When the economy began to slow down, the Salvation Army's IT operation started looking for ways to increase efficiency and cut IT costs. The outcome: reducing IT support costs through workforce realignment and clientless remote access tools.
With 1,500 remote locations in its Western United States territory, the nonprofit organization knew it could no longer afford to keep IT staff in each division. It used to deploy IT staff members based on its geographic divisions and lines of businesses.
"IT in each division was relatively autonomous," said Clarence White, CIO for the Salvation Army's Western United States territory, which covers 13 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Micronesia and Guam. "We recognized that this was very duplicative and wasteful, and we were asking these poor IT employees to really become experts in many different technologies that were being run in their division."
The workforce realignment has focused on developing internal specialists in certain technologies who support the organization as a whole. "Now, some employees are responsible for vertical technologies that slice the whole organization," White said. "We have people who are bona fide experts in various technology disciplines."
This approach has led to cost savings in many areas for the organization, which provides disaster relief, elderly services and clothing and household goods to those in need. It has meant less reliance on external consultants, and it has allowed more closely aligned IT business units to realize benefits from economies of scale and synergies between divisions. "We have the ability to share data and discover trends that we couldn't do when things were in isolation without spending any more money," White said. "We've really changed the game in terms of IT effectiveness."
The workforce realignment depended largely on clientless remote access tools, which not only created further efficiencies but have also led to cost savings of their own.
White chose Bomgar Corp.'s Bomgar Box, a remote desktop control that allows IT to support staff members without physically traveling to their locations.
"We have users all over the west in about 1,500 different locations," White said. "I can't afford to deploy someone in each of those locations. But I still had to have some way to provide some level of support to these users."
The Salvation Army was seeking a support solution that required no client-side software to be installed on the end-user's computer, and was network-independent, feasible on a variety of operating systems and cost-effective.
The Bomgar Box B300 appliance costs $9,995, and each enterprise license is available for $2,995. Bomgar counts the number of concurrent support users to determine the license cost, rather than requiring a license for each support user. If the Salvation Army had used a solution requiring named users, it would have needed more than 75 licenses; with the Bomgar Box, it needed to purchase only 20 licenses, the quantity appropriate to support typical workday capacity.
In addition to security, integration and platform support, the Bomgar Box provides a log that accompanies each tech support session, "so you can go back and replay the session and watch the file as it's transferred," said Nathan McNeill, Bomgar's vice president of product strategy. "It provides a very granular level of auditability."
Such clientless remote access tools should be a hot item in 2009, said Matt Healey, research manager of software and hardware support services at Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm IDC.
"It's no mystery to anyone who reads the papers that there are massive layoffs going on in most corporations, and some of those are happening in IT, IT help desk and support staff," Healey said. "With fewer people, you need tools to make people far more efficient."
Clientless remote access tools, in particular, "really enable organization help desks to be far more efficient, so that a staff reduction won't have as much impact on the level of support end users experience," Healey said. Other tools in this space include Gensortium Ltd.'s GenControl, RealVNC Ltd.'s Enterprise Edition and Symantec Corp.'s pcAnywhere.
Bomgar's solution worked for the Salvation Army, in part because it doesn't require a specific infrastructure or a load agent on users' computers. The ROI was almost immediate, White said.
"It means fewer people getting on planes or dragging users through procedures on the phone without seeing what's going on," White said.
"Even in the building, fewer people are taking the time to get up from their desk, get on the elevator and make pleasant conversation with the end user" before addressing the IT problems, White said.
The Salvation Army is seeing up to 200% utilization from some technicians, who can now juggle more than one user at once. "Without technology like that, it's doubtful we would have been able to pull off the [workforce realignment] change," he said.
In addition to the increase in technician efficiency, White is seeing savings with regard to clientless remote access and his mobile workforce.
"It allows me to have people [working] in lower-cost labor markets," he said. "If I have to hire all of my people in Los Angeles or San Francisco, it would really inflate my salary budget. But because I can hire people in Phoenix, Denver and other lower-cost markets, it really helps."
The Salvation Army is also seeing savings on the amount of fuel that IT staff use to travel from office to office.
In addition to clientless remote access tools, White and his IT staff are also turning toward other automation tools, such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager for managing desktops and pushing out software updates without requiring IT staff to physically touch computers. They have also deployed technology from VMware Inc. that lets the staff manage the data center remotely.
If the key to proper workforce alignment and cost savings is a good staff, then these tools are doing their job. "They have really allowed me to get the best people I can get and not worry about where they live," White said.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Rachel Lebeaux, Associate Editor