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ConnectWise Marshals Smartphone Cams To Enlist Users in Their Own Support

When the ConnectWise Control team told him they were playing around with integrating smartphone cameras into their remote support offering, ConnectWise Chief Product Officer Craig Fulton wasn't sure at first that the idea added enough value to pursue.

After all, end users or field engineers could use products like Apple FaceTime for show and tell with subject-matter experts or senior support staff back at the main office. But the team quickly sold him on the idea, and his demo of the technology with ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini was an audience favorite during the main keynote at the company's IT Nation show last week in Orlando.

The official name of the video streaming technology, expected to be available in the second quarter of 2018, is ConnectWise Perspective.

On the ConnectWise platform side, Perspective includes a browser plug-in and integrations with Control (formerly ConnectWise ScreenConnect), as well as integration with ticketing and management in products like ConnectWise Automate. But that's for the tech back at the MSP's headquarters.

ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini (right) points his smartphone camera at his tablet, and ConnectWise Chief Product Officer Craig Fulton (left) streams the camera view to his PC. The on-stage preview of ConnectWise Perspective generated a lot of buzz among MSPs at IT Nation. (Source: Scott Bekker)

At the customer site, all the user needs is an iPhone or an Android phone. The headquarters tech would send a URL to the field tech or the end user. By simply tapping the link and entering a code, the on-site user's camera feeds live video into the back-end system, allowing the headquarters tech to see what the user is seeing. That technology is built on the Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) protocols and APIs.

With Perspective, pointing the camera at a bar code on the underside of a laptop can instantly give the tech back at the main office all the identifying information about that system. Use of the camera will also cause the session to automatically integrate with tickets and be recorded for billing purposes.

ConnectWise is also working on a feature for Perspective that it's calling Canvas. As a user moves the camera around, the images will be stitched together, similar to the way smartphone cameras build panoramic photos. A tech will be able to keep the canvas open in a separate browser tab from the feed, building a map of an entire room. That map, or canvas, will let them direct the on-site user to other areas. The headquarters tech is also supposed to be able to direct a small box within the smartphone camera display to lead the user's focus toward those things that are important to the tech, Fulton explained in an interview.

Use of technologies like FaceTime introduced some problems in the past that Perspective would address, Fulton said. For one thing, the customer then has a technician's personal phone number, introducing a privacy issue and creating a temptation for the customer to reach out to that tech any time they have a problem, regardless of whether the tech is on duty or not. Additionally, any FaceTime-style interactions fall outside of an MSP's billing and documentation processes.

Potential usage scenarios are extensive. On the one hand, there are the junior tech/senior tech scenarios, where a junior tech can get hands-on experience in the field and stream back to a senior tech for training or advanced troubleshooting.

Additionally, there's augmented self-support for customers. Anything with blinking lights and a confusing array of buttons, ports or switches presents an opportunity for Perspective, especially supporting audio/visual equipment, physical security devices or networking gear.

"For all of the things that really require having to stand in front of it, it's going to be super useful. It's going to turn the customer into a technician," Fulton said. "You see less of a need for field engineers. With cloud, the reach is getting further."

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 13, 2017 at 9:35 AM