How COVID Improved Remote Help Desks

help desk computer and headset

Within a few weeks of COVID hitting, the United States labor force was transformed into a work-from-home economy, with an unprecedented 42% now working from home. Without this rapid shift to remote work, pandemic lockdowns would have been short-lived, as the entire economy would have collapsed. U.S. organizations’ ability to maintain operations while keeping the virus at bay with work-from-home employees illustrates how important a remote economy is to combat COVID as well as future pandemics.

Rising to the top as an unlikely hero to workers at home is the IT help desk. While employees were in the office, they could just walk down the hall to ask their colleagues at the help desk any questions they had. Or, they poked their head over their cubicles to ask the person next to them for how-to advice. Now, that has changed.

IT Help Desks Connect Workers

In today’s work-from-home offices, employees now turn to help desks more often and for longer amounts of time per call. Asking your help desk “What exactly does the function key do?” may feel embarrassing face-to-face. With the extra boundary of being safe at home, the question now gets asked. Ultimately, workers are becoming more educated about the technology they use as their reluctance to ask “stupid” questions has been diminished by working from home.

Help desks now support workers 24/7 instead of the traditional 8–5 routine of working at an office. Employees work whatever hours they can throughout the day and night as they juggle working from home, homeschooling their children and the stress of being locked down.

What CIOs Need to Know About Help Desks

Working from home has opened up the field of IT talent, as it’s not restricted by geography, while also comforting managers that a remote-work option is viable when society returns to normal.

While help desk metrics are skewed by the current circumstances, here are our observations to help you plan how to man your help desk.

1.     Support calls are longer, more frequent

Support calls are taking longer so response times are longer. In other words, people are on hold longer. The upside is that help desk professionals are enhancing employees’ feelings of connectedness to their companies while teaching them more.

2.     Employees are becoming more IT savvy

IT help desks are providing more resources like articles and helpful websites for work-from-home employees. Workers are more likely to spend time with this information while at home, so they are building their basic IT skillset. And, because they’ve had to do things on their own, like setting up their home office, employees have greater confidence in their IT abilities.

3.     IT help desk communication skills are improving

Help desk support personnel typically haven’t had to be very conversational beyond “Hi, how are you?” in the past. Now, as the calls for help are more frequent and longer in duration, IT support professionals have to come out of their comfort zones to build conversational skills.

Need a Help Desk?

Help desks support users day in and day out, dealing with a multitude of questions and challenges covering passwords and the copier to more difficult technical issues like recovering data and accessing the cloud. Manning your help desk with one or two internal IT people puts a drain on other necessary IT functions and also limits the knowledge base available to your end users.

Managed IT services can provide your organization with an outsourced help desk with multiple tiers of support for all topics and user questions.

Help desk personnel are often forgotten in the best of times. But, they are leading the way when it comes to communicating during the pandemic.

Open Your Help Desk

Looking for options to augment or revise your help desk strategy? Call 877.676.0146 for a free consultation or contact us online.

Azure vs. AWS – Which Cloud is Right for Your Business?

Business people working in the cloud
Business people working in the cloud

Less than 5 years ago, we were all discussing whether computing systems should be housed on-premise or in the cloud. Today, we know neither side won. In fact, here at Protocol, 100% of our clients have a hybrid cloud setup with parts of their operation on-premise and the rest in the cloud, and 77% of U.S. businesses overall have at least some component of their infrastructure in the cloud.

The digital transformation the United States is seeing since the pandemic has lent itself to businesses considering – or reconsidering – a cloud hybrid solution for their computing infrastructure even more. To make this decision affordable and effective, a cloud computing platform is the best way to set your company up in the cloud.

The world’s largest cloud computing platforms are Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, at No. 1 and 2, respectively. These cloud leaders, along with other smaller providers, have massive, secure data centers with hundreds of servers, storage systems and other crucial components used for machine learning, data analysis and storage and backup, as well as streaming media content to host your business in the cloud.

By using these components via a cloud computing platform such as Azure or AWS, your business saves money while keeping your risk very low versus laying out a huge amount of capital on dedicated networks and other necessary (and expensive) components to set up your own cloud computing application.

