Chapter 34

How Technical Support Works on an Intranet


Almost any company that sells goods and services to consumers-and to a certain extent, that sells to businesses-spends a substantial amount of time, money, and corporate resources providing technical support. It need not be a computer or software company. Even people who buy washing machines or CD players or lamps run into problems with the products and need help.

Providing excellent technical support, especially for companies that need to reach a large number of people, can be an exceedingly expensive proposition. Typically, technical support is provided via the telephone, sometimes using toll-free 800 phone numbers. The cost of hiring and staffing support lines, as well as paying for telecommunications costs, can be staggeringly high.

An intranet can help cut those costs. Instead of having to staff many expensive support lines, a company can instead create a public Web site that people can visit. This Web site can contain an enormous amount of technical support information-everything from answers to common problems, to downloadable software to fix problems with hardware, to links to access user-to-user forums where people can exchange answers they've found to common problems.

In the next illustration, we'll return to our imaginary company, CyberMusic, and see how they use their intranet to help provide technical support to their customers.

When companies provide technical support using Internet and intranet technology, much of what they do is posted outside the corporate firewall, on the Internet. A variety of material can be posted. For example, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) can be posted-answers to the most common technical problems. A database of problems and their answers can be searched directly from the Web, using the Common Gateway Interface. Public discussion areas can be set up, where people post their problems, and technical support personnel can answer. And other customers can answer the questions as well. If the product is related to hardware or software, patches to the software can be posted that can be downloaded to solve technical problems. Another bonus in using Web sites to provide technical support is that the company can get people to fill in their names, addresses, and other information-a way of gathering customer names.

While much of what is posted is outside the corporate firewall on the Internet, what goes on inside the firewall on the intranet is still used in a variety of ways to help provide technical support. The databases that are posted on the Internet, for example, are first created on the intranet, and then exported to the Internet. E-mail sent to the technical support department must pass through the corporate firewall from the Internet. And when someone registers to receive technical support, the information from the person is sent in a secure fashion back through the firewall into the Intranet. There, it will be put into a corporate customer database, so that the company can, for example, send out direct mail to all its customers.

Using an Intranet to Provide Technical Support

For companies that sell goods and services to the consumer market, providing technical support can be an expensive, time-consuming chore. Using a combination of a company's intranet and the Internet, technical support costs can be cut dramatically, and better technical support can be delivered. This illustration shows how our imaginary company CyberMusic uses them to provide technical support. CyberMusic manufactures CD players as well as publishes and sells records, so this page shows how they provide technical support for both lines of products.