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Workshop In the past decade we have witnessed the use of laptops in organisations reaching similar levels to those of desktops. All the signs are that the penetration of such machines will soon exceed that of their immobile siblings. Today, they are more than status symbols. They are established as essential business devices, without which many users would find their jobs difficult, if not impossible, to perform adequately.

As the volume of mobile users is growing in many businesses, what can be done to make their lives easier? Is it possible to deliver more stable services to staff and to better protect the devices and the company information they hold as users travel from airport to hotel to customer, and maybe even home?

We know from previous feedback supplied by Reg readers that supporting remote and mobile workers poses more than a few challenges. Indeed, from some of the reports that you have sent in, helping users who are not close by for a quick desk-side visit can be extremely stressful for all parties.

How can the devices that such users rely on be managed most effectively? The basics appear to be clear, although having the ability to deliver on them can be subject to considerable constraints in access to suitable budget availability, time and human resources.

The key stages can be summarised as:

  1. Know what kit you have ‘out there’, and who is using it and why. (How else can you ensure that they are well supported and that appropriate management/service delivery and protection solutions are in place?)
  2. Deploy suitable management tools and service solutions to support the users.
  3. Ensure that the support processes employed by the help desk have been crafted with remote and mobile users in mind.
  4. Train everyone - the help desk, support professionals and the users.
  5. Try to manage the service expectations of remote users.

Each of these steps, individually, is not steeped in rocket science. But we do know that few organisations have the ability to undertake even step one with any degree of accuracy or regularity. We also have your acknowledgement that getting company acceptance of the need for investment in any management tool technology is by no means straightforward, and it's well known how infrequently training budgets actually create trained users.

The failure of organisations to understand the benefits achievable through good investments in these areas is difficult to comprehend, especially as the tools available to support these areas are getting easier to implement all the time.

The last step, trying to manage the expectations of users, is extremely difficult, especially in an organisation where IT and users only communicate regularly via the help desk. But this step is probably the cheapest to take, in terms of capital spend and can, when well executed, have a considerable impact on how well IT support, and almost by definition, IT itself is regarded.

What we do know is that the users’ expectations of service levels get ever higher. It is also clear that more users wish to work remotely, and ‘expect’ to do so using an ever expanding portfolio of PCs, laptops, netbooks and smart phones, company ratified or not. The pressure on help desk and IT support staff will mount.

So, while all is not doom and gloom, we would like to know how you are tackling these matters. Do your remote and mobile users cause you more problems than those in the office? And how do you help them? We’d like to hear about the ways you have discovered to make supporting remote users more effective and less disruptive. What roles do desktop virtualisation and encryption hold as we move forward? Whether your salvation has been found in the tools you use or the processes you have established, please give us your feedback in the comments area below. ®

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