Slash Risk, Augment Compliance

A good cloud platform slashes your business’ risk of data breaches, as its shared environment includes virtual firewalls and ongoing updates to integral elements of your system, so software patches and OS changes aren’t missed by a busy, in-house IT person. Compliance concerns are also reduced when you rely on an established cloud provider. Azure and AWS are leaders in setting the standard for government compliance regulations.

Azure vs. AWS

Basically, AWS and Azure provide the same capabilities for computing, storage and networking, as well as the common public cloud elements such as self-service and instant provisioning, autoscaling, security, compliance and identity management features.

However, when deciding on which cloud platform to utilize for your business, know that each comes with their own advantages, and it all depends on your business needs.

Azure

Businesses with an existing relationship with Microsoft traditionally select Azure for their cloud environment, as it was developed based on Microsoft engineering and is a natural fit for Microsoft essentials like Outlook Exchange and Active Directory.

Azure advantages

  • Azure intuitively installs software into the Windows operating system. With AWS, you have to know specific installation quirks for each software program you install.
  • Azure will allow you to use end-of-life Microsoft legacy software such as older versions of Exchange. This allows you to upgrade in the cloud while retaining the look and feel of your current environment. It also saves you the dollars required for a physical upgrade.
  • Azure is designed for an enterprise environment with more availability zones capable of adhering to the rules and guidelines of a country or region.
  • Azure has a set fee for a specific period as opposed to an à la carte service charged by the hour.
  • Azure engineers can be less costly to hire, as there are more Microsoft certified engineers in larger enterprise organizations.

AWS

AWS breaks down its services into different products to allow businesses to try what they need. Start-up businesses can spend a little and expand as they grow.

AWS advantages

  • AWS is a market leader with a 60% share worldwide.
  • AWS has over 175 services across compute, storage, database, analytics, networking, developer and management tools, security and enterprise applications. AWS offers more features and configurations, but can require time to fully understand the nuances.
  • Pricing is based on a sliding scale tied to monthly usage.
  • You can easily run an Oracle database on AWS.

3 Considerations for Your Cloud Move

  1. Why are you moving? It’s important to take the time to think about what you want to do.

If you’ve invested a lot of money in your current infrastructure, you probably don’t need to move to a cloud environment. Serious consideration of cloud migration should take place when your machines are about 5 years old.

If you’re ready to move now, determine what objectives you want to attain and then decide which environment setup is best for your business. Make sure to plan ahead for your company’s future growth and infrastructure needs.

  • Despite initial anticipation of potentially cutting labor costs because of a reduction in IT infrastructure from 100 servers to two, your business still needs IT staff to take care of immediate issues when cloud support is either too busy or unable to address a problem. Just because your new car is supposed to alert you when a tire is low doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check your tires before a road trip. The same applies to cloud computing – you are responsible for watching your business network closely and often.
  • Model your current environment and costs accurately so you can correctly set a budget for your cloud migration. Although cloud services may seem inexpensive at first glance, pay attention to extras that add to your overall project costs. These additional considerations include adequate bandwidth, space, disk storage speeds and data reads and writes.

Start Your Move to the Cloud

Need help moving? We are here to plan and implement cloud migrations for your business. Contact us today online or call 877.676.0146.

Prepare for the New Normal Now: 7 Remote Work Management Tips for CIOs

Man working from home with child
Man working from home with child

Maybe it’s the continual rounds of audits or that they’re constantly asked to show their work. Either way, most IT directors and CIOs are planners and preparers. Our CIO Philip Rogers is no exception and has had to work through a few unusual circumstances during his career (next time you talk to him, ask him about getting a telecommunications engineer into Nepal after a royal decree cut off communications). He believes we’ll emerge from the crisis stronger, but altered. The time to adapt to the “new normal” is now. We asked Philip to share how businesses can prepare for the long-term shift to working from home. He gave us 7 strategic considerations and recommendations to help you manage a remote team.

