How to manage third-party service, support and security

U.S. retailer Target saw one of the largest thefts of credit card data in recent history
U.S. retailer Target saw one of the largest thefts of credit card data in recent history

Productivity expert David Allen once stated that his approach, “Getting Things Done,” was based on the simple premise that you can’t do everything. In IT, we face this problem every day. Whether it is due to lack of domain specific expertise or simply not enough resources to handle all of our IT services, there are many reasons why we might look to third parties to help support our requirements.

Third party access can come in various guises – from full IT support and service operations, to specialist knowledge that is required on an irregular basis. The majority of this support is delivered remotely over the internet, making third-party outsourcers an even more cost-effective solution.

A research report by Ovum last year highlighted how many third parties have access to company IT networks. While 12% of organisations ran everything themselves, the majority of companies (56.3%) surveyed across Western Europe had granted access to between one and four suppliers, while 28.3% had between five and 29 suppliers. One company admitted that it had more than one hundred organisations with permission to access their networks.

Why does this matter? 

One word: Security.

Third party access is only going to grow, as more devices become internet-enabled and more specialist knowledge is required to keep them running. However, third party access is also one of the areas where control and management is often overlooked. There are plenty of options out there for remote access to networks, but the security and management of those tools is not as mature. Too often, access is binary and broad. The third-party either has access to the entire network, or it doesn’t.

This is a significant security risk, as witnessed by the attack on U.S. retailer Target last year, one of the largest thefts of credit card data in recent history. Poor third party access management opened the door for hackers to access the entire Target network via the vendor responsible for managing the firm’s air conditioning services. Once in, the attackers were able to use a variety of tricks to navigate from that section of the network and to the credit card database servers.

The current press attention around remote access security should drive better industry practices, but there are further proactive steps that service desks can take now to protect themselves.

Steps to take

For companies running their own service desks, security around third party access should be part of the overall request management process. When internal customers ask for new services or need help that a third party will provide, consider the management of the session as part of the request process.

This includes being able to control access. Why should a third party have access to everything on the network, when they are being asked to fix a specific problem? Locking down access – either to a specific section of the network, or only allowing the third party access to access certain devices or applications – is one option that service desks can look at in more detail. Service desks should also capture a full audit trail of every action a third-party technician takes while on their network, and set up alerts for any suspicious activity, such as a vendor logging in in the middle of the night.

For third-party service providers, keeping their customers’ networks secure should be top of mind. Just as the Doctor’s Hippocratic oath states, “Do No Harm”, so too should third-party providers reduce security risks to their customers around remote access. Implementing secure remote access tools and best practices will help service providers set themselves apart from competitors and improve customer loyalty.

Ultimately, third party access has to be secure, auditable and controlled. At the same time, the requirement for more flexibility in how services are delivered will make remote access by third parties even more common than it is today. Within the overall service delivery strategy, keeping this third party access under control is a key management task to consider.

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LogMeIn ends free offering

support

Within the last week remote computer access software company LogMeIn have announced that they will be discontinuing their free remote access product – LogMeIn free – with immediate effect.

“After 10 years, LogMeIn’s free remote access product, LogMeIn Free, is going away,” wrote LogMeIn’s Tara Haas. “We will be unifying our portfolio of free and premium remote access products into a single offering. This product will be a paid-only offering, and it will offer what we believe to be the best premium desktop, cloud and mobile access experience available on the market today.”

Current users of the service will receive an email and a screen message the next time that they log in informing them that they have a paltry seven days to upgrade to a premium account before access to their account is revoked.

In an article for PC World Tony Bradley, Principal Analyst at Bradley Strategy Group states:

“The decision to end LogMeIn Free is abrupt and a bit confusing. It seems like it’s been relatively successful at luring customers to sign up and generating revenue for LogMeIn from the premium account subscriptions.”

