Over the past decade, the amount of information companies collect has grown exponentially – whether it is customer viewing habits, purchasing patterns or business performance. Modern businesses are used to the process of aggregating data from multiple sources and turning it into actionable insights, either through in-house business intelligence applications or cloud-based tools. Today, there are very few companies that don't have some kind of business intelligence capabilities. In fact, big data has become so pervasive that most business decisions today are expected to be data driven, or at the very least data informed.
However, you only need to look at the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal to realize that this desire for data, in some areas, has gone too far. It seems as though everything we do online today is tracked, stored and monitored via the devices we use and the apps we download. Many people see this as an infringement of their privacy and are pressing for more to be done to protect our data. The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the tightening of US Data Regulations is just the start.
Ironically, however, one area where businesses are under-utilizing big data is remote IT support, even though there is a lot to gain from it and very little downside. I say "ironically", because data management, security and compliance have long been a mainstay of IT's remit, but it's only recently that they are starting to be able to use big data for themselves to improve services and support.
The benefits of providing data-driven remote IT support
One of the biggest challenges facing IT teams is that resources are being stretched by recent trends in technology. Desktop Management has become a nightmare due to the proliferation of disparate devices, operating systems, and software versions – configuration-drift across the IT infrastructure has now become a major headache.
Harnessing the power of big data for remote IT support can really help IT departments manage this changing landscape in a number of different ways.
Managing complexity and maintaining IT compliance
Data can be used by remote IT support to verify that an endpoint, or group of endpoints are in compliance with IT policies – this is hugely important for organizations, because user errors, such misconfigured systems or missing patches, are the root cause of the majority of data breaches. This same process can then be used to detect vulnerabilities on a recurring basis. In this way, IT teams can start to manage the growing complexity and keep their sprawling networks under control.
Troubleshooting and reducing time-to-resolution
Data can also be used to build up a holistic view of all the endpoints on a network, making the helpdesk process both more efficient and more effective. Having that level of insight into their network allows technicians to more accurately identify the true cause of an issue as opposed to being forced to simply re-mediate recurring symptoms. As a direct result of this, first-call-resolution is increased.
On a more basic operational level it eliminates the IT helpdesk technician's reliance on the end-user for triage or for information to access their system, for example there is no need to ask an end-user what the name or IP address of their computer, as the technicians will already have that information to hand. It can also help drive greater collaboration between technicians who have access to the same key information for diagnostics.
Creating a more seamless experience for the end-user
When in-depth data about devices and systems on the network is readily available, technicians no longer need to rely on having to take control of an end-user's computer to assess a problem. Instead, they can work behind-the-scenes without interrupting the end-user's work. Ultimately, this can help IT spot some of the most common issues and provide remediation before the end user even realizes there is a problem. For example, while gathering network data, the team may be able to identify a group of devices that are in need of an update. They can then update or uninstall software applications remotely.
Offering personalization without losing control
Effectively managing new models of provisioning for employees, such as BYOD (bring your own device), CYOD (choose your own device) and COPE (corporate owned, personally enabled), have long plagued IT teams. However, the insights provided by big data enable them to segment end users by role or job function and support these different provisioning models without losing control. On top of this, getting constant data feedback allows to them to monitor for abuse, undesired activities and any change of system configuration or access for each user.
Fortunately, switching to a data-driven remote IT support model doesn't require a lot change, certainly not from a management perspective. Most IT departments are already used to working with data, following processes and running QA operations. And you would be hard pressed to find an IT pro who doesn't believe in following best practices.
How to leverage a data-driven remote IT support
A look at the wider industry, shows companies like Microsoft using Telemetry (the automated process by which data is collected from remote endpoints on a network and streamed back to a central location for monitoring) to enable their development teams to get feedback on the new features they release and make improvements to their product. However, there are some restrictions as to how this data is used, for example "only those who can demonstrate a valid business need can access the telemetry info." While remote support software may not use the same process to collect data, it is similar in nature.
The type of data being collected by remote support software includes information about the devices an employee uses to log in to the network, the list of systems, devices and software they access, their active directory details, and real-time statistics on devices such as CPU and memory usage, and disk activity. This data is then compiled into a 360-degree IT profile for each end user, which technicians can use to get real actionable insights on the performance of everything from the network as a whole to individual devices.
Taking things a step further, systems administrators can tap into that data to power IT process automation (ITPA). These automated processes run in the background and further improve the seamless delivery of remote support services. For example, an ITPA workflow can scan a group of devices that are in need of an update and then update or uninstall software applications remotely as required.
Similarly, ITPA can help IT teams move toward pre-emptive remediation, removing the need for help desk technicians to be involved in the more mundane and repetitive recurring tasks. For example, if a machine is running low on disk space, temp files can be deleted from specific folders without the technician having to be involved in the process at all and without the user needing to create a ticket.
Using the same method, systems administrators can also improve security by ensuring Active Directory is kept clean. ITPA can be deployed to identify stale accounts and old computers and then decommission them. This can be a major area of risk for companies, and is a common issue for SMBs.
ITPA can also be used to detect undesired activities and out of compliance endpoints. For example, newly created users with passwords that are not set to expire, or suspicious accounts whose users have been locked out multiple times during a short period of time can be highlighted and automatically suspended pending further investigation by the IT team.
Additionally, ITPA can be used to gather critical real-time intelligence on what devices are on the network and what software is being used at any given time. Having the ability to generate up-to-date snapshots of your infrastructure is paramount if you want to secure your networks for the simple reason that you can't secure what you don't know you have. On top of this, access to a real-time inventory of assets makes remote management of IT projects easier, such as patch management campaigns or upgrading hardware and software in a timely manner.
In short, the benefits to providing data-driven remote support stretch across the organization. By providing IT departments with the vision to move from a reactive to proactive support position, it enables them to improve the quality of end user experience as well as the delivery of IT services. On top of this it empowers them to support more flexibility for users, without sacrificing security.
While this makes data-driven remote support a powerful proposition for companies in the age of digital transformation, like any other project that involves private data it needs to be monitored and regulated. It's critical to ensure that only those who have a valid business need should be able to access it. So, when you chose a remote support solution it is important that its features include the capabilities to audit console operator trails and actions. Much like with any other system deployment, it is important to have a good thorough understanding of what power-users are doing with their privileged access.