Remote offices present additional challenges for IT professionals. It is not only the challenge of reaching the people and equipment but also the question of whether the IT assets are utilized as they should be. Even still, in some cases providing support to remote offices can outweigh the burdens it brings. But the situation cannot be so desperate, can it? Let’s see what we can do make remote support easier.
In any scenario, we have to start with security. I’m not talking about remote office to head office connection security. Rather, out-of-sight security issues, which I’ll talk about in a second. We will start with appointing at least one contact person to streamline communications and IT policies. Normally, remote office staff will take care of some of their IT issues themselves but (1) they are not IT staff therefore they do not know about the IT policies/IT implications of their solutions (installing a seemingly innocent program) (2) their performance is not about IT related issues, so simple things – such as password security – (pun intended) is easily compromised/not thought about (3) in an IT outsource scenario, the outsource personnel is easily trusted and they gain uncontrolled access to the network, often using other people’s credentials. Our contact person will help us navigate through all these difficulties, and surely she will reduce the number of support calls by providing on-site support.
It is better to invest in support automation applications. I have managed an entire international server and workstation infrastructure with System Center Configuration Manager with ease (I’m not advertising – the application fit our requirements perfectly). I have created desired configurations, managed patches and spotted the equipment which were on the way to getting obsolete. From Spain to Egypt and Ukraine to Ghana, the automation application saved us from days of work, easy troubleshooting and implementing central IT policies. We also had our software asset inventory and see how our software investments are utilized locally.
Continuing my example, we have arranged meetings with our local IT contacts once a year. We have re-emphasized our IT policies, spoke about the oncoming investments and how the investments will affect them, heard their voices and what we expect them to do. With this scenario we have achieved that (1) the local IT is in line with headquarter IT (2) in places where some of the support functions are outsourced, the local IT knows where things are headed to and what they are expected of (3) the local IT will easily and much better communicate the central IT policies with the local users (4) in places where we were outsourcing IT functions, we had much better control over contractors.
I would like to speak a little bit more about hardware inventory. In remote offices, if IT is not readily accessible, users tend to take care of hardware upgrades and software purchases on their own, using their own budget. This comes handy for them, they can bypass upgrade policies and use the software they want. However, from an IT perspective means incompatibilities, further technical complications and in many cases software security holes. In the opposite case, there is the obsolete equipment problem. Remote office workers sometimes consider themselves as “forgotten” as well as their jobs and their equipment. I have seen locations where people explicitly say that their PC is hardly booting, saying that the attached printer is on but no longer working for months and the software that was purchased a year ago is never used. In order to prevent wasting both company’s budget on unnecessary updates and other resources -e.g. people’s time, company’s electricity, unused licenses – we need to have IT policies that strictly forbid purchasing IT items without IT approval and that the remote assets are getting disposed at the end of their lifecycle.
Even if we successfully implement all these, we still have things to do. We need to make sure that we need to visit the remote offices as necessary, at least once a year and see that they are up to corporate standards. In addition, we need to conduct random audits and address any gaps and/or future needs of the remote offices. We cannot leave our offices not attended by the headquarters – not only we risk our office to one IT person’s capabilities but also we risk limiting the growth of our remote office because of IT shortcomings.
If we address all these issues in our remote offices, we will be in much better shape for managing them, keeping them up to our standards and allowing them to work up to their potential by using the appropriate equipment.
What do you do to ensure your remote office support is up to your standards? What are your tips? Let’s hear them in the comments.