by Derek Davis, President & CEO, Intelli-Net of SC

    Prior to this year, IT service providers have worked with businesses to develop robust “disaster recovery” plans… meaning how will a company react and survive during an extended outage or security event at the corporate office. The paradigm of “disaster recovery” has been flipped on its head since February 2020. We are no longer just talking about what happens when there is an outage at the office. Now, we are talking about the need for converting your office to a remote workforce.

    What should businesses do now? And, what should businesses consider going forward?

    The ability to communicate effectively is of utmost importance. Phones, email, collaboration, and chat across secure channels allow people to work remotely while still keeping touch with their co-workers and management.

    Modern VOIP phone systems should have the ability to employ “soft phones” running on iOS, Android, or on a laptop; call forwarding to mobile phones; voicemail-to-email, etc.—so employees are always available to each other and customers and suppliers.

    Collaboration tools like Microsoft TEAMS, Google Hangouts, SLACK, and others allow employees to remain in close contact with each other, enabling document collaboration, white boards, video and voice calling. Tools like these are excellent whether workers are all in the same building together—or working remotely.

    If you are a Microsoft customer, TEAMS is likely included in your Office365 subscription. Likewise, Hangouts may be included with your Google G-Suite account. We steer people away from public chat applications like Facebook Messenger because they don’t offer the same security protocols as enterprise applications.

    Email has been a highly critical business communication tool for many years—however, as the email systems companies use are becoming more cloud-based, the need for backups of these systems has become more critical. Companies that still use in-house email servers certainly back those up regularly… but those companies that have moved to cloud-hosted email systems should consider a third-party backup of those systems.

    Can’t we just use a VPN? What about Quickbooks?

    IT service providers can provide access to the company’s computer network through traditional methods like a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The pitfall of this strategy is that an employee’s “home computer” may not have the necessary security posture to allow access to the corporate network. With a VPN, if an employee’s home computer has a virus or malware, that could easily jump to the corporate network. In cases where an employee is using their personal home computer to attach to the company’s network, we often use a portal that allows remote access without letting the home computer attach to the network.

    Once a user’s VPN or remote portal is activated, they can log onto company resources and largely work with full capability as though they are in the office.

    One pitfall of using a VPN is that some applications just don’t work well across a VPN. Quickbooks is one of those applications. We require that folks running Quickbooks remotely have a VPN or portal connection to the network, but also that they “remote” into a computer that is still on premises so that Quickbooks’ company file isn’t corrupted.

    Isn’t “The Cloud” supposed to allow us to all work from anywhere?

    The Cloud … for all its promises, many companies still cannot function without on-premise servers, databases, and applications running. Some of the capabilities of applications running on Cloud-based systems are amazing… but many line-of-business applications don’t port over to Cloud-based systems easily… and many companies are reluctant to spend money on a monthly bill for these services. So we still have a long way to go.

    What about security?

    Regardless of whether or not your computers are managed by an centralized IT service—or if they have a managed antivirus system and other protections—CyberSecurity issues are still a huge issue, and we can spend many hours talking about the pitfalls of employees unknowingly causing security breaches by clicking on the wrong place.… Suffice it to say—when working from home, your security awareness needs to be highly sensitive. If something doesn’t seem right, it is always best to err on the side of caution.

    From a corporate perspective, security also involves protecting corporate assets. This may sound trivial, but things like customer lists, contacts, and sensitive documents belonging to the company can suffer a loss of security with workers accessing that data from remote locations. Not only can accidents occur, but disgruntled employees have much more time to siphon off company information when they are not inside the four walls of the company’s offices. For that reason, many companies impose much stricter security requirements on employees as they work remotely. You should expect that anything the company provides to you is owned, monitored, and maintained by the company … and that would include tracking documents that are moved to personal storage devices, emailed off the company email systems, phone conversations, etc. Most companies have a detailed policy in place that explains that the assets that are provided by the company belong to the company and shall not be abused.

    If your company needs help during these troubled times—please contact us. We are happy to go over some of these recommendations and strategies with you.