Forum members of tech.slashdot.org have criticized the company for the abrupt change:

“…I must say I might have considered signing up for pro, but the zero-notice cancellation of the free account has left a major bad taste in my mouth. It’s a pretty blatant attempt to rush people into signing up for the paid program, because hey, give people a month’s notice to evaluate alternatives and the might find something else they like. For that reason, there is zero chance I’ll sign up for logmein pro.” – TX

Though it appears not all customers are jumping ship with some reportedly being offered six months of pro service as an incentive to continue:

“…at the risk of not conforming to a potential lynch mob mentality, it would appear they’re giving me 6 months of pro service on my existing account before they turn it off. This is plenty of time to make a change.” – Zugmeister

With some just suggesting users should thank LogMeIn for provided the free service for as long as they did:

“It’s so typical. Someone offers a service/product for free. People use it and like it. They keep using it. Then the service/product gets changed/removed/etc. and everyone yells at the owner about how they feel shafted instead of *thanking* the owner for providing such a useful service for free for so long. Everyone feels entitled to get whatever they want for free.” – Nicholasjay

Thinking of changing to another free service?  Stuart Facey, VP EMEA at Bomgar has the following advice…:

“A lot of people are complaining that the once-free service is being taken away and they’ve only been given a week to either pay for LogMeIn Pro or switch to another free service, like Teamviewer. However, while these free tools can be great for accessing your personal computer, they aren’t designed for providing professional support to your company’s or customers’ systems.

If you find yourself having to switch away from a free tool, it’s important to think about your next step – are you only supporting friends and family? Then stick with other free tools that are on the market.

If you are responsible for a wider range of services, or if you have to think about connecting to customer systems in a secure way, then you will have to put more thought into this change. In the world of support, it is important to look at how you deliver services over time and make sure that you are providing value for your customers as well as maintaining your own approach in the right way. The increasing need for collaboration around support challenges, including the capability to securely involve third party vendors, means that free tools will only be able to provide small sections of what you are after overall.

In this instance, it is very much a case of “you get what you pay for” – if you pay nothing, then you won’t get all the functionality that you need, and that may negatively impact the overall quality of service.”

LogMeIn hasn’t done itself any favours with the way it has approached the situation with many users seeming to be more annoyed with the notice period than the discontinuation of the service.

Advice to anyone else planning on pulling a free service where you have a paid alternative:  Treat users like prospective paying customers and not a bunch of freeloaders.

Moving away from LogMeIn?  Here are some alternatives:

Tool Name Description Cost
TeamViewer TeamViewer provides an All-In-One solution for a wide variety of scenarios in a single software package: remote maintenance, spontaneous support, access to unattended computers, home office, online meetings, presentations, training sessions and team work. Free for all non-commercial users£439-£2,219 for Business users depending on package
Chrome Remote Desktop Chrome Remote Desktop allows users to remotely access another computer through Chrome browser or a Chromebook.  Computers can be made available on an short-term basis for scenarios such as ad hoc remote support, or on a more long-term basis for remote access to your applications and files.  All connections are fully secured. Free*As it’s supplied by Google I’d check the privacy policy
Remote Utilities Remote Utilities gives users 15 different modes for connecting to PCs remotely. Users can view screens, send keystrokes, control the mouse, and transfer files. This makes it ideal for IT professionals looking to provide remote support and network administration. Free for both business and personal use for up to 10 remote PC’sOver this$29.95 per remote PC OR$549.00 per operator

 

Citrix GoToAssist GoToAssist enables you to provide fast and easy live remote support with a solution designed to meet your specific business needs. Compare our remote support, service desk and IT monitoring solutions and see which works best for you and your organisation. £39/mo per technician
Bomgar Remote Support Bomgar lets you support all of your systems over the web, even if they are behind firewalls you don’t control.Support customers on remote desktops running Windows, Mac or various Linux distros. Or support a variety of mobile devices – including Android, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. POA

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Collaborative IT Support at the University of Reading

Joel Bomgar, CEO of Bomgar & Gordon Roberts, Customer Services and Communications Manager, IT Services for University of Reading
Joel Bomgar, Founder & CEO of Bomgar with Gordon Roberts, Customer Services & Communications Manager, IT Services for University of Reading

Since 2012 British Universities have been able to charge £9,000 (about $15,000) per year for tuition fees. I wrote last year, following the itSMF regional at the University of Exeter, that this charging policy shifts the relationship between undergraduates and institutions and further elevates students to ‘customers’ with buying power. Students have new expectations and demand higher standards of their Universities, including IT services.

