Over the course of a single week in mid-March of 2020, Canada’s response to COVID-19 quickly escalated from business-as-usual to extreme countermeasures such as school closures and border restrictions. The message from Prime Minister Trudeau on March 16th couldn’t be clearer: “Stay home.” The implications of these two words were far-reaching and deeply significant. No longer were employees expected to battle traffic and commute to an office every weekday morning. They were expected to “stay home”. This presented a major challenge for organizations who needed to adapt and continue to operate in this new normal. The shift to remote working is not an incremental change from an IT perspective, but a rather transformative one which requires careful planning and prudent investment.
This preparation for business continuity was exemplified at one of our clients, a Mississauga-based logistics firm which specializes in shipping and storage solutions. Years before COVID-19 even existed, their leadership saw the importance of preparing for a situation which would necessitate remote working as part of their business continuity planning. As their managed IT service provider, EMKAL proposed and implemented the following recommendations to accommodate a remote workforce in the event of business disruption:
1. Secure VPN: In a remote working situation, employees need unfettered access to corporate servers which connect them to the files and services necessary to complete their day-to-day tasks. Of course, all this needs to happen securely. This is where VPN shines as a sophisticated solution since it lives behind your firewall, and it would take trillions upon trillions of guesses for a hacker to gain access. Our client has been using a VPN solution to connect remotely for years and they have not experienced a single security issue. Other solutions such as a straight Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) live outside of the firewall and are therefore open to the internet and prone to unauthorized access.
VPN is a more complex solution which requires advanced network configuration, user training, and a responsive IT support team to be on-hand to troubleshoot any issues. An improperly configured VPN will result in frustrating connection issues that may be difficult for IT support to solve if employees are working from home.
2. Fibre and redundant network: Because employees rely on the VPN, their connection needs to be fast and uninterrupted. Our client has invested in 100M fibre and are in the process of moving toward 1G fibre. This means that even if all their employees are accessing their network through the VPN, they should not experience any noticeable slowdowns. This fibre for business comes with a service-level agreement (SLA) which guarantees minimal downtime from their internet service provider.
On top of this, our client has invested in redundant internet which our network specialists have configured to “fail-over” (i.e. automatically and instantly switch to) if the main fibre does cut out. This additional precautionary measure helps to ensure that our client is not brought to a standstill due to an unexpected internet outage.
Our client has removed another source of failure by installing redundant Cisco routers which will fail-over in the event one router goes down. Even though Cisco devices have a reputation of being extremely reliable, our client left nothing to chance and have a redundant router setup. This countermeasure could potentially prevent several hours of downtime and obviate the need to have a technician go on-site, which is not an ideal situation during this COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Corporate laptops for all office employees: Although laptops are generally more expensive than desktops, having a workforce which can work remotely requires this additional upfront investment in hardware. Our client made the decision a few years ago to transition fully to laptops and have not looked back. They regularly replace aging devices when necessary and have a stock of spare laptops which they can deploy on a moment’s notice. Not surprisingly, the demand for laptops have increased dramatically over the past few days and suppliers are not able to keep up with demand. According to our account manager at one of our hardware suppliers, they have over 1000 laptops on backorder as of March 18th.
Some companies have resorted to asking their employees to work from their personal computers and use them to connect to their corporate servers, but this is not advised as these computers may not have adequate anti-virus protection and could endanger the whole network. Furthermore, many network resources require PCs to be joined to the corporate Domain which is not possible for home editions of Windows.
By proactively implementing these countermeasures, this local logistics company has put their employees in an excellent position to work remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They are a model example of an organization that pre-emptively invested in a robust IT infrastructure to prepare for potential business continuity issues. If your organization is having difficulty dealing with the increasing demand for remote working solutions, contact our IT experts for a free consultation.