HP Lends Helping Hand

Tool tackles troubleshooting tasks for users, help desks.

In the war on reducing the total cost of ownership for desktops, HP Services has a new weapon in its support arsenal designed to simplify the troubleshooting of all things PC—from notebooks to printers to PDAs.

HP Services new Web-based Instant Support Corporate Edition tool can be used to reduce support costs by up to 30 percent, according to company officials in Littleton, Mass.

The tool can serve as an adjunct to traditional help desk software, providing Web-based access to the help desk to facilitate information gathering for troubleshooting. It can also be used in a self-service fashion, allowing users to solve their own problems, or it can serve as a collaborative tool for users and remote technicians.

Instant Support Corporate Edition is aimed at help desks in large enterprises. It is unique in its zero-footprint approach, which does not require software to be installed on a managed PC, officials said. The software is installed on a server, and when remote desktops access the tools Web portal, any software that is downloaded to execute diagnostics or data-gathering functions is not left behind when the user quits the site.

"We get on, do our thing and get off the PC," said Tom Tripp, research and development manager for HP Services, in Roseville, Calif.

As end users employ self-help mode, they can automatically create trouble tickets and load the PC with software required to diagnose problems before a help desk agent is engaged. The tool, which integrates with major help desk software such as BMC Software Inc.s Remedy, PeopleSoft Inc.s Vantive, Amdocs Ltd.s Clarify, HPs OpenView Service Desk and others, uses HTTP Secure and XML to transfer the required software.

Episcopal High School, in Bellaire, Texas, which equips its students, faculty and staff with laptops, uses Instant Support Corporate Edition to keep 800 users working with only three IT support staffers, according to Steve Eisenberg, director of technology.

"The laptop is an integral part of the education at Episcopal High School," said Eisenberg. "Our help desk is woefully understaffed and busy all the time. Instant Support has been a lifesaver. Unless a kids computer cannot boot up, we can diagnose and fix their machines while the kid is still sitting in the classroom."

HP Services Tripp said most PC problems can be resolved in the tools self-solve mode. When users cant resolve problems, they can go into assisted solve mode in which the tool "grabs all the information off the PC and seamlessly escalates that to the help desk," he said.

Giving the help desk agent the "ability to see the users hardware and software profile can quicken the time to resolution," said Robert McNeill, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "If you dont have some kind of data harvest or nightly backup, the help desk agent has to guess whats on the desktop."

Next Page: Using Microsofts AcitveX controls.

Diagnostics are delivered to the remote PC using Microsoft Corp.s ActiveX controls, and results are delivered to the user. When a help desk agent is engaged, the tool delivers information such as software drivers and versions and other configuration data.

Collaborative mode is used for interacting with specialists or higher tiers of the service desk. The tool works with Microsofts Windows 98 and later, as well as with the companys Internet Explorer 5.5 and later.

The tool, which Hewlett-Packard Co. will deliver for free as part of a large product or services contract, helps HP increase the value of the PCs it sells. "Theyll use this to increase the ROI by lowering the total cost of desktop management," McNeill said. With hardware costs representing only 25 percent of the total life-cycle cost, "enterprises are asking for added-value services tied to the box to take out cost," he said.

In a similar effort, rival IBM Global Services is working to cut desktop support costs. But it is emphasizing process as well as leveraging new technologies to do it, according to Beth Cross, competency segment lead for end-user services at IGS, in Boulder, Colo.

"Were developing a capability we call universal queuing. We need to be able to queue work to the right kind of skills," Cross said. That capability, due next quarter, "will give us another leap forward in efficiency," she said.

IBMs Web-based self-help tool, called Virtual Help Desk, automates trouble ticket submission. But IBM will extend that capability later this year with the ability to automate some diagnosis on a remote client and either repair the problem, once identified, or automatically send a trouble ticket to the help desk.

IBM also provides a series of tools for clients that can load or transfer software images and recover data lost in a failure. Those tools, part of IBMs ThinkVantage strategy, are used in conjunction with a help desk agent.