This is sentiment echoed by Gordon Roberts, Customer Services and Communications Manager at the University of Reading, who I met with Joel Bomgar, CEO of the $50m enterprise remote support company that bears his name. Joel was in the UK to visit the EMEA office and talk with clients including the University of Reading (UoR) who have recently joined the ranks of around 8,000 other Bomgar customers.

Gordon stated his team were under increasing pressure to increase service levels: both to satisfy their staff and students but also manage external reputation. Bad vibes about support spread like wild fire amongst prospective IT savvy students.

The UoR team admit that they stumbled across Bomgar whilst on the search for a new service desk (Recently replacing BMC with TopDesk), Gordon said “All the ITSM vendors we spoke to during our ITSM tool selection process said they integrated with Bomgar, but we’d never heard of it. However after researching further we immediately saw the value and have been using it since May”.

IT services at UoR act as a central point of contact for all IT requests and incidents, even for those faculties that may have their own IT support resources. Gordon stated that the lines between first and second line support had begun to blur as the first line support team were encouraged to learn more. “There has been an effort to move away from log and flog and increase the skill levels of frontline staff”

Bomgar facilitates collaboration between support teams by:

  • Allowing 1st and 2nd line to collaborate in real time on issues and learn from each other during calls rather than passing batons between teams with no real increase in knowledge
  • Recording calls and clipping the video to a knowledge base article for future reference
  • Doing all this whilst meeting their security and regulatory requirements. An audit trail of Bomgar activity records all interactivity.

I was surprised to hear that anyone in IT support can use Bomgar; it is not restricted to a few specialists. In fact Bomgar is also used for hands-on 1-2-1 training sessions outside of IT support, for example when training staff on tips and tricks with Microsoft Office, CMS systems or Blackboard.

Once upon a time we pushed plugs in a telephone exchange and called the operator to make a phone call – now we click on somebody’s face in Skype and talk to them immediately on the other side of the planet via a free video link. Bomgar paints a vision of a similar immediacy. Service request portals have provided scope for great steps in automation; remote support of this type allows the human touch to return and vastly accelerate support by allowing collaboration in real time.

Review: Bomgar for Integrations

This independent review is part of our Integrations 2013 Group Test.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch A niche product that complements ITSM tools with a completely self-contained remote support offering that negates a lot of the issues around security and access
Strengths
  • Specialises in remote support
  • Completely self-contained appliance
  • A wide range of integrations to some of the biggest ITSM vendors to complement service management end-to-end.
Weaknesses
  • It can be difficult to change the mentality of organisations as to why they would need/benefit from an additionally integrated remote support tool, rather than looking for other alternatives.
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Bomgar solutions are used by a range of customers from Small to Large.

Commercial Summary

Vendor Bomgar
Product Bomgar
Version reviewed Bomgar 13.1
Date of version release July 9 2013
Year founded 2003
Customers 7500
Pricing Structure Appliance-based (physical or virtual).Pricing starts at $1,188. Bomgar’s concurrent licensing model is based on simultaneous technician usage. Support organisations only need licenses for the number of technicians who will be logged in at one time, increasing ROI for organisations that provide around-the-clock support.
Competitive Differentiators
  1. Bomgar offer arguably the most uniquely secured remote support solution with quite literally their Bomgar orange box – a centralised, security hardened appliance that never passes data or system access through a third party. It handles standard authentication (e.g. Active Directory), and they offer a number of access controls out of the box, plus extensive audit trails and video recordings of sessions.
  2. Their remote support capability extends to almost any device imaginable – desktops, laptops, servers, smartphones and tablets.  They work across Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and Blackberry systems and devices.
  3. They are scalable and typically supply their solutions from small to large environments, enabling collaboration within teams and across external partnerships as offer the ability to remotely support a device from initiated chat support.

