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Mission Possible: Secure Remote Computing
It plays a key role in reducing costs and improving productivity for today's CRM initiatives.
Posted Sep 1, 2006
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Mobile workers are operating in a world populated by shrinking laptops, handheld devices, and Web-enabled phones that deliver remote capabilities to varying degrees and levels of security. The portability and power of devices in use today promise to play a significant role in shaping customer relationships in the near future, once the security issues are addressed. The need for remote connectivity is nothing new in the CRM world. For the past two decades enterprises have been exploring opportunities and technologies to enable remote access to corporate data as a means to save costs and better manage customer service delivery. At the same time, the nature of customer service also means an ongoing need to access highly confidential data and applications. The sensitivity of customer data places considerable pressure on organizations to ensure security and privacy to the utmost degree--an issue that has often hindered the adoption of remote access as part of an effective customer relationship management strategy. When it comes to CRM, enabling staff to work from home or other remote locations for the most part means losing control over data during sessions with customers. As a result, enterprises with high security and privacy requirements typically run their call centers as fully staffed, internal operations to ensure corporate data never makes its way beyond the corporate firewall. But the costs and management challenges associated with running dedicated centers continue to escalate. Some enterprises have opted for a VPN (virtual private network) setup as a means to enable remote access, but this approach carries a number of challenges, not the least of which are access and security. Even the most skillfully constructed VPN does not provide 100 percent protection from remote users that may inadvertently download malware onto a laptop, which can then be propagated and reintroduced to the corporate backbone. VPNs are also expensive, and since access is specific to select computers, administration and management increase in complexity with each new user. Data transfer is another critical issue. Working on applications from a remote PC usually requires the transfer of work to and from that location, which can translate into enormous bandwidth demands and reduced productivity, as users have to wait for applications to download/upload.
While these security and management challenges exist, enterprises are well aware of the advantages that secure remote access can bring to customer relationship management. For one thing, remote access makes economic sense, since it can reduce or eliminate the need for a dedicated call center facility and the related overhead issues, from staffing and training to power consumption and desktop maintenance. In addition, when calls exceed the number of staff on hand, remote access would enable enterprises to bring additional users on board to handle overflow at a moment's notice. In recent years, the need for remote access is also becoming an essential building block of business continuity and disaster recovery planning. For these reasons and more, a number of major enterprises engaged in large-scale customer relationship initiatives are increasingly committed to finding a secure remote access model that can deliver all the benefits, without incurring the associated risks. In recent months there have been a number of technological breakthroughs that are making it easier for remote workers to enjoy full-scale, highly secure PC capabilities without running the risk of opening enterprises to security threats. Major breakthroughs in smart card technology, for example, have now shrunk the world of remote computing to the size of a highly secure USB device that fits on any key chain. A unique plug-in device enables workers to conduct business remotely and securely from any Internet-enabled, Windows-based PC, anywhere in the world. This device provides an organization's staff with fully encrypted access to data, applications, and network resources while eliminating the escalating cost and complexity of securing the boundaries of enterprise networks. Unlike more conventional portable technologies, this computing key does not use the typical Web-based log-in procedures that can leave enterprises vulnerable to attacks, nor does the device carry files or applications (eliminating any risks if the key is lost or stolen). Rather, once the user plugs his key into a USB port and is identified using military-grade two-factor authentication, he is literally working on his desktop. Data never leaves the enterprise and nothing is downloaded onto the remote PC's hard drive, which effectively resolves three of the biggest security risks facing remote usage today. Since all corporate data and applications remain safely within the enterprise, there is no need to download applications onto a remote user's PC or pay multiple licensing fees. In addition, security policies and procedures can be centrally managed at less cost and less risk. This means that companies whose security policies have banned remote PC access can now safely allow workers to use their Internet-enabled computing devices risk-free and achieve considerable cost savings. There is no question that remote computing plays a key role in reducing costs and improving productivity for today's CRM initiatives. While the business advantages are numerous, enterprises have been waiting for years for solutions that can balance efficiency and ease of use with top-level security and authentication. Now that devices have gotten smarter, and solution delivery has shrunk down to an affordable and convenient size, they can finally enjoy the best of both worlds. About the Author Mike Larkin is senior vice president, worldwide sales, for Route1, a provider of secure, identity-managed computing solutions. He can be reached at mike.larkin@route1.com. Please visit www.route1.com
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