|Information Technology & Your Business Preparedness Plans|
|COVID-19 has been making a lot of noise in the news lately. Due to increased restrictions and closures across the world, businesses are forced to consider what this will mean for their productivity. As an IT partner and provider, CIO Solutions plays a critical role in not only facilitating our clients’ operations, but in advising on their technology options. With this role in mind, we have addressed some key aspects of business technology to consider in the event that your employees would need to work remotely.|
DESKTOPS & APPLICATIONS – If you are using CIO Solutions Private Cloud, then you have a different (and potentially easier) path towards remote productivity. If this is true, then you can access the cloud desktop on any type computer (even older systems) by installing the “receiver” software.
If you are not on a cloud desktop or terminal server solution, then more consideration needs to be given to your specific applications and how they might be accessed remotely.
PRINTERS & PERIPHERALS – Is printing an important aspect of your employees’ roles? If so, do they have a printer available at home that is sufficient for their purposes for an extended period of time? Does a specific team member need access to a more powerful printer in their home if they were to work remotely?
Often, home work environments are set up for a subset of tasks. The option of going into the office for other less frequent tasks like large printing jobs or using check scanners is available under typical circumstances. In your planning, consider all the equipment connected to computers at the office and ensure that all peripherals required to perform business operations have a functional home equivalent.
COMPUTER MONITORS – Do you need monitors (or even multiple monitors) in your employees’ homes? I would argue that for many people, access to multiple monitors is a must for optimal remote productivity for a sustained period of time.
Not all businesses may have budget or desire for multiple monitors when working remotely, but a good policy is to make it a deliberate decision rather than a surprise one.
PHONES – Unless you are running a complex call center (like us for our support system), then remote phones may not be necessary, as cell phones would work. Still, you may want to check and ensure you have documented procedures on how to “forward” employee’s work extensions to their cell phones if needed. Forwarding calls to cell phones sometimes does not create the best experience (for example, long silence instead of ringing) so you should test this.
CLOUD– Cloud desktop solutions enable businesses to store their data and applications offsite instead of on individual computers. Since data is not limited to being stored on their physical computer, employees can quickly and securely jump between devices hassle-free.
With the CIO Private Cloud, for instance, users can fire up their laptop or home computer, log into the CIO Private Cloud portal and pick up right where they left off. There’s no need to transfer files onto a flash drive, go to the office to collect their specific laptop with all their saved files, make sure they’ve written down/remember all their passwords, install frequently used applications on a new computer, etc.
With a cloud desktop solution, all your employees need is a device and an Internet connection making it ideal for productive remote work.
INTERNET– Two aspects of Internet access should be considered: internet at the employee’s house, and internet at the office. It is fairly easy to test if the internet access at an employee’s house is adequate for work. However, if you need to access systems and files in your internal office, the internet connection at your office may not be sufficient. Many internet connections that are not “business class” have slower upload than download speeds. If you are connecting to your office resources from home, the upload speed is what matters.
Additionally, the firewall hardware should be considered to verify that it is robust enough for the advanced load and that VPN licenses are sufficient. For some clients, your firewall and VPN are configured for the occasional remote user, not for the entire company to work remotely.
|Key Communication Tools:
COMMUNICATION PLATFORMS – like Slack and Microsoft Teams can help employees communicate and collaborate in real time (as opposed to standard email). There can be a challenge in adapting to this type of communication method (culturally, typical workflow, etc.).
But it is important to note that if even 25% of staff that normally works in the office transitions to working remotely, your “water cooler” communication or “office pop-ins” will stop. It is likely that your business operations have a high dependency on some of these impromptu communications.
If you have not yet put together an evaluation team to explore either Slack or Microsoft Teams then hosting a lunch & learn with a demo of the proposed tool to brainstorm opportunities/challenges is a good place to start!
FILE SHARING – Many customers have centralized file servers that don’t easily allow for file sharing outside the office. A VPN Solution can work but isn’t always fast enough. File sharing solutions such as ShareFile, Box, and Dropbox are common ways of doing this. It’s worth noting as well that Microsoft Teams also allows sharing of files.
There is some security risk with these solutions, as outlined below, but from a practicality standpoint these can help remote employees share files. Our preference is ShareFile, as we are familiar with making it secure. In the end, to do file sharing well you really need to identify the use case and your security tolerance, then pick the solution.
VIDEO CONFERENCING– Do you have a reliable video conferencing system? You may have heard about Zoom’s stock going through the roof as companies look for video conferencing options. This is because they have a best in class software solution. We use Zoom for our operations, but there are many other great solutions as well.
When considering adopting video conferencing software, it is important to think about the different potential use scenarios and what other equipment would be needed:
1.) Multiple employees working remotely:
2.) Office to an employee working remotely
3.) Office to office (should you want to minimize travel between offices)
4.) Business (employee or office) to Customers
Understanding which of these scenarios, if any, you want to address will help ensure you get the right software and hardware.
Security is a broad topic but in the context of everything above we really have three security areas to focus on.
1) Security of uncontrolled devices– It is likely that you may be asking employees with uncontrolled (dirty devices) to access your environment. A “dirty device” means ones that have non-business use, may not have anti-virus installed, and may not be managed or patched regularly. Unless you are using CIO Private Cloud, another remote desktop solution, or already have software/policies/standards in place, then this can be a new risk. Cloud desktops are at a much lower risk since the software on the untrusted machine doesn’t/can’t access the software on the cloud desktop. The only real risk in this case would be “password theft” by malware which can be mitigated with 2 factor authentication (below).
2) Security of new software – If you are leveraging new software (Box, Dropbox, Zoom) to enhance remote worker capabilities then there is some exposure to work through. These software packages may not be linked to your staff’s main user accounts and have to be managed separately. For instance, if an employee leaves the company, who is responsible for shutting down their Zoom and Box accounts?
3) Multi-Factor Authentication – Having more usernames and passwords entered on untrusted computers with potentially more internet facing services may pose more of a risk than can be alleviated by simply changing a compromised password. Using a multi factor authentication solution like Duo on those services diminishes this.
|Other things to consider:
REMOTE ACCESS TO POWER – We use a product called WattBox which lets us restart equipment remotely by controlling the power switches. This can be helpful as it does not require being onsite. This is most commonly needed for non-enterprise class devices like cable modems, but occasionally other devices require this.
LICENSES – If you are using VPNs rather than cloud desktops for remote access then you may need more licenses on your firewall or VPN appliance. This same logic may hold true for other licenses.
LEAD TIMES– Lead times on equipment are unpredictable so trying to wait to the last minute to order extra gear such as monitors, printers, computers is not a great strategy. Many items are likely to go out of stock due to a surge in orders.
CHAIRS & ERGONOMICS – This is a bit of a stretch as much business may not want to invest to this degree, but it is worth mentioning as something to consider.