Independent Review

PrintAn appliance-based solution that allows you to remotely support almost any device anywhere in the world. It sounds actually too good to be true, when you think of complex organisations, often dealing with third party support contracts, but everything that Bomgar set up is all contained in a specifically hardened appliance that complies with an organisations security requirements, inside their firewall.

The front end that is presented to an organisation is customisable, and where Bomgar is integrated with major ITSM tools (their solution allows them to be tool agnostic) the support function blends in like part of the furniture.

Upgrades to the box are prepared by the mother-ship and sent down so that customers can apply it in accordance to their own schedules, so as not to flood the infrastructure.

Bomgar is a niche remote support offering complementing what the big ITSM players offer. Auditability and tracking within records of chats and sessions are a given, but the potential for the use of video-recording sessions lend themselves to more informative knowledge-base materials. But more than that – it opens the way for complex change management to be monitored and played back in case of failure, to make the rollback procedures (if required) perhaps easier for all concerned.

There are some aspects that might (in a cynical, outsourced and off-shored world) feel like big brother is watching you but where organisational support relationships are increasingly more complex, as are the business drivers they protect, it is perhaps additional belt and braces in a newer IT world.

Their biggest challenge is that of persuading organisations of their value alongside significant ITSM investment – what they do is allow you to provide additional and integrated support on what has already been done.

Integration and specific recognised criteria

At its core, the Bomgar offering is focussed around remote support and chat capabilities that can be integrated with ITSM systems. Remote support sessions and/or chat sessions can be launched directly from the ITSM console – no need to use a separate one, and is most likely used within Incidents, but can be extended to Change Management.  Everything discussed in that session is captured in a secure audit trail and incorporated in the related records within the ITSM tool.

Security Controls

Both the end-user and the support staff connect to the Bomgar box through outbound connections which keeps the system access secure. Session data is guarded by SSL encryption, and once the support session is over, Bomgar uninstalls itself, leaving no footprint on the remote system. But the entire session (remote support, chat and/or video) is captured and fed back to the ITSM ticket so it is possible to track who carried out which action, and when.

Asset and Configuration Information

Support can be provided to attended and unattended systems so a remote support session can be launched directly from an asset within the ITSM tool’s CMDB.

Support Services Integration

  • Remote Control

Bomgar differentiate between what an end user sees and how a support technician sees the same interface – use of language to make it less technical for the end user. They provide functionality that is integrated to the ITSM system to view and control the end user system, and can be initiated from the chat session.

  • Major Incidents Communications

They offer a “Team Chat” function only for technicians – and as with all the other functions they offer – everything is captured and logged. There is also an intriguing aspect – especially in complex environments where changes may require collaboration with third parties.

  • Support Chats

For user initiated chats, the session is opened within the context of their record automatically, with all the interactions recorded.

The chat records show how long the end user may expect to wait for attention – they can empower the end user to take control of the situation – do they want for someone to respond, or do they go to self-service, open a request and wait for one to be initiated to them.

Additional Areas of Integration

  • Unattended Remote Support

Because there is the capability to launch sessions from CMDB records, it lends itself to Change Request initiated sessions. Where a reboot is required, Bomgar just re-establishes the connection to continue the support process.

  • Video Recording for Knowledge Base

Some organisations extract the video for fixes, and use those to compile knowledge base articles within the ITSM tool.

