Virtual Tech Support is on the Rise

For many companies the days of resolving tech problems through phone based help desks are long gone, being superseded by ever more advanced formers of remote tech support tools.

In the growing world of virtual tech support, IDC Research Manager, Matt Healey, said increasingly advanced solutions mean that tech support personnel can take over the mouse, keyboard and video, and “fix anything as if they were sitting right there.”

These newer solutions, provided by vendors ranging from WebEx to Citrix Online and Bomgar Corp., among others, can serve an enterprise with multiple machines, versus earlier remote control software that required each PC to carry the solution individually. That meant only one machine could be accessed at any given time.

Healey is finding the newer tools “getting lots of traction for companies with a lot of remote workers, with high-tech companies that have to support their products and don’t know where or how they’re being deployed, or for services providers with a suite of clients that can’t be supported by rolling out a truck.”

With the increase in teleworking and rise of remote workers, Healey believes that the world of remote tech support is going to mushroom and, in some cases, provides the ability to create “virtual” IT departments. Calling this “a pretty aggressive market,” he’s expecting sales of remote tech support solutions to almost triple in the next four years from $126 million in 2007 to $335 million in 2012.

“I think CIOs need to look into this technology over the next 12 to 18 months to see if is applicable to their organization” and determine if “these tools will allow the help desk to be more efficient.” But he warns that the move to virtual work places “won’t ratchet back.”

“Forward thinking companies have turned support into a key differentiator and profit center. By being able to provide instant, virtual ‘hands-on’ support, companies have been able to differentiate themselves from competitors and offer higher, profitable support packages,” said Colin Smith of Cisco Corporate Communications.

Cisco owns WebEx, which provides two on-demand solutions to serve internal staff or provide external tech support capabilities—Cisco WebEx Support and Cisco WebEx System Management. Both products adhere to strict national and international website authentication and data encryption standards, according to Smith.

Most vendors in this market provide the solution as a hosted application, meaning the customer or services provider pays a monthly or annual fee to the vendors. According to Healey, the traditional software licensing model is also available and is often used to support internal employees.

Bomgar, located in Ridgeland, Miss. is reportedly one of the few vendors that offers customers an appliance, a fully loaded server to plug into a corporate network that sits behind the company’s firewall. Joel Bomgar, co-founder and CEO, used to work as a consultant for a small technology integrator and grew tired of driving from site to site every time he had to fix a problem. Most of the time was spent “on the road, burning gas and being inefficient.”

He developed the first version of what would become Bomgar’s product “ … so I could work from home or a coffee shop and fix computer problems from any place in the world in seconds.” What started as a personal quest grew into a business as Bomgar noted the rise of the virtual work place where “ … suddenly you’ve got people working everywhere from park benches to coffee shops,” which meant deploying technology to “support them anywhere.”

The next step was applying the product to help desks and tech support departments so they could connect to end users via the Internet and work “ … without constraints of fire walls or geography,” explained Nathan McNeill, co-founder and vice president of Product Strategy.

Five years later, Bomgar has 4,000 customers some of whom use the product to serve their internal staff and others who provide tech support virtually to external customers. As the solution has evolved, Healey said it can “de-couple IT personnel from the task they need to complete,” meaning organizations “ … effectively virtualize the support side of an IT departments for a wider range of benefits.”

Ease of Access

Here’s how it works: An organization decides to create virtual tech support capabilities, either for internal staff or external customers, and installs a Bomgar “box.” Users seeking help can connect to a special Website and download an application that opens access to the Bomgar solution, which starts a tech support session. The user then choose to end the session and the application is removed from their desktop.