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Remote support

01 Jul 11

New Zealand, by its very nature, has long been home to many remote and mobile workers. Mobile workers are, in fact, becoming the norm rather than the exception, even outside typical mobile-friendly industries, such as real estate and delivery tservices.
Increasingly, these workers are accessing corporate and head office systems, applications and servers, as technology, when adopted smartly, correctly and efficiently, has grown to support safe, secure and comprehensive connectivity.
Business continuity remains a necessity for these business organisations. But how can efficient support be ensured? IT Brief asked two New Zealand experts for the answer to this and other questions
How has technology helped to shape the mobile workforce in New Zealand over the past year? How will it be shaped over the next five years?
Kendra Ross, DUO: Gartner is predicting that by 2014, 90% of organisations will support corporate applications on personal devices, and by 2012, 80% will support the use of tablets. This is a huge shift in paradigm, from workers within the enterprise network on company-owned assets, which are protected and trusted, to external devices connecting to the corporate system on owner devices that are essentially untrusted.
Aaron McDonald, Gen-i: In order to maximise productivity, people need to be able to respond quickly and have tools that allow them to work remotely.
Without mobility, decision making processes can be slow, and people are less flexible in terms of their work/life balance. Mobile technology has helped us to make better use of the time we have available to us, and to provide real time information to where people need it – not to a system or a desk.
What new challenges does a mobile workforce place on IT support, and how should these challenges be met?
Aaron McDonald: The growing trend of employees bringing their own technology to work presents challenges for the ICT department, which is trying to manage risk and cost. Increasingly, businesses are looking for industry experts to which they can outsource their end user mobile support. Outsourcing options that allow for management of extensive devices, split billing, etc. are increasingly popular.
Kendra Ross: The challenge for ICT departments is to support access to the applications their workers need remotely 24/7. Mobile workers also need IT to create more productive applications for tablets and smart devices or give them controlled access to the corporate applications they are used to using. Gartner states that 25% of enterprise businesses are ready to develop their own mobile apps, with this number expected to rise rapidly over the next year.
Of course, with demands from remote users for more access to corporate data comes the challenge for ICT to do this in a centrally managed and secure manner. These remote workers are connecting from all sorts of devices, so IT needs to ensure these connections are safe from malware and viruses, that they are compliant with corporate policy and that the user is who he says he is. The corporate, whether in-house or through a managed service, must also have the ability to remotely wipe or kill the user’s device if lost or stolen, so ultimately there is protection of the corporate data.
How can staff in the field be supported in terms of technical matters?
Kendra Ross: Many of the mobile device management solutions available now are easy for IT to deploy out to remote workers and then for remote workers to accept and set up. Most smart device users are used to downloading apps outside the corporate environment. Once set up, the same structure as normal – such as a helpdesk with support users, password reset, etc. – applies.
Aaron McDonald: Clients find it increasingly difficult to provide high quality in-the-field support to their users. Mobile technology is a very fast moving space and ICT departments are increasingly challenged to provide support to their mobile workforce. This, coupled with distance, compounds the problems for them.
How can productivity be ensured, when work relies on ‘always on’ access?
Aaron McDonald: It’s important to ensure that your remote access systems are able to cope with diverse access types; relying on one mode of access will always increase risk. Having a network-independent remote access system will allow users to take advantage of fixed, WiFi and mobile broadband access, reducing the risk of not being able to achieve access.
Kendra Ross: There has to be the ability for workers to work out of band, if internet or wireless connections fail, and then synchronise when they are again connected to the enterprise network.
Can support of a mobile workforce be safely and entirely left to an outsourced partner? Under what circumstances might this not be recommended?
Kendra Ross: Whether a business is best placed to manage devices through the enterprise directly or through a cloud solution will come down to a number of factors. Does the enterprise already have some of the infrastructure required? Are they under rules of the land? Must data remain ‘in country’, and does the organisation have the skills and resource to support this? An organisation without this resource, or one under restriction around data usage and control, may choose a hosted system.
Aaron McDonald: Many ICT departments struggle to maintain the expertise to offer excellent mobility support, due to the high level of change in the mobile ecosystem. Mobile devices now have the equivalent power and capability of many desktops. There are eight major mobile operating systems, which go through several major revisions annually. Imagine trying to support eight different versions of desktop software – it’s just not practical for the average New Zealand business. About 40% of the total cost of ownership for mobility is in end user support. The obvious costs – like mobile network chargers, hardware and software – only make up about 50%.
To ensure the best end user support, businesses should look for a partner that can deliver an end-to-end solution, with expertise in all areas from the network and device to the ICT system.
Are bespoke solutions necessary, or can organisations rely entirely on ‘off the shelf’ solutions for their remote workforce?
Aaron McDonald: The operating system ecosystem is vast and rapidly changing. Investing in both bespoke and off the shelf solutions will very quickly lead to being out of date with the devices you need to support. Working with a partner, who provides a service based on required outcomes, and sources the best solution to meet that need, means if the capability changes, but your requirements stay the same, it is the provider’s job to ensure your outcomes are met.
Kendra Ross: Even the most bespoke mobile device managed solution is close to been "off the shelf" these days, and is easy for ICT to configure. For the users, they just need to download an application onto their relevant mobile device.
What potential dangers must the IT executive be aware of when it comes to supporting mobile workers?
Kendra Ross: Unmanaged smart devices connected to the enterprise are a ticking time bomb. Some 20% of mobiles are lost, and if that mobile has a connection back into your network, with little or no management, then the resulting loss of data, IP and reputation can be catastrophic. Imagine if a phone containing emails regarding the company’s financial performance is left in a bar. Or what about unmanaged access into your network, with no controls over where that employee can go?
Also important to consider is how to encrypt or protect data traffic as more malware gets delivered into apps. At the end of the day MDM solutions are very inexpensive and are just an extension of your enterprise setup. You don't let someone walk out with the server, so why would you let an employee access that same data from the comfort of their couch with no controls?
Aaron McDonald: It is important to be proactive in this space. The biggest danger is not having a mobile strategy. It’s important to clearly profile your users, adopt a device agnostic security capability, have very clear cost management rules and ensure you are prepared for upcoming changes to fringe benefit tax and piracy legislation set to impact mobile devices. The ICT department needs to take an active role in informing users about choices and risk and having a service framework which allows flexibility.