by October 9, 2006 0 comments

One of the most challenging tasks for any IT decision maker today is managing
IT in branch offices. It can’t be given second priority because branch offices
reach out directly to your company’s customers. Unless they’re well
connected to HO and have a well-managed IT infrastructure, they won’t be able
to serve the customers well. So, your organization’s image and future growth
actually depend on how well are the branch offices performing, which in turn
depends upon how well are you managing their IT. You can’t, therefore, afford
to ignore the IT in your branch offices, and need a proper strategy to manage
them. This is easier said than done.

Anil Chopra, Associate Editor

There are several key issues involved that hinder proper management of the
branch office IT infrastructure. One of course is availability, or rather the
lack of skilled manpower to deploy there. As the IT infrastructure in the branch
offices is far simpler than that at the HO, it’s difficult to find and retain
good people in branch offices. The situation becomes worse if the branches are
in remote areas because nobody wants to go there. Without skilled manpower,
everything else becomes troublesome, whether it’s rolling out applications, or
applying a critical patch. In fact, in a survey that we did in July, wherein we
went to a cross section of CIOs across the country, we found that rolling out
applications to remote offices was a very critical issue. As a result, branch
offices are more vulnerable to security threats even though you might have
created a fort out of your head office.

So, what’s the solution? How do you manage your branch office? One
possibility is to centralize all core applications and provide remote
connectivity to your branches. However, even this approach has its own problems
that need to be accounted for. First is bandwidth, which needs to be planned and
optimized. This is a task in itself, especially if you’re using legacy
applications that are not optimized to work over WAN links. Next is seamless
connectivity, for which you would need to provide redundant communication links
that automatically failover and prevent any disruption in work. The third most
important point is identifying what will be hosted centrally and what will be
local. You can’t have everything hosted locally because of management and
security issues, nor can you host everything centrally. For instance, you wouldn’t
want work at the branch office to stop just because users are not able to login,
or the PCs can’t get an IP address from the DHCP server. What’s needed
therefore is a mix of both, which needs to be devised carefully based on the
strength of each branch.

Branch office automation therefore, isn’t an easy job, but if planned and
executed properly, can bring in big business benefits for your organization.

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