidly identify the root causes and quickly implement the remediation.” CIS
The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:
Bomgar - www.bomgar.com
FrontRange - www.frontrange.com
Knoa - www.knoa.com
LogMeIn - www.logmein.com
Monitor 24-7 - www.monitor24-7.com
Numara Software - www.numarasoftware.com
Psytechnics - www.psytechnics.com
RightAnswers - www.rightanswers.com
SysAid - www.sysaid.com
TechExcel - www.techexcel.com
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.