As the owner of an IT company, I recognize the integral part IT services have in keeping businesses running. Companies are panicking. Businesses, corporations to boutique in all industries, have folded, furloughed, and fired. And, business professionals are distancing themselves: from their offices, co-workers, and clients.
My past few weeks have been spent on the phone with owners or executives, planning for business continuity and aiding businesses to have remote access to the systems needed day-to-day.
Since I’m spending so much time on this topic, it only makes sense to write an article that will help others plan for business continuity.
A business continuity plan is essential to provide maximum transparency to your employees and clients. Your plan should include a memorandum and agenda clearly outlining new standard-operating-procedures.
More than ever, your IT partners need to be integrated with your business practices to properly advise, train, equip, secure, and support all staff for essential remote resources and infrastructure.
Our partners want to know: is this doable? Is it possible to swiftly create a virtual environment where both staff and clients feel valued and served? The answer is yes, with proper preparation and implementation. With all the cloud systems available, we have never been more prepared to work remotely.
IT Services Planning
Identifying all the IT services used by the business is a great place to start. Try to categorize the services based on their level of importance to the business. Roles and responsibilities are also key in planning as these decisions should never be made by one person. It is important to pull in the right people who work with the IT services on a day-to-day basis. Don’t make assumptions. Working remotely for businesses that have never done so is a big transition.
After your team has assembled and identified the critical IT services, it’s time to dig into each service and discuss what the options are for accessing them remotely. Below are examples of common critical services along with some thoughts and questions when preparing each IT service to function remotely.
- This should be easy. All platforms are accessible remotely via a website, even those not in the cloud. Does everyone have their devices setup to send/receive e-mail? Should the business include a disclaimer at the bottom of every e-mail stating that the fact that they are operating remotely?
- Hopefully everyone is aware that there are hosted voice solutions which allow employees to make and receive phone calls from almost any device. The businesses that have this type of solution are in luck because phone service should be relatively easy remote work setup.
- For businesses that have a phone system that is not accessible remotely, there are still options. The phone system itself or the carrier should be able to setup call forwarding options.
- Are the business files in the cloud or hosted in on-premise equipment? For those utilizing a cloud-based file storage system, make sure the remote computers are configured to access them.
- If files are stored on on-premise equipment, a reliable VPN solution should be considered. Using common protocols such as PPTP are frequently blocked by public internet connections and can be problematic with home network equipment. If a proper VPN solution is not in place, should the business consider moving the files to a cloud file solution such as an Office 365 SharePoint document library?
- Database Applications
- Most businesses have some type of practice management (PM) software that helps with the business operational workflows. If this software is accessible via a website, limited action is needed.
- If the PM applications used by a business are client-server based (meaning that they require the computers to be on the same network as the servers), this can get a little tricky. Can desktops be left in the office for users to access remotely? Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is also another really good solution here. Exporting the data and performing manual entry can obviously be considered as a last resort.
- Equipment at Home
- Do users have what they need to fully work remotely? Having multiple monitors, phone headsets, or scanners while at home can keep productivity levels higher.
- Backups and Contingencies
- Data can still be compromised by unintentional user actions or outside malicious hackers. It’s important to ensure that your data is still backed up and being stored offsite.
- What if one of the single points of failure used to access the on-premise equipment ceases to function? Businesses should include a disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) with the current backup solution so that all IT services can be replicated to a hosted facility if needed.
- Studies show that 1/3 to 1/2 of home computers are infected with maleware. Businesses should consider extending antivirus software to the computers accessing their propriety data remotely.
- Does the business adhere to any type of compliance? If so, ensure that remote computers are encrypted and following best practices when storing documents.
Once the planning is complete and IT services are setup to work remotely, consider having a test group work in them remotely for a couple of days. This will obviously work out any kinks in the plan. Businesses should also work with their IT partners to create documentation or training materials for common issues or questions that may come up while working remotely.
The affect working remotely has on communication should not be neglected. If your company doesn’t already utilize a messaging platform such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, now is the time to start. These systems can provide voice and video functionality which can be helpful to retaining the business culture.
Back to Work…
Lastly, what happens when in-office work is allowed? Data may need to be integrated back into the solutions that could not be accessible remotely. Also, businesses should reflect on this time and consider if working remotely was effective or even preferred. There will be a lot of lessons learned.