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Remote control training: a bicoastal senior living enterprise reduces training and help desk costs and time with old and new software.

When an enterprise is spread from coast to coast, the last thing that IT directors want to do is literally go the distance for training, troubleshooting and help desk answers. Not only can this potentially hamper the growth of an enterprise, the physical distance can bog it down, starting with the IT department. Kisco Senior Living is a growing enterprise of some 3,500 residents divided between independent and assisted living facilities and senior apartment communities on both coasts. Founded in 1990, Kisco has grown to 26 communities in California, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, with a primary office in Carlsbad, California.

For Kisco Senior Living's IT Director Kirk Lewis, the challenge of supporting and maintaining a corporate network of 20 servers with over 400 workstations is about more than maintaining the servers. It means clearing help desk tickets and creating streamlined training for back office departments and personnel with trainers and new hires separated by hundreds of miles.

As in most growing enterprises, Kisco is focused on hiring personnel with the right skills and personalities for their particular departments rather than their computer skills. Additionally, it is one of Kisco's goals to have their staff spend as much time with residents as possible and the least amount of time in front of computers. Consequently, new hires were in need of training and help in using many of the basic software programs like Word, Outlook and Excel. The challenge was talking them through their issues, which was a very time consuming process for a small IT department.

Bridging the Distance Barrier

When Lewis started with Kisco some five years ago, the enterprise had 13 communities with 1,000 employees and 150 computers. Originally, as an IT department of one, it was imperative that Lewis and Kisco find some type of remote control software that would allow him to administrate servers, fix PC issues remotely and also train remote users so that they would not need to call again for a particular issue.

Although there were several options available then, all but one lacked the specific features that were of greatest importance to Lewis. According to Lewis, most of the remote PC control software of the time didn't allow him to initiate the program before a user logged onto their computer. "That meant that I couldn't actually see their login screen and get into the system earlier to help them if they had forgotten their password or other issues," says Lewis. "Another concern was that all of the other available remote control programs at the time used too much processing power just sitting idle in the background waiting for me to connect."

Lewis ultimately chose Proxy Networks Remote Control software and immediately implemented it to those facilities nearest him. From there he outsourced to a third party who installed the software locally or had someone in the community that was tech savvy install it. "I was able to support those 150 users by myself and close all of the help desk calls," says Lewis.

After leaving Kisco for several years, Lewis returned a year ago to find that they were still using Proxy. However, his replacement had installed another remote control software program in addition to Proxy, creating a somewhat chaotic situation. There were now three people in IT, but the community had nearly doubled to 25 communities. "For a while, we had difficulty figuring out which remote software was running on which PCs, so I made Proxy the defacto standard on all of them, which took about six months."

Lewis and his staff simultaneously implemented help desk software in order to track tickets, revealing an average of 42 days for an open help desk ticket. In the first six months they were able to reduce that time to four days and then six months later had it down to less than 24 hours. "What helped was implementing a single remote control software solution throughout the entire portfolio of communities, so that when a call came in for help, we didn't have to figure out how to remotely control that PC," explains Lewis.

With an average of 20 or 30 help desk calls a day, every minute spent clearing them counts. When Kisco had the opportunity to upgrade their Proxy software with Proxy Gateway Server, they saw an opportunity to better manage help desk calls via its virtual server function, making all of the PCs and servers on the network visible and instantly accessible. "It now takes ten seconds instead of two minutes to find a user's PC, and as the enterprise grows, we'll be able to save even more time," says Lewis.

Departmental Training

As a bicoastal enterprise, Kisco was dealing with turnover due to certain demographic and departmental factors. Since efficiency and quality service were paramount, Kisco needed to standardize procedures for all of its facilities. That meant increased operating cost due to the need for flying out trainers from the IT department and other areas, such as accounting, marketing and even dining services. "It occurred to us that we could put Proxy Master on the PC of the person doing the training so that they could train remotely as well," says Lewis. "In effect, this gave us a support tool and a training tool in one solution, saving us thousands of dollars in travel cost."

As a departmental area with a historical high degree of turnover, the accounting department became the first remote training target for Lewis and Proxy Networks.

With the evident accounting department success, Lewis then offered it to the marketing department as a remote training tool. It wasn't long before the IT department had implemented Proxy as a training tool for dining services.

Lewis explained that all three departments use specific programs to accomplish departmental tasks. This meant days of hands-on training by department heads or designated trainers who were usually located a great distance from the new hire's location. Once the trainer was on site, it could take as long as a week of training for marketing department hires and several days for accounting and dining services hires. "Leveraging Proxy software to train our associates remotely from a central location greatly improved productivity throughout the enterprise, reduced training time by 30 percent and saved over $100,000 in travel and other associated costs for training and server maintenance," says Lewis.

Securing and Building the Future

Historically, security has not been a major issue for Kisco, which began with a one person IT department and therefore only one person with master control access. Today, with an IT department of three and Proxy Master control software available to several departments for training, the possibility of unauthorized remote PC control is much greater. "With Gateway, passwords can be easily changed if needed, and detailed management reports and audit logs make everyone accountable for remote access and remote control activity in the network, so we don't have any problems," says Lewis.

If there has been a challenge to the rollout of Proxy Remote Control software according to Lewis, it has been the security protocols inherent to Windows XP. Lewis found that he had to open up the ports on every machine he configured and sent out to the field, due to Microsoft's built-in firewall on Windows XP's service pack 2 blocking the proxy ports by default. "That isn't a big deal now, as it is just a part of our standard build with new PCs, and in hindsight we saw Microsoft's lockdown of all of those ports as a necessary evil for security reasons," says Lewis.

Currently, Kisco Senior Living is well on the way to its projected goal of forty communities in its portfolio. Network maintenance and expansion as well as personnel training are just three of the many areas where an expanding enterprise can experience growth pains. For Kisco Senior Living's IT department, those specific pains have been minimized--for today and tomorrow.

For more information on Proxy Networks products, www.rsleads.com/703ht-2002

By E. Victor Brown, Associate Editor
COPYRIGHT 2007 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Remote Management: Case History; Kisco Senior Living
Author:Brown, E. Victor
Publication:Health Management Technology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:1335
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