by Wade Goldt
Director of Technical Operations
As of Thursday March 5, 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is estimating over 175 cases of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States, and this number is rapidly increasing on a daily basis.
Helient Systems has heard from a number of clients seeking recommendations on how to be best prepared to meet this new challenge. Key considerations include assessing your technology to allow for secure remote application and desktop access, video conferencing and telecommunications. How will you generate work product? How will you communicate? How will you collaborate? What is the status of your licensing for work from home technologies? Do you have enough dual factor licenses to include remote workers that do not typically access the network from other locations? How do you navigate wage and labor considerations for hourly workers? This client alert seeks to provide our best guidance on these key considerations.
It is very typical that firms limit the capability and the number of remote users to exempt employees. When faced with a situation where all users are requested to work from home and to keep work product flowing, the additional capacity to include the support staff needs to be evaluated include licensing considerations, equipment, connectivity, bandwidth, testing and training.
Additional considerations include an increased volume of help desk requests. Will you be able to help these users in a timely fashion with the increased demand? And even though you have given the remote access capability to exempt workers, typically not all of these users ever worked remotely which means testing, updating software & hardware, training and help desk support will create more concerns.
Furthermore, any remote access platform that currently exists today may be designed to support a fraction of the firm’s users. That environment may not be scalable to account for a larger workforce. Consider infrastructure that scales linearly or look to desktop-as-a-service solutions that can scale both on-prem and private or public cloud platforms.
Today, many firms use multi-factor authentication (MFA) for accessing their desktop computing environment – whether physical or virtual. Even though this may be in use, it may not be configured for all of the firm’s remote users. In fact, a lot of firm non-exempt workers use their work phones as the second form of authentication.
End user home/remote operating systems need to be up-to-date from a software perspective, along with anti-virus definitions. This could be a potential help desk concern for users who have not accessed their desktop remotely. Consider creating a help desk support checklist for what securities the firm has in place for its remote users including hardware requirements. This will promote and maintain peace of mind for the IT support staff under these circumstances.
SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to a firm’s desktop details. When properly installed on a web server, it activates a digital padlock and the https protocol which allows users secure connections. Does the SSL certificate need to be renewed and are you monitoring when it expires?
All software and hardware licensing requirements and versions should be added to the help desk checklist for each user working remotely. VPN, remote access software like Citrix, VMware, OWA and multi-factor licensing should be included for determining what each user required to access their desktop remotely.
Has the IT department created a business continuity policy? If the firm sends all its employees’ home to work remotely, one of the biggest concerns will be that there is no loss in productivity or workflow. Most departments have run books. Have you tested them?
Do you have protection against unplanned email server outages? In the event of this type of outage, there are software companies that provide uninterrupted access to live, archived email and attachments from anywhere and on any device. This software also allows IT Administrators to monitor email flow, get alerts and manage an entire business continuity event.
Mobile device management for all your users is important to have especially when faced with an event like this one where firms are asking their employees to work from home. Communication and policies referencing communication processes will be key to the firm’s success especially end user and management work expectations. When in an office situation, a lot is taken for granite because everyone is in one location.
Most technology for videoconferencing is setup locally at each firm but now each person has to have the capability remotely. Does the firm own software and the number of licenses necessary to have this capability?
What is your plan for your help desk and the IT support staff? Not all technology solutions are completely cloud-based which requires staff to be where the firm’s main infrastructure is located. How will you handle this? And finally, is your help desk equipped to handle the amount of support required to keep the firm from losing business and workflow?
During a national, state or local health situation like this one, remember that the amount of support can be overwhelming for the firm’s IT department.
If you would like additional assistance or consultative consulting from the Helient professionals, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.