Which Web services provide the best remote help desk support?
I work for a help desk, and we have a user environment that stretches across several U.S. states. What are good support tools that extended domains can use to perform remote help?
Providing quality, cost-effective remote help to a distributed workforce is a growing challenge for many organizations. More and more workers are telecommuting or logging into the company network while out on the road. Remote users are often frustrated when they have a problem that isn't resolved quickly. This can lead to users trying to resolve problems themselves, often making things worse and adding to their frustration and loss of productivity.
In the past, when dealing with very small organizations, I have used various Windows tools, such as Terminal Services and Remote Assistance in Windows XP. However, these options are not really practical when dealing with a large number of users, particularly since there can be interoperability problems between operating systems if the remote computer is running a different version of Windows.
The increasing demand for efficient remote support has brought about many Web-based services that provide the ability to remotely view and control customers' or users' PCs. By taking control of the problem PC, help desk technicians can usually resolve problems faster and with less stress for all concerned. Many of the new Web-based services use a similar permission-based technology as Microsoft's Remote Assistance, where the user is required to send a small program that allows a third party to access their computer via the Internet. However, the new Web services differ in that they are geared to scale for help desk use. They include issue tracking and support users with a variety of system configurations.
Laplink Software Inc., the people who brought us the first PC-to-PC connection cables, have a very competitively priced Web-based remote help solution called RemoteAssist. Like similar services, there is no requirement for prior software installation on the remote machine, and all connections between machines are SSL- encrypted.
GoToAssist from Citrix Systems Inc. provides a range of incident-resolution tools, plus reports that enable support staff to measure their productivity. The built-in surveys allow you to assess user feedback and review historical trends.
Another service, Netopic Inc.'s eCare On-Demand Remote Support Center Application is available as licensed software or as a hosted solution.
For large organizations, HP's eSupport portal offers several nice features. It captures end-user service history so that users can easily refer back to past problems, as well as follow links to automated fixes for common issues.
One of the troubles you'll have when introducing Web-based help or e-support is getting users out of the habit of automatically calling the help desk in response to a problem. In order to stop unnecessary calls to the help desk, eSupport proactively informs users of any known technical issues and the status of an individual's service request.
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This was first published in February 2007