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8 Questions About Remote Access for Independent Agencies.

Byline: Frank Sentner

By Frank Sentner, chief operating officer, WAHVE (Work At Home Vintage Employees)

Off-the-shelf software and hardware now make remote work widely feasible. These technologies are simple to set up, inexpensive, and possible anywhere there's an Internet connection and computer. Called virtual private networks (VPNs) and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), these tools combined provide a safe, secure way for remote workers in the insurance industry to work as if they were sitting in a cubicle at their insurance firm's office.

The net result: Working remotely, from a system point-of-view, is the same as working in the office. And that's changing the structure of the insurance workplace throughout the industry.

Read related: "Being There: 2 Key Technology Tools Make Remote Work Possible."

Let's look at the key issues based on common questions agency principals and technology leaders ask about remote access:

1) What does the remote worker's desktop look like?

It looks like any other user's desktop. The only difference is that, to get into the insurance firm's system on a remote basis, the user double-clicks either one or two icons to launch the remote access. One icon would be for the VPN and the other would be for a remote desktop connection.

2) Is a laptop or desktop computer dedicated only for work needed by the remote user?

No. The user can put the icon(s) on any Windows (XP Professional or later) or Macintosh machine. The remote worker can use any computer he or she owns for home use.

3) What level of security is provided?

Remote access provides the same level of security to an independent agency as does a laptop or desktop computer on a desk in the agency. The remote machine also can be locked down from the server level in order, for example, to make routine updates.

4) Is a different system configuration needed for the remote worker?

No. Agencies that use remote workers can give them (or deny them) access to whatever systems and capabilities they wish. The software on the remote computer runs exactly the way it runs on an agency desktop.

For example, an independent agency in Manhattan has outsourced its high-end commercial lines claims work to a WAHVE worker in Florida. That worker has access to functions like email, calendars, and the agency management system to do his work as he would if he were sitting in the midtown building that houses the agency. Other remote workers use tools like Outlook, ETFile and other common software applications used by independent agencies.

6) What is needed on the server in the agency?

On the server in the independent agency (using Windows Server 2003 or 2008), the agency can use a feature called Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Server) to configure the remote desktop exactly like it would for a machine in the agency. That includes configuring the desktop with logins and passwords for various applications (including agency management systems, email, productivity and word processing software) exactly as would be done in the office.

The server also must have an open TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) port. Plus, the agency needs either a workstation within the corporate network or a Desktop Services server with virtual desktops for the user to operate remotely.

On the remote worker's side, he or she can use a Windows machine or a Macintosh running Windows.

7) Does the remote worker need a broadband Internet connection?

Yes. However, the bandwidth is almost irrelevant. Likewise, the speed or performance of the remote PC is usually irrelevant and not a concern from a technical standpoint. What affects the system performance for the remote worker is the performance of the agency environment. If it's nimble and quick in the office, it's typically performing well at the remote worker's location too.

8) Any other requirements?

Just as the agency would be required to buy additional licenses if they added a Microsoft Outlook user, for example, or some other software, it needs to do so for any remote workers connecting remotely.

Efficient, cost effective and secure are the three terms I'd used to describe remote access using VPN and RDP.
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Publication:Property and Casualty 360
Date:Jul 25, 2012
Words:687
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