Desktop Virtualization Improves Customer Service

By KevinConnell

These days, customers arevery particular about the service they receive, and if they don?t like it, theyhave a number of ways to complain about it via the Internet. While customerservice has always been our first priority at Miller Paint–a company that has beenaround since 1890–our old, antiquated computers and infrastructure wereimpeding some of our interactions with customers.

We operate 38 retaillocations throughout the Pacific Northwest, centrally managed and supportedfrom the corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in Portland, Ore. Our businessmodel demands flawless customer service, but we were unsure about whatdirection to take to improve our technology.

For instance, salesassociates in our retail locations could not look up certain information forcustomers unless they used their manager?s computer in the backoffice?leavingthe customers to wait. The onlycomputers that the sales staff could use atthe sales counter were ?green screen? dumb terminals, which gave salespeopleaccess only to our point-of-sale(POS) software: noInternetaccess, no Microsoft Office applications, etc.

Our sales staff neededfully functional computers at the sales counter so they could help customers onthe spot. We needed an ITfacelift,but faced a big challenge: How could we outfit all 38stores, thefactory and our corporate office without breakingthe bank?

If we had to buy five PCsfor each store, plus PCs in thecorporate office and the factory, it would have been amajor expense, including the cost of thePCs,installation, freight, licensing, maintenance and support. So we decided toimplement a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)tohelp us afford new IT hardware and software that could improve employeeproductivity and customer service.

We began the process byinstalling several NComputing virtualdesktops (L-Series),which came with all the bells and whistles we wanted. This gave oursales associates a Windows desktop on the sales counter, complete with InternetExplorer, Microsoft Officeand a GUI version of our POS software.

In addition, theassociates had access to ADP?s payroll time-cardsystem. Foradded convenience, we even put the virtualdesktops on automatic turn-on so there was nolag time waiting for the system to boot up.

The deployment andtraining process for switching from a PC-based infrastructure to a virtualdesktop infrastructure was seamless. Wehad our POS software as an icon on our desktop, plus all the newest versions ofMicrosoft Office and Windows. 

We deployed severalvirtual desktops in office cubicles out on the factory floor in a kiosk-likesetting. That way,production workers could look up information about product and manufacturing schedules.

As you can imagine,a factory that manufactures paint can be a threatening atmosphere for a PC. Think of allthe dust, temperature fluctuations and other potential hazards. Fortunately,thesevirtual desktops are sturdy and can stand up to it all. 

We started small andoutfitted a handful of stores. Eventually, we replacednearly all of our antiquated hardware with the virtual desktops, software andservers. Currently, we are running in a hybrid environment where 35 of the 38stores have a local (physical) server, which acts as an NComputing vSpace hostto serve the virtual desktops in those stores. Theother three stores are running virtual desktop sessions from the remote vSpacehosts located at our corporate data center.

Brent Whittaker, ourScholls Ferry, Ore., store manager, is especiallypleased with the changes. Thebest part is that ?the GUIsystem has drastically improved our ability to help our customers,? he says. ?TheWindows-basedplatform makes it so easy to use.?

The bonus is that this technology can host up to100 clients per server,and our hardware, support and maintenancecosts have declined considerably. Another plus: TheVDI uses much less power than a traditional PC, so we?re saving on energyconsumption as well.

Today, our storeassociates have all the software they need to help our customers in aprofessional and speedy manner. Desktop virtualization has saved us thousandsof dollars, and the computing experience is thesame?ifnot better?than using thetraditional PC/server model.

KevinConnell is network administrator for Miller Paint in Portland,Ore.