1. Recognize the Signs of Employee Burnout

I don’t need to tell you your IT team is working long hours, but I can help you determine if your staff is burnt out. Spotting burnout in the office is easy. It’s usually written all over your employee’s face – you read in their eyes, “I’m at the end of my tether and need a break.” In a virtual environment, look for different cues and out-of-character behavior. Burnt out employees won’t be as engaged in problems or situations they eagerly participated in before. They’re more likely to abruptly end phone calls. Ideally, you have a strong relationship with your team, and they’ll tell you well before they actually burn out.  

2. Build Rapport, Digitally

Rapport is necessary for more than spotting burnout. But, how do you build a team when they aren’t sitting together in a breakroom? How do you ensure people know who their coworkers are when they aren’t singing happy birthday over a yellow cake? At Protocol, we’re doing more with audio and video. We’ve set up chatrooms where employees share videos and movies and encourage people to keep talking – like they would on their way into the office or when they visit the breakroom.

Building rapport digitally can look a lot like forming in-person relationships. Ask questions, show genuine interest and listen. We’re all stuck at home, it’s okay to say hi to your coworker’s spouse who is sitting across the table from them during your video call. Ask about the pet you see running around in the background and check in to see how your team is managing to balance home-schooling kids with work.

3. Goofing Off can be Productive

No, you don’t want to let it slide if your technicians spend Wednesday streaming Tiger King, but don’t admonish them for “water cooler” chatter. Realize if people are commenting on a TV show, it isn’t goofing off or avoiding work – that’s them building a relationship.

For IT workers who don’t have a traditional 9–5, build in more leeway. You know your team will respond at 2 a.m. to an issue or take time away from a child’s birthday party to log into the system from their phone and make quick changes. Having a team-building activity in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon is just as important as the happy hours you organized before the crisis started. Like those in-person events, it’ll help build rapport, release stress and prevent burnout.

4. Recognize Priorities Have Shifted

Coronavirus is a shared experience and will fundamentally change society. People will emerge on the other side with a new set of priorities. They’ll want to continue spending more time with families, discover hobbies they want to make into careers or stop settling for a job they don’t love.

Have honest, upfront discussions with employees who are disengaged. Explain you’ve noticed their disinterest and offer to help them get where they want to be. This isn’t a totally selfless act. If you help someone fulfill their dream, they’re more likely to refer people to you. As an IT leader, you need a strong network which you build by helping others. Plus, you never know where your business will be in 5 years. You may end up needing that employee again in a different role as your company evolves.

5. Prepare for More Remote Workers

You know the saying A church isn’t the building; it’s the people? Well, a company isn’t the building, it’s your people – and a lot of them will want to continue working remotely. Offering telework opportunities will go from being a “nice-to-have” benefit to a key criterion of a job posting and a way to attract top talent.

Employers will demand more remote work too – even the ones who previously hated virtual workplaces. After spending months reconnecting with cousins and high school friends over video chat, they’ll know it’s possible to form emotional connections remotely. That experience, paired with seeing how their team can stay productive working from home, will cause them to rethink the money spent renting office space. Virtual workplaces will become a cost-saving measure, and your IT team should have a long-term strategy for supporting and securing a distributed workforce.

6. Create a Sustainable Plan for Returning to the Office

That said, not every industry is suited to a 100% digital environment, and people will trickle back into offices. As they do, your already-overworked IT team will have even more to do. Office workstations may need to be reconfigured and company-issued devices repaired or updated. Your team will need and deserve a break. Figure out now what “returning to the office” looks like from an IT standpoint, who will work on what and when people will be able to take time off.

7. Expect Other Members of Your Leadership Team to Ask: What’s Next?

You knew the importance of business continuity before the pandemic. Other members of your team might have viewed it as a “nice to have.” Now, it’s a necessity and the C-Suite is going to ask you, “What’s next?”

Keep their expectations under control. When I worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland “business continuity” was the watchword. We had plans for tsunamis, coups, international conflict and other large-scale disruptions. But unlike when I had to explain to business leadership how the in-country server racks were destroyed by a piece of field artillery during a minor military uprising in North Africa, we don’t need to plan for the fall of a regime at Protocol Networks. What we do need to know what will happen if our NOC isn’t available. Pinpoint the likely scenarios, outline what you’ll do to keep your business running and communicate the plan with your team.