Bomgar Service Management Customers

From the Bomgar Brochure

  • Bomgar’s remote support solution enables you to remotely access and fix nearly any device, running any platform, located anywhere in the world.
  • Control multiple systems, chat with multiple end-users, and collaborate with other reps to fix problems faster.
  • Unlike old-school point-to-point remote access tools and cloud-based solutions, Bomgar routes all activity through a secure appliance that sits behind your firewall.

In Their Own Words:

Bomgar is the leader in enterprise remote support solutions, which allow technicians to securely access and fix nearly any system, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices, and unattended systems, such as kiosks, POS systems, servers and routers. Bomgar helps IT organisations speed response times, increase staff productivity, improve security, and resolve incidents more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Designed for the enterprise, Bomgar understands the unique challenges of securely supporting numerous systems and employees around the world.

  • Security: The Bomgar appliance includes 50+ support representative permissions, and captures a comprehensive audit trail and video recording of every support session.
  • Collaboration: Bomgar allows support technicians to bring experts into a remote support session to swarm around an issue, speeding time to resolution and increasing customer satisfaction.
  • Integrations: Bomgar offers pre-built integrations with the leading IT Service Management vendors to streamline the support process and ensure all activity is captured in a single location.
  • Multi-Platform: Bomgar allows support technicians to use one, centralised solution to support nearly any type of device or operating system, which helps IT organisations provide a consistent support experience across desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

Today, more than 7,500 customers across 65 countries have chosen Bomgar to significantly improve operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Bomgar clients include some of the world’s leading IT outsourcers, systems integrators, software vendors, healthcare organisations, government institutions, colleges and universities and financial institutions.

Screenshots

Further Information

This independent review is part of our Integrations 2013 Group Test.

Integrations Group Test line up announced

Winning team: Which tool set will lead our Integration Group Test by Ros Satar (…and gratuitous shot of Chris Froome in his yellow jersey enroute to win the 100th edition of the race with Team Sky)
Winning team: Which tool set will lead our Integration Group Test by Ros Satar (…and gratuitous shot of Chris Froome in his yellow jersey enroute to win the 100th edition of the Tour de France with Team Sky)

Absolute Software, BDNA, Bomgar, Cherwell, EasyVista, LANDesk, ManageEngine, Matrix42, Nexthink and ServiceNow are confirmed participants for our upcoming ‘Integrations’ review.

The review will delve into integration tools which compliment ITSM processes.

“Whether it be speeding up implementations by cleaning up the original data needed to set up the system in the first place, to incorporporating Systems Management data, we want to take a look at the supporting products that help us manage IT and business services end to end.”

The assessment criteria at a glance:

  • Pre-Deployment Set-up
  • Integrations to Asset and Configuration information
  • Event Management
  • Support Services
  • Resource Management
  • Any other useful data that supports ITSM

Full details of the assessment criteria can be found here.

Reviewer: Ros Satar

Confirmed Participants:

  1. Absolute
  2. BDNA
  3. Bomgar
  4. Cherwell
  5. EasyVista
  6. LANDesk
  7. ManageEngine
  8. Matrix42
  9. Nexthink
  10. ServiceNow

Publication

All results will be published free of charge without registration on the ITSM Review. You may wish to subscribe to the ITSM Review newsletter (top right of this this page) or follow us on Twitter to receive a notification when it is published.

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The service desk shuffle: Collaboration trumps hot potatoes

Stuart Facey, VP of international at Bomgar Corporation
Stuart Facey, VP of international at Bomgar Corporation

When things go wrong with technology, organisations rely on their IT support teams to fix problems and help out. The traditional method for dealing with problems sees calls (or email requests) coming in and tickets going into the queue to be dealt with.

If a first level support rep doesn’t have the skills to handle an issue, then it gets passed up the chain, essentially being put on hold for response and evaluation. The current ‘hot potato’ approach leads to responsibility being constantly shifted between teams or individuals, dragging out resolution times.

This method of problem solving is extremely inefficient from the end-user’s perspective.

