Case Study: Remote Management Software Handles Desktops from Afar

Remote management solution cuts user support backlog at distributed clinics

Although small IT departments at rapidly growing companies often don’t get the attention that larger companies do, their IT challenges can be significant. “I was one guy in an IT department with 200 users at the time and growing,” says Tim Pierson, IT director at Apple Physical Therapy in Puyallup, Washington. “Most of my help desk calls were, ‘It’s not printing’ or ‘I can’t get to my file share’—really basic stuff.” Although user requests for help were simple, Pierson was overwhelmed by the volume, often facing a backlog of up to 50 calls. These days, that backlog is down to no more than five.

A principal driver toward a new solution for managing the health care provider’s users, who are spread out among 22 clinics across western Washington state, was rapid growth. Apple Physical Therapy began with a single clinic in 1984 and lately has been adding new clinics at the rate of two to three a year, a growth rate it expects will continue.

Pierson, a former physical therapist himself, has recently hired an assistant, but before that handled everything for what is now 300-plus PC users on the company’s spread-out network. He also manages the company’s Web site. Apple is an all-Windows environment; corporate headquarters are in Puyallup, Washington, from which the remote offices are connected via VPN tunnels.

The company’s decision to install a suite of products from ScriptLogic for remote management and other network management chores was an easy decision, Pierson says. He was working with a local technical consulting company, Northwest Computer Support, for help with issues such as setting up and managing the VPN network. Northwest recommended the ScriptLogic products; Pierson reviewed their functions and found it to be a perfect fit with what he needed. “It kind of just fell into place and I stopped looking,” he says—partly because he had so little time to search, and partly because the product’s simplicity and feature set “just made sense for us.”

Apple uses three ScriptLogic products most heavily: Desktop Authority for remote management; Secure Copy for copying files from remote systems to the main database for backup and archiving; and Active Administrator for directory management. Active Administrator builds on the tools in Microsoft’s Group Policy Management console, including the same sort of easy-to-use interface.

One of the features Pierson finds most useful in Desktop Authority is the ability to completely manage a user’s computer. “The remote management console is invaluable to me,” he says. The console is a Web-based Java applet loaded on each computer as a client during deployment. Through that, Pierson can access any user’s computer. When someone calls with an issue, Pierson says, “I can either p—[manage it remotely] or I can [set up] a phone call and say, ‘Show me what you’re doing.’ I can see what the errors are. … It’s very powerful and one of my favorite tools. I don’t think I could manage all of our workstations as easily as I can without it.” For an interactive user session, he can open a remote chat session; Desktop Authority also allows him to take over the computer completely. Previously, Pierson was driving to clinics to perform user support; he estimates that his travel time to outlying facilities has been cut at least in half.

The remote management console also helps Pierson manage users who move from clinic to clinic daily, attaching their notebook computers to the network at each clinic. Through Desktop Authority, users can log into the network from anywhere and be given appropriate access to Web links, file shares, and printers. Access can also be restricted as desired for each user.

Desktop Authority maintains a detailed log file of when each user logs in and out each day and what they access during the session, something required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the federal regulation regarding handling of private patient information.

Another product from the ScriptLogic suite that helps Pierson with HIPAA compliance is Secure Copy. He uses the product to securely copy files from each clinic to the centrally located database server in Puyallup, where they can be backed up and archived. Since Secure Copy adds to (rather than overwrites) the previous access and modify dates on each file, it fulfills a HIPAA requirement that file access be monitored and recorded. For example, when documentation on a patient is copied over to the main server, the original date the file was last opened, and who accessed it, is preserved, rather than the copy date and time.

The initial ScriptLogic rollout took two to three weeks, Pierson says, “but we did it simultaneously with a larger domain overhaul … so most of [the time] was waiting for, say, a small workgroup of computers to access the domain.” Without the remote management tool, he had to physically visit several clinics during that domain consolidation and rollout. That sort of overall network change is easier now with the ScriptLogic suite in place. A few months ago, he and his new assistant made additional domain changes, tightened access, and added some auditing features, and “that took just an afternoon.”