We Can Help You Design a Comprehensive Plan

At Protocol, we started planning for the pandemic in December and had 100% of our team working remotely a week before the Massachusetts shutdown. We didn’t have a pandemic-specific plan, but our other preparations meant we had plans drawn up that we could quickly and efficiently implement. We can help you evaluate your current business continuity plans and develop new strategies to confront the next crisis. Call us today: 877.676.0146.

10 Business Continuity Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

What's your business continuity plan?
What's your business continuity plan?

On one hand, if you’re reading this, your business must have come through the pandemic successfully – a true badge of honor. On the other hand, in your rush to get employees working from home, you most likely uncovered gaps in your business continuity plan.

Win-win. Your original business continuity plan achieved its goal; albeit with a little rushing, improvising and making-do during the disaster. And, the pandemic helped us figure out what services and processes actually are essential to our businesses so we can be ready for the next disaster.

Top 10 Business Continuity Lessons from the Pandemic

10. You need a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity strategy

Disaster recovery and business continuity are not the same, although many people get confused about this. While it is essential to have a disaster recovery plan in place to restore data and critical systems when an event hits, business continuity is your strategy to return your whole business to full functionality after a crisis.

9. Each department needs to have a plan

Many businesses found their business continuity plan was too simple and didn’t take into account which individual departments would need to conduct business from home. In planning business continuity, Protocol Networks talks with department heads to find out what their specific departments would need for business continuity.

8. Some “critical” processes weren’t necessarily critical

And, you probably discovered essential services that weren’t accounted for in your business continuity plan. A robust plan takes into account process, personnel, hardware and software so you aren’t scrambling around during a crisis, figuring out a way to provide full services.

7. IT infrastructure is different with remote work

OK, we already knew this, but many businesses were not prepared to move their workforces to remote locations. Preparing for remote work as a business continuity strategy means identifying processes and roles that can work remotely, along with ensuring employees have secure access to company IT systems, data and information.

From outfitting home offices with computers, monitors and headsets to setting up secure VPN connections and cloud access, IT is at the forefront of this essential strategy.

6. Cybercriminals are out in force

Although many businesses had at least some security solutions in place, moving workers out of the office increased security risks profusely. Hackers and scammers are reveling in sending pandemic-themed emails and malicious links to workers who are at home, stressed by the pandemic and preoccupied with others in the household who are homeschooling and doing their own jobs in the next room. Suffice it to say, your employees may not remember their cybersecurity awareness training. Issuing devices, covered by your business’ security and usage policies and protected by company security tools, is one consideration for your future business continuity plan.

5. Testing works!

There’s no such thing as being over-prepared when it comes to business continuity. Your plan must be tested regularly so any adjustments can be made in the calm outside of a crisis. Boston College CTO Peter Salvitti said his IT organization has been “fanatical” about testing its business continuity plan, and it paid off when employees and students moved relatively easily to remote work.

4. Redundancy bears repeating

The best way to protect your data from disaster is to implement redundancy plans. Take a minute to estimate the value of your company’s data – client records, payroll details, email chains, innumerable reports. It’s almost impossible to put a price on corporate data – losing it results in 60% of small businesses closing after a data breach.

Backing up the data from your entire organization isn’t simple. We make sure security, automatic updates and encryption, along with dozens of other aspects, are taken into account so you have a contingency against anything – fire, hurricane, pandemic.

3. Digital transformation has accelerated

Grandma now uses Zoom and goes to her doctors’ appointments in the living room. Before the pandemic lockdown, many people were still hesitant about telehealth appointments and even online shopping. Since March, though, Amazon has hired over 100,000 additional workers to accommodate the increase in orders. The sudden mass adoption of digital services will impact daily lives for years to come and will likely result in new business models and organizational structures.

