Small Business Finds Real Success With Virtual IT

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted March 22, 2007

Managing information technology is always a problem for small businesses. Most companies can’t afford to hire full-time computer professionals, so their best solution is to find a trusted consultant who can function as a virtual IT department. It’s not the same as having somebody in the office, of course. If your server crashes, it could take hours to get a technician out to troubleshoot.

That is unless your virtual IT department is like WechTECH Inc., an eight-person network integrator based in Tamarac, Fla. WechTECH has learned how to handle most ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting for its 300 clients remotely. The firm uses a hardware/software solution from Bomgar Corporation (formerly NetworkStreaming) that makes logging onto and taking control of a client’s computer fast, easy and secure.

“I would say the number of single-incident issues where we have to drive out to see a customer has been reduced by 30-to-40 percent,” says WechTECH owner and CEO Keith Wechsler. “We almost always try to do something with the remote tool first, although some customers do like to see us onsite. We’ve even done major server rebuilds remotely.”

Less Travel, Better Service
Reducing the number of truck roll-outs has obvious cost benefits for WechTECH. Driving to the client’s site wastes technician time, gas and adds wear and tear on vehicles. It also means the tech can only work on one client at a time. With the Bomgar solution, technicians spend more time in the office, where they can work concurrently on two clients. More importantly to Wechsler, doing the work remotely means WechTECH can solve customers’ problems faster.

“If I can be a hero to my clients and get them up and running in just a few minutes, they’re going to be happy and they’re going to refer me out [to other clients],” Wechsler says. “That’s worth more to me than saving money. I don’t just want to make a quick buck at this. I want the type of clients who stay with me for years and years – and I have some now that have been with me for ten years. That’s worth its weight in gold.”

To make this possible, WechTECH uses the B200 Bomgar Box, a network gateway device that sits at its offices. Bomgar also offers hosting services for smaller companies that can’t afford to buy a gateway. Software running on Wechsler’s systems and on his clients’ computers manages and controls the remote connections. Bomgar’s SupportDesk software handles trouble calls. AccessDesk, a small memory-resident program that sits on clients’ computers, allows WechTECH to log in without client intervention to perform regular maintenance.

The three SupportDesk software licenses Wechsler bought let him have up to three technicians working remotely at any one time through the B200, connected to two clients each. Most of Wechsler’s customers have some kind of ongoing maintenance contract that gives them either unlimited trouble calling or a certain number of hours of technician time per month.

Fast, Easy Connections
Clients initiate trouble calls by surfing to a Web portal – which resides on the B200 at WechTECH’s offices – and clicking on the name of their technician. (There is always somebody monitoring the Bomgar Box to respond, even if the assigned technician is out.) The client clicks OK on a couple of pop-up dialog boxes to download and launch a small SupportDesk client program and within a few seconds, the WechTECH technician has complete control of the remote computer. After the problem has been solved, the SupportDesk software is automatically removed from the client’s computer.

AccessDesk, an even smaller memory-resident program, sits permanently on the client’s computer. It allows technicians to log in at any time through the Bomgar Box to perform needed maintenance such as applying security patches and software upgrades.

Bomgar’s is not the only remote access solution. The Remote Desktop features built into Windows XP and Windows 2000 provide some of the same basic functionality. Microsoft’s LiveMeeting provides remote access features. Some technical support organizations use popular online collaborative software and services from WebEx Communications Inc., which also provides remote access and control capabilities. There are other third-party software-only and software-as-a-service solutions as well.

Why did WechTECH choose Bomgar? Wechsler tried other solutions. “Number one is speed,” he says. A demonstration convinces on this point. I surf to the WechTECH support portal and click on Wechsler’s name. The connection is made in seconds – a far cry from my recent experiences with tech support representatives remotely accessing my computer, which took longer and in some cases didn’t work the first time.

Another huge advantage is ease of use for customers. Compared to other solutions, the procedure at the client’s end with Bomgar is simple, fast and foolproof. “We deal with a lot of lawyers and financial managers, and they’re very impatient,” Wechsler says. “If [the log-on process] isn’t done in two seconds, they’re done with us.”

No Client Intervention Required
Many customers set up the remote connection and walk away, allowing the WechTECH technician to work on the problem – and letting the customer continue to be productive instead of having to baby-sit the connection, he says.

The Bomgar solution encrypts communications from end to end. Other solutions do not – unless you use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection, which slows and complicates log-on and also slows ongoing communications. With Bomgar, technicians can easily transfer files in either direction without the customer having to intervene. And they can reboot a remote computer – even reboot a Windows machine in Safe Mode, a frequently used diagnostic mode – and automatically reattach to it when it restarts.

Another key benefit is that technicians can log on to the Bomgar Box from any computer – their laptop at home or a client’s computer when they’re onsite. If they’re using a client’s or friend’s computer, they download a small piece of SupportDesk client software and use it to log in to the B200 at the office. They can then remotely access client computers as if they were in the office – and remove the Bomgar software from the computer they’re using when finished.

“It means they can take over your computer wherever they are,” Wechsler says. “When they’re at home and it’s 2 a.m. – which happens often enough – or if they’re involved in a server install [at a client’s site] all day.”

Calculating the Cost
The Bomgar solution comes at a price. Wechsler paid $1,800 for the B200 two and a half years ago. He paid $1,300 each for three SupportDesk licenses, and he pays about $750 a year for maintenance and free updating of the appliance and the software.

He has never done a formal business case to see if the investment is worth it. “But for me,” he says, “cost wasn’t a factor. If the best solution was five times that price, I’d pay it if it meant I could offer this level of service and keep my guys mobile all the time.”

He likes Bomgar as a company too. It has a customers-first philosophy similar to his own. When a hurricane ripped through south Florida a couple of years ago and took out the power at WechTECH’s office, Bomgar set up Wechsler with a gateway at its own offices so he could continue to work and remotely access clients’ computers from home where he still had power. Bomgar didn’t charge him anything for the service.

And if Wechsler has any issues with the product, Bomgar is quick to respond and makes it a habit to call him the next day to make sure everything is still working properly – as it did recently when WechTECH updated the B200’s firmware. “That took them all of five minutes,” he says, “but it made me very happy.”

He would rather not have to pay as much for maintenance, especially now that he rarely needs assistance from Bomgar, but that is the way all software companies make money, he concedes. His only other complaint: Bomgar should provide a way for the technician to generate a sound on the customer’s computer to alert them when a job is finished.

Who Can benefit?
The Bomgar solution makes sense for technical support firms like WechTECH and also for software companies – even much smaller firms than his, Wechsler says. He convinced one programmer to start using AccessDesk so he could eliminate up to three days a week of travel to upgrade software at customer sites. Bomgar recently introduced a new, more economical gateway product, the B100, designed for use by very small firms.

The Bomgar solutions may also makes sense for any company with multiple small branch offices. An on-staff technician in a central office could remotely access computers at the branches to troubleshoot and update them. And small businesses that are already using outsourced IT services should insist their service provider use a solution like Bomgar’s to improve response times – and maybe pass along some of the resulting cost savings.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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