Apr 01 2005

Confusion in Faraway Places

A few simple steps can save time and energy when supporting remote users.


Stephen Doherty, CIO

When you're managing and supporting remote users, never underestimate the value of effective communication. Something as simple as choosing the right words can make a big difference.


A few years ago, a branch manager at a retail brokerage firm kept calling me to say, "My quotes are frozen!" I verified that the network was up, that the quote vendor was not experiencing any system outage, that our Internet service provider was up and that the branch manager's operating system wasn't locked up.


After reading our discrepancy log and reviewing a number of these "frozen quotes" phone calls, I realized they always happened at about the same time on the same days of the week. After investigating, I discovered the quote vendor was backing up its databases each day at that time. This affected the vendor's ability to distribute quotes through its external network. It turned out that what the branch manager meant when he said his quotes were "frozen" was that his quotes were updating very slowly. When we switched to another vendor for our market quotes, the "frozen quotes" thawed.


Asking the right questions of remote users will save you time and energy. Let's say John Doe, who works or trades from a remote location, can't log into his virtual private network on our network at the central office. He calls, screaming that our network is down. Rather than run into the control center to see if our server is down, I ask the trader if he can open his Internet browser and see any Web sites. If Mr. Doe can't see anything on the Web, I tell him to call his broadband service provider, which will probably tell him that its network is down.


Dozens of such situations can arise when you're managing users remotely. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid spending your day solving nonexistent problems:

  1. Make sure you are speaking the same language as the user and using terminology correctly.
  2. To avoid responding to false alarms and wasting time, talk through the situation with the user rather than reacting immediately.
  3. Ask probing questions so you can pinpoint the problem and suggest the best solution.
  4. Keep detailed logs of network and other problems so you can refer to them later to look for trends.


Information security is another big concern when managing remote offices. Dealing with hackers, malware, e-mail spam and other issues can be a full-time job for an IT manager at any one site. Such threats are even more daunting when you have several locations. You need the proper hardware, software and procedures in place or the task becomes impossible.


Managing remote offices also involves travel. I would love to share more user examples and relevant war stories, but I'm preparing to catch a plane to deal with an emergency in our Boca Raton, Fla., office. Or is it the New York office? Before boarding the flight, I'd better ask the right questions.


Doherty is with Chicago Investment Group, an international private placement and banking firm in Chicago.