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Remote, secure access enhances service, streamlines operations.

The key to improving bottom line performance often hinges on boosting staff productivity as well as enhancing customer service. Both objectives can be achieved through controlled dial-up access to corporate data resources.

At Caterpillar, a leading worldwide manufacturer of construction equipment and diesel engines, dial-up security was provided with a dial-back technique, or via a hardware token and PIN (personal identification number) system for a number of years. However, the requirement to offer Caterpillar's service providers remote access to corporate applications, as well as the snowballing trend towards telecommuting and nomadic computing--the use of laptops by mobile managerial and field staff--forced us to develop a more secure, cost-effective, and easy-to-use solution.

Our new solution is elegant in its simplicity: Before authorizing end users, we authenticate the workstation attempting the access. The system utilizes a standardized communications package that streamlines and speeds access while eliminating our former dependency on manually controlled, one-time-password generators which required a secret PIN.

The backbone of the system, called Cat Secure PC (CSPC), includes connectivity, presentation and performance software products from Simware Inc., Ottawa, Canada. CSPC is entirely software-based and depends on an encrypted exchange of data between our host and the remote PC--a process that is transparent to the end-user. In operation, all the end-user does is select an access option from a main menu. If the PC is authorized, access is achieved in 30 to 40 seconds. With our previous system, this access could take as long as four minutes.

Once handshaking is completed, end-users are connected to a session manager that provides a second layer of security by requiring password entry. This password is linked to a user profile within the host that identifies the application access for that end-user.

To speed actual data transmission, CSPC significantly improves mainframe-to-PC response time by minimizing the amount of screen display data. By cutting response time by as much as 70% for an average 2400 baud line, our end-users--including both internal staff and customers--boost their productivity.

Another benefit of CSPC is that it provides the same look and feel to end-users wherever they are located. A staff member is in Singapore who wants to access corporate data simply selects the city they are in. The system automatically accesses the appropriate X.25 carrier, much the same way as it does domesti-cally via toll-free lines.

While we expect to see increased remote access for international sites, at present the major end-user depending on CSPC is our U.S.-based Truck Engine Parts Service (TEPS) dealers. CSPC was used to develop an entirely new product and service for these dealers, who contract with Cat to provide engine owners with the maintenance they require.

Called Cat PC, it streamlines the warrantly claims process, significantly cutting the time it takes dealers to receive reimbursement for warrantly parts and services.

"Engine parts and service dealers are really the backbone of our Truck Engine Parts Division's customer service operation," says Pat Aten, a senior analyst with Cat's Marketing Systems.

In addition to enabling service dealers to enter their warrantly claims directly to our host, Cat PC also provides a range of value-added services made possible via the secure dial-up access to our network resources. E-mail messages can now be used to streamline communications between dealers and Caterpillar distributors. Parts ordering can be expedited by direct access by the TEPS dealer to the distributor's computers.

Information services are also offered on Cat PC. If a customer brings in a faulty engine, the dealer can now immediately call up the repair history on their computer screens, as well as any technical information--including engine arrangement, breakdowns, power settings and part numbers. Any articles which have appeared in service bulletins or newsletters pertaining to the engine can be retrieved on-line.

"Because Cat PC is so easy to use, it has been well accepted by dealers who pay a small up-front fee (but no access charges) to purchase the system," Aten says. "In fact, I met my year-long goal for signing up dealers in just three months."

A 90-minute video included with the package trains dealers. With the previous challenge-response (direct dial) access security method, training would have been far more labor-intensive on our part.

Information resources exist to be used to corporate advantage. But access to these resources must be controlled, so network security is being engineered to maintain staff productivity and to be non-intimidating to end-users.

In fact, our remote access system has been so successful that we see it as being the cornerstone of a corporate strategic direction that is likely to drive new remote access applications.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Caterpillar Inc.
Author:Hussey, Jim; Tidwell, John
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:How and why to re-engineer your network.
Next Article:PBXs: today much more luster than you expect.

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