How CIOs can ensure their IT infrastructure copes with the surge in home workers

Paul Beaumont, General Manager of Central Networks and Technologies, an IT services and support business, shares his advice for CIOs who are trying to cope with a sudden surge in remote workers.

Coronavirus has changed the world and following the announcement of a nationwide and to some extent, an international lockdown, a significant number of employees have no option but to work from home. The result being that many organisations are currently trying to utilise technology to create a more agile workforce during the outbreak – and beyond.

The biggest issue for CIOs is ensuring employees have a device to work on from home. Many companies may be purchasing a large number of laptops to facilitate their staff working from home. However, someone has to set these up and deploy them. This is a lot of work to do in such a short space of time and due to supply chain issues, hardware costs will increase and it may be difficult to access what is needed.

Instead, CIOs should be working with HR to understand what equipment employees have at home and if they are willing to use that equipment for remote working. Once understood, IT teams should be distributing applications through a secure, virtual desktop. CIOs will need to understand their legacy platforms and which ones can or cannot be used remotely. Old software can be very dependent on bandwidth and almost impossible to use without a virtual desktop.

Another consideration are telephone systems. You have several options to ensure your employees can use them remotely. You might decide to just keep it simple and divert individual extensions to employee’s mobiles. However, this isn’t the best solution for call centre based, customer service staff. A better solution might be to give your employees handsets to use at home. Softphones are also something to consider, as these allow employees to use a phone from their PC or laptop. It’s a useful tool, but if you don’t have Cloud, you will need a VPN.

IT staff should also be looking to measure the impact on their desktop virtualisation platforms, their networking equipment and their bandwidth – it takes time to up the capacity on all these platforms and so management of this should start as quickly as possible. Several beta testing employees should be identified and asked to work from home as quickly as possible, with IT staff talking them through the setup process.

Some CIOs might worry about the risks to the uptime and resilience of their cloud/data centre setups when switching their offices to remote working, however, the switch should not increase risk. Most organisations already depend heavily on their internet links for access to cloud environments. The move simply shifts endpoint processing.

However, other risks need to be considered such as the availability of IT staff to support setup and problem analysis for home workers, and the potential need for increased licences for products like firewalls that provide VPN access. Vendors are already seeing backlogs in this area.

In times of change, people are more likely to forget about their obligations under GDPR. The need to protect personal data remains, no matter what pressure an organisation faces. Use of employee devices without a VDI infrastructure can be dangerous, as is the use of personal email addresses for work purposes and printing at home.

In recent weeks, the world has been turned upside down. Many businesses are adapting to maintain effective communication between staff and customers. CIOs needs to ensure staff can access a virtual desktop, have remote access to phone systems and make necessary contingency plans to ensure their IT infrastructure can cope with remote working – effectively and safely.

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