Information Technology CHECKLIST for COVID-19
by Jim Moreo
As the United States and other countries’ Centers for Disease Control work around the clock to prepare for and fight the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), so do industries and their companies; they need to prepare for and change how their employees work to stay in business. Business travel and industry conferences are being cancelled, global events like the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo may be rescheduled. The global economy is affected and will need to adapt to these changes in plans.
Today’s information technology infrastructure will be at the core of how firms adapt to these changes in plans. The obvious and most significant change will be working remotely. Many firms in areas with a high concentration of people affected with the virus will have their employees work from home. Companies in areas that are not directly impacted will offer a work-from-home option. In both cases, the company’s remote access systems will be the lifeblood for those businesses.
In many ways, we already work remotely. Attorneys, staff, and other professionals work from their mobile devices while commuting to and from work every day. Mobile phones, tablets, and laptops include secure access to the same systems that are used while working in the office. Mobile apps allow attorneys to enter their time, check their email, and review and mark-up documents from anywhere. The Remote Access and Business Continuity drum has been beating for years so most firms already have the technology infrastructure in place for employees to work remotely.
Preparations fall short around Scalability and Security
Remote Access systems are usually designed to support the “Timekeepers,” the attorneys and staff whose productivity and billable hours keep the firm in business. These systems are not usually designed to Scale to support non-billable employees and all Timekeepers working on the system at the same time. Remote Access systems do not usually include all administrative applications to support, (i.e., HR, Payroll, Marketing, and Records departments). In addition, firms do not usually include Security components such as multi-factor authentication, remote access policies, and permissions for non-billable employees.
What steps can your IT department take today to prepare for COVID-19?
✔ Check your licenses. Many remote access systems from Microsoft, Citrix, Cisco, VMware, etc., have user or connection limit licenses; be sure the firm owns and has installed enough licenses to support the maximum number of users or connections. It is not unusual to have a license “grace period.” The systems will accept connections as long as the licenses are installed before the grace period expires.
✔ Check your system’s scalability. The remote access system will be as fast as its slowest component. For example, a Citrix VDI or Microsoft Remote Desktop system that was designed to support 20% of the firm’s users will likely screech to a halt with 40% or 50% of the firm’s users on it. A 100 laptop users connecting over a VPN connection with a maximum speed of 100 Mbps will have a marginal user experience. Look into load-testing or user simulation products to check the limits of your remote access systems or contact your implementation partner to check the system’s capabilities.
✔ Check your security. With all the benefits of working remotely comes the added exposure and vulnerabilities of extending your network outside of your office. Some security efforts are the same, just more work. For example, securing one laptop is the same process as securing 100 laptops, it’s just 100 times more work. Other security efforts are more complex, such as adding new device types to Mobile Device Management systems or deploying multi-factor authentication through an application delivery controller, like NetScaler. Some security efforts are administrative; not all employees signed a remote access policy because they were not expected to work remotely.
✔ Check your methods of communication. You will not bump into a co-worker you need to talk to in your kitchen. Having access to other methods of interaction and communications, such as video conference calls and instant messaging, with presence will improve the transition for remote workers. Tagging a co-worker’s presence to see when he or she is online, improves communication for remote workers. Applications like Teams and Slack keep conversations flowing without having to be in the same office.
✔ Perform User Acceptance Testing. You’d be surprised how many Timekeepers have rarely, if ever, used your remote access system. Make sure your employees are able to work from home before they are required to work from home. Have your Help Desk put together a simple “Work From Home Checklist” and have them confirm with each employee that they performed the checklist.
While the world’s medical communities work on a Coronavirus vaccine, the world’s businesses will adapt to how and where we work. Information technology professionals have the tools to keep the world’s businesses running. Let’s prepare and work together to keep our businesses in business.