Users get very little visibility over how long it will take to fix their problem, and they can’t find out who is ultimately responsible for resolving their issue. User frustration is high when they can’t get clarity on support requests or have to repeat the details of their problem to multiple technicians.  This process becomes even more complex as businesses outsource parts of their IT services to third parties, who often provide even less visibility to end-users.

Swarming issues towards resolution 

It is time for support organisations to break down the walls between tiers and embrace a more collaborative approach to support, pulling in the right people with the right skills when issues occur. This requires disparate teams to share responsibility for resolving issues and work together to swarm around issues in real time.

This is a significant challenge for IT service desks to consider. Alongside looking at new ways in which to give customers information and new tools to make support easier, there is a potential shift in IT support culture that will also have to take place.

NOTE: This will involve changing from traditional service desk management and becoming more collaborative in problem solving.

Obviously, collaboration is not a new concept. However, applying it in the IT service space does mean thinking things through, as there will be changes in both how problems and tickets will be managed when collaboration is implemented, as well as how metrics on performance are generated.

 The support concierge service

One approach to improving service through collaboration is to position frontline tech staff as support “concierges” who guide the end-user through the entire issue resolution process, versus handing users off to higher tier contacts. Higher level experts should be accessible and be pulled into support issues as needed, helping to resolve problems as soon as they occur and providing on-the-job training to lower level reps. Finally, support reps should be able to securely bring in external vendors and experts as needed to assist with end-user issues in real time as well.

Getting an expert to immediately jump in on an issue has two benefits: firstly, it can improve first contact resolution rates as more difficult challenges can be solved at the first interaction with the end-user. Secondly, it helps improve the knowledge and skills for first line support, as they can watch how the experts solve those more difficult issues first-hand. This makes it easier to improve service levels overall on both a qualitative and quantitative basis.

The third way

From a logistics point of view, bringing in a third contact with experience on the same issue can help fix a problem sooner than shifting a ticket to a “new” queue. However, it does mean re-organising workflows, which can be a big challenge, particularly for situations where support resources will be required from a different location or from outside the organisation. Instead of being points along a line between the user and problem resolution, the first line “concierge” remains responsible for a problem until it is resolved.

Under the traditional service desk approach, there are often no chances for first line staff to expand knowledge of wider problems except for specific training – something that is becoming harder to justify for investment under current economic conditions.

For them, collaboration becomes an opportunity to up their skills and increase their satisfaction levels too. This can also help with morale on the service desk as staff feel better educated and more valued.

Same-screen collaboration

This collaborative approach is obviously difficult to implement if your support organisation relies solely on the phone to handle issues. From a technology perspective, it requires you to look at remote support tools and how they’re enabled, as well as other methods for providing support like chat sessions. To support collaboration, everyone has to view the same screen, pass controls back and forth and invite additional techs (internal or external) to join the session. Bringing in third parties has to be done in a secure and controlled way, so that they can have access to resources that they require in order to provide support.

The main aim for collaboration around IT support is that it can deliver a significant increase in customer service levels. Users have a higher chance of their problem being solved first time, while satisfaction levels should also increase as they feel that every issue is graded as important, whether it is a minor problem or a major one that requires multiple support staff to deal with.

This change in approach has to be supported by similar evolutions in culture and technology on the service desk. Collaboration does involve some standardisation in approach and tools so that teams work in the same way and know what is expected of them.

Similarly, support and service desk management will have to think about capturing and measuring their performance in different ways. For example, metrics like time to resolution will become less important as initial support sessions may take longer, but that should be counteracted with an increase in first contact resolution. More importantly, user satisfaction should go up as people with problems feel their issues get solved in a more efficient way.

By modernising their technology and processes to resolve more issues upon first contact, support and service desks can prove that they are focused on users first and foremost, which will help them improve their reputation and justify the budgets spent on them. At a time when IT strategies in general are continuing to change, the service desk can use these opportunities to deliver more high-value services back to the organisation that they support.