2. The cloud will be the norm

Cloud computing implementation has skyrocketed since March. In just one week, Microsoft saw demand for Teams, its premier collaboration tool, climb almost 40%. The global cloud market is expected to grow from $233 billion in 2019 to $295 billion by 2021. If your organization isn’t using the cloud now, get ready for implementation in the near future. Businesses that were already using the cloud for most or all of their systems made the transition to remote work easily. In fact, many may just stay with remote work.

And, the No. 1 lesson learned …

Assess your business continuity plan now to review what was learned during the pandemic, what worked, what didn’t work and what needs to be done moving forward.

Business continuity is different for every business because of their unique needs. We listen to you before recommending specific solutions. We make sure all your stakeholders are heard and all your essential operations are accounted for in your business continuity plan. We’ll ask questions about problems you’re facing to determine the root cause of the issue. It could be process oriented, personnel related, your hardware or software.

Our team of engineers will review your business continuity/disaster recovery plans – for free – to identify gaps and areas for improvement. Let’s get together soon on this so you’re ready for the next disaster event. Click here to get your free business continuity plan review.

How Protocol Networks Assisted the City of Warwick

Protocol Networks has assisted the City of Warwick in RI for the last 5 years within their infrastructure providing MS Exchange and AD upgrades as well as ongoing Sr. Systems Administration support.

When the City experienced a critical holiday weekend power outage, it caused their environment to crash and did a rather substantial amount of damage. The outage and subsequent ungraceful system shut down critically impacted their VCenter instance, SQL database and Exchange server resulting in loss of productivity and an inability for users to access important systems. One of Protocol Networks Sr. Systems Engineers was engaged to assess the source of the problem and successfully implemented a temporary solution to get the systems running so that users could perform duties and the client could allocate resources to deploying a more robust fix for the problem.

5 Ways to Handle Business Transitions Superbly

Business Transitions

Business TransitionsBusinesses encounter a wide variety of transitions throughout their evolution. From start-ups where everything is new to SMBs expanding and contracting with the economy to mature companies acquiring other businesses, bringing new products to market or adapting to new leadership, businesses live and die by the way they handle changes.

As your company goes through growth periods such as these, it’s important to keep in mind the stress this can put on your technology systems and IT infrastructure. Scalable IT solutions are ideal as they are cost-effective, flexible and easy to implement – especially with supplemental help from an experienced managed service provider (MSP) specializing in business transition management.

Although it’s tempting to put the onus of transition onto in-house IT departments, often internal IT professionals don’t have the specific experience or time in their busy day-to-day schedules for adapting to increased network traffic, identifying software to accommodate new objectives or analyzing how new directives need to be addressed.

When you realize your IT team is outside of their comfort zone, Protocol Networks can strengthen your ability to make the transitions necessary to grow. Here are 5 ways a qualified IT managed services provider helps handle business transitions:

  1. Operate as members of your team – As your transition partner, we collaborate with your team members to ensure we recommend solutions to fit your project parameters as well as your organization’s culture.
  1. Analyze the project plan – Because of our knowledge of technology and business, we analyze projects from both perspectives which enables IT to make proposals that fit with the overall objectives of the project. As we work with you, we also make sure information is presented without a lot of techno babble that makes it difficult for non-technical staff in the rest of the company to understand. Clear communication is a key factor to the success we’ve had guiding companies through transitions.
  1. Help with financial planning – Remaining within budget is always a top priority. Protocol Networks identifies solutions that work within your budget with an eye to when the project is complete. Scalable solutions that can be eliminated when the project is completed or can be used on an ongoing basis for the company to get the most consideration.
  1. Staff the project – We’ve already established that your in-house team is busy enough keeping day-to-day operations and users productive. Staffing your project can be done with temporary IT professionals who won’t add to your ongoing expenses after the project is completed. Protocol Networks recruits, vets and hires these highly qualified engineers for you.
  1. Reporting and follow-up support – Establishing the proper reporting information and frequency keeps everyone apprised of the progress and ongoing status of the project. Once the transition has been achieved, Protocol Networks works with you quarterly to make sure the IT solutions are still effective and appropriate.

You’ve built your IT team to support day-to-day operations. Let us partner with you to implement new projects and make your transitions seamless. Contact us at 877-676-0146 or online here.