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4 best practices for remotely supporting unmanned technology

Explore the value of remote support applications for controlling unattended devices.

Many people think remote support means supporting people. And they’re not wrong. In a world where people are hard at work even when they’re out of office, and who swap between personal laptops and business workstations every day, supporting end users is non-optional. But nobody sits in front of their computer all the time. Sometimes, the machine you need to manage doesn’t have a handy human nearby to switch it on.

It’s the laptop in the server closet. The desktop of the traveling sales executive. And out of sight altogether, remote IT access needs to cover the IP-networked camera that watches your warehouse, the rackmount monitoring an industrial sensor, the database server that ticks away quietly in the basement.

A vast array of devices today need to keep working when people aren’t around.

Because the data on them is no less vital.

Let’s explore four best practices for accessing and supporting technology when a human’s not around.

1. Roll out updates while the owner’s away

Software is in a state of constant transformation. New versions and critical updates get released all the time. And part of any security brief is keeping them up to date. But a surprising number of updating services only work when the user is physically using the device, with it switched on and working. Making the average corporate network a salad of patches and point releases.

There’s another impact. If you think about it, waiting until the device is in use is the worst possible time to be rolling out fresh software. If the user needs the bandwidth, they’ll experience a performance hit. They may be working with the application, right when it forces an update on them. So make sure your remote IT access can handle cold management: maintaining the connection to remote devices when they’re not in use. From fixing a distant database to keeping a point of sale system up 24/7.

2. Control far from the corporate network

Corporate networks and VPNs are great — but not all equipment is on the corporate network, or even owned by the company. Think of all the personally-owned laptops and tablets going to work for your organization each evening. Wherever they are, you still need to control their relations with corporate data — without compromising the privacy of personal data the user may store on the device.

Solving this distance problem doesn’t need a VPN or dedicated access points. Remote support solutions work around corporate networks, even firewalls, because it uses HTTP to connect devices directly — visiting devices the same way a browser visits a website. That’s number 2: check that your remote IT access works for any device able to connect, regardless of network, bandwidth, or distance.

3. Identify the device and its owner separately

Your people use their devices to communicate with each other, whether it’s a phone to Skype on a desktop or a conference widescreen to a mobile device on the move. That means remote IT access can’t stop at the desktop. It’s got to include phones, tablets, laptops, and whatever other form factors make an appearance down the line. But today’s average American uses up to five devices regularly; some share and some swap, too. This makes for a mess of logins and identities. What’s the answer? To ID the machine as well as the person.

Remote support solutions combine both user IDs and device IDs. The device ID is generated automatically from an algorithm involving the machine’s configuration. That’s important because it means if an unauthorized change has been made to the device while it’s been unattended — such as installing an unknown software app — the device can be rechecked, and removed from the whitelist if so. This can be done without the end user needing to be around. Add in two-factor authentication, and even the most complex web of ownership and permissions can be controlled and managed.

Potential drawbacks of using beta versions of software

4. Bring different locations together

However far-flung their locations, your devices all need the same expertise applied to them, whether it’s an application installation or a permissions rollout. So whether you have 10 machines or 10,000, make sure your remote IT support gives you enough control to batch processes across the ecosystem.

One answer to supporting unattended devices is comprehensive dashboarding, presenting information from thousands of monitored devices as easy-to-understand graphs and metrics where you can deep-dive into the data as needed. This includes the ability to build your own custom dashboards for specific tasks. Add to that alerts, where specific events across the fleet raise red flags in advance — letting you deal with problems before they turn into crises. Last but not least, trigger actions — where unattended, remotely accessed devices aren’t just monitored, but react to specific criteria, like a sensor reaching a certain value.

These four practices bring your fleet under your control — whether a device’s owner is asleep, elsewhere, or there’s no owner at all. It frees you from reliance on other vendors and lets you roll out enterprise-wide updates and security policies without raising a thousand service issues or impacting your end user’s ability to come in and work productively when they return. Unattended doesn’t mean unsupported.

Takeaways:

  • On or off the corporate network, whether the user is available or not, every device needs remote IT support to keep businesses running.
  • Identifying devices and people separately lets you manage the relationships between them and the issues they may need resolving.
  • Not everything that needs managing looks like a computer and not everything that asks for support looks like a person.

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