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.

5 Ways to Connect IT Solutions to Your Strategic Plan

IT strategy

IT strategySuccessful businesses are successful because they effectively link their strategy to their vision, according to leading business journal Forbes. Yet, only 13 percent of businesses successfully execute their strategic plan. That means 87 percent of strategic business plans are filed away and forgotten despite a large investment of time and money into producing the strategy.

The low success rate can be attributed to several reasons, however, failing to include all company departments in the development process or not linking individual group goals to your organization’s overall goals leads to a disconnectedness that dooms the strategic plan. Including your IT support team may require help from an independent IT expert who specializes in developing technology strategies to help businesses grow and anticipate future priorities.

Protocol Networks provides New England businesses with the opportunity to have the skills and expertise of a Chief Information Officer at your disposal. As your CIO, here are 5 strategies we use to help you determine how to connect the best IT solutions to your overall objectives:

Identify Your Major Channels

The first step to a good strategic plan is to include all major channels within your company. From sales and administration to production and shipping, all stakeholders need to contribute to the overall plan. Connecting channels through conversation is critically important to creating awareness among everyone in your company. Without this connectedness, negative conversations can lead to no execution of the plan as employees haven’t been made to feel part of the ideas and practices set forth.

Analyze Channel Variables

Each channel is looked at in regard to staffing, budgeting and day-to-day operational solutions as well as assessing the technology they currently have and what IT support and functions they will need in the future.

Evaluate Human Resources

Identify where your human resources are going and where expenditures are being made. Find the deviations that will hinder the execution of specific goals. For instance, if the sales department has identified a plan that requires five additional employees and your allocation for new employees totals 10, you must decide if this is an appropriate use of your resources or if there is another project that will better carry your organization as a whole toward achieving overall success.

As New England’s only IT expert also specializing in IT staffing, Protocol also collaborates with you to appropriately staff your technology channel.

Identify the Best IT Solutions

Successful execution of the practices and tools needed to perform the activities and projects required for the strategic plan almost always includes software packages and hardware required to run the new software. As your CIO, Protocol reviews the technology needs of all departments, avoiding unitask solutions that benefit only one person or one department. Ways of using the software in multiple situations is examined to find out if it can meet the needs of more than one company channel.

Protocol prioritizes everyone’s technology needs, plots them on a calendar and determines the resources needed for each. A one-page sheet provides the project description, budget, summary of how to do the project and the expected benefit of the project.

What to Include in Your IT Strategic Plan

If your company doesn’t have an IT strategic plan, it is in your best interest to establish one. Here are items to include.

  • Use easy-to-understand language

If only IT people can understand your plan, it’s not a strategy. A strategy that is understood by others allows for questions and input from other members of your organization, leading to a plan that represents the good of the overall organization, not just one entity.

  • Every item in your IT plan should be linked to a specific goal in your overall plan

The goal is to have an IT plan that is beneficial to everyone in the organization, not just the technology department. If it’s not important to all, the plan will be ignored and never executed, stifling growth.

  • Maintain security for all organizational information

This should be in every organization’s strategic plan, but surprisingly is often missing. Data security is one of the most important functions of your business. Make sure it’s not missing from your strategy.

  • Implement Data Retention & Purge Policies

Many organizations don’t recognize the importance of the relationship between data retention and purging to finance and legal operations. Data retention is based on legal and financial requirements set forth by various regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley and HIPAA. Purging data after any required period of retention is just as important to protecting your company from legal actions.

Protocol Networks has the unique ability to incorporate business-savvy IT solutions into your strategic plan. Contact us at 877-676-0146 or online.