Remote Support with WebEx

Posted in Enabling the Enterprise by AST on Friday, December 22nd, 2006

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While I was going through some news articles about the latest ramifications of security breaches for identity theft (and waiting impatiently for Firefox to render the undulating, add-ridden, non-printer-friendly website page from a major publisher), I actually read one of the banner adds: Use WebEx for remote support.

I used to use WebEx when I worked for BearingPoint for meetings with the teams in the US, and while I was annoyed that it doesn’t really support Linux, I did find that it was a relatively effective way to facilitate remote meetings for both presentations and product demos. However, I hadn’t really considered that you could use it for remote support, but obviously, the WebEx folks certainly have (btw, I didn’t watch it, I just did a search on their site to see what I could find about it).

Anyone who’s been in IT for a while and who has had to try and help a family member do something “obvious and simple” under Windows knows the frustration of trying to do remote support the “old way”. You can talk to the person, but you’ve no idea what they’re doing, and you’ve no idea what they really see in front of them if they’re not an experienced computer user and know hot to accurately describe the problem they’re having (and if they were, you probably wouldn’t be talking to them about computer problems anyway).

Enter WebEx. I have to say that I think this is a brilliant idea. For those of you who haven’t used WebEx, it provides you with a Java client that allows two or more parties to hold virtual meetings. The meeting moderator can share their desktop with the rest of the meeting, but they can also pass control for desktop sharing to other members of the group, so that they can give presentations or whatever. The installation of the WebEx client is relatively easy based on following a URL that can be sent in an email, and then all the other people need to do is connect to the virtual meeting and dial into the conference call number or any other number that you choose to set up. Imagine then if you, as a meeting moderator, could give control of desktop sharing to your mother who couldn’t figure out where the “www bar” went in her Web browser. In about 5 seconds you would realize that somehow it had been either full-screened or that it had been disabled from the View menu. Problem solved.

Now, if you’re a professional support organization, compare the actual cost of 10,000 5-10 minute support calls vs. the cost of 3500 20-30 minute support calls—not only in terms of time, but in terms of the effectiveness of your customer support function. The benefits and cost savings would be fairly significant any way you cut it.

Of course, WebEx isn’t without its problems as well. A few people at BearingPoint had trouble getting it installed/upgraded or just using it—and these were well-paid, experienced IT professionals, so maybe the reality isn’t quite in line with the vision yet. However, I don’t think it would take much effort on the part of WebEx to address these issues to make the installation and usability much better for the non-technical user. Also, since broadband in the home is becoming more ubiquitous, it means that you potentially can offer this level of support to more than just your corporate customers with a high-speed Internet connection.

The down side is that WebEx isn’t exactly cheap, but then you need to evaluate that cost against the benefits your organization can achieve in improving the overall efficiency and quality of its customer support. For some organizations, this will not be an option, but I think it is something that any company offering any kind of IT product support to end users should really consider carefully. It isn’t perfect, but it is a whole lot better than the situation painted by the very old computer support joke about the computer not working and the user eventually needing a flashlight to see if it was plugged in or not. Why? Well, you see, the power had been cut to the building… Many times seeing the situation for yourself is worth more than 1,000 words; it can actually be worth cold, hard cash.

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