HP automates support for business PCs

HP automates support for business PCs

Hewlett-Packard is turning to the Internet to try to make life easier for its customers. A Net-based service that automates technical support for owners of HP business PCs is scheduled to launch in April.

The new service, called Instant Support, is designed to help non-technical PC users get computer problems fixed faster and more easily so they can get back to work, says Brenda Peffer, marketing manager for HP's commercial computing support division. HP joins a growing number of PC makers, such as Dell and Compaq, expanding their automated online support.

Instant Support will be free to new customers for the length of the free technical support package that comes with new PCs, Peffer adds. After that, customers can still use it, but for an as-yet undetermined fee.

Using Instant Support requires a software agent on the client PC. You'll be able to download it from HP's site when the program begins, and HP will soon begin installing the software on new Brio and Vectra PCs. Later, the company will also ship the software on Kayak PC workstations, NetServer systems, and select notebooks. HP does not currently plan to install the Instant Support agent on its line of Pavilion home PCs.

The various technical support models of today require too much time and effort from consumers, because users must often help diagnose and solve the problem, Peffer says. Under the new service, you'll just point your browser to HP's Web site and click a button. A software agent in the PC communicates with HP's database via the Internet, and the two attempt to diagnose and solve your problem.

If the problem is too complex for the automated services, a live technician at HP can access the previously compiled information and then take over.

Small business focus

The new service has obvious appeal to home-office and small-business users, says Michele Hudnall, senior research analyst with Meta Group. "It's especially good for organisations without a [technology] staff."

And if the service works as planned, not only will it save customers time and effort, but HP will save money by lowering the volume of its technical support calls, she says.

HP is targeting small businesses first, but Peffer says the company will eventually offer the service to larger companies that have their own technical support staffs.

Traditionally, these Internet-based services aren't practical for large companies because their PCs reside behind firewalls that won't allow the necessary access. HP gets around that by installing the software on a company's own servers, inside the firewall. Peffer says HP will also train technicians to use the service and update the software.

Giga's Hudnall suggests HP could be in for an uphill battle in trying to get a technology staff of a large company interested in the self-help aspects of the service.

"A lot of enterprises don't want the end user trying to fix problems," she says. She expects most larger companies will only use some aspects of the service.

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