Does your IT Infrastructure Support Remote Working?

In the age of freedom, it will come as a shock to everyone to have their movements dictated and restricted so much, whether you are in the commercial workplace or in the educational sector. I never thought that I would need to become an expert on Google Classroom so that I can provide advice and assistance to my 11-year-old daughter as she transitions into enforced home-schooling. That said, it is what it is and we must try to remain calm, philosophical and ensure that we make the best of a stressful situation.

Apart from medicine of course, technology is our saviour. Just thinking how different things would have been 10, 20, 30 etc. years ago makes me ever thankful for the plethora of media services providers (Netflix, NowTV, Sky, Virgin etc.) to keep us entertained, social media (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc.) to keep us feeling connected and of course business continuity tools (Office 365, VoIP phone systems, cloud based CRM and/or financial solutions etc.) to keep us in business and able to care for our customers and staff.

I realise that I am extremely fortunate to work for a technology company, where using all these systems is a way of life, chosen by us as an ever changing, forever learning vocation. Those of you not familiar with using these systems at home will find it a real culture shock but there are plenty of companies like Avrion out there whose sole purpose is to help our customers thrive.

I have seen lots of blogs and articles giving advice on how to work remotely but I haven’t seen many going right back to basics on how to get your infrastructure ready for remote working so I wanted to cover some (from a layman’s point of view) in this article.

Where are our Business-Critical Systems Located?

There has been a huge drive to put systems “in the cloud” but there remain a lot of systems still on physical servers in a server room onsite at an organisation’s office. There are different valid reasons for this but for remote working, where your systems are located is important, as ultimately us workers are now, most likely, not in the office but at home. How are we going to access systems?

Depending on the size of systems and how many users there are, it may not be a quick and simple task but now could be the time to migrate to cloud based software. If your IT department/provider needs advice from a technology partner, have them give us a call so we can help them plan this.

Can Remote Workers Access Systems from Home?

If systems are located at the office (on-premise), we will probably need to access them via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) first. This is basically a way for our work laptops/home PCs to appear to be on the network as if they were in the office. Obviously from a virus point of view home PCs are not usually recommended but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Please note: depending on how they are setup, some VPNs prevents the internet working on our local machine when we are connected to them. Apparently, this could be something to do with split tunnelling but as I am a layman, I will not delve into this any further here.

Any browser-based system, where we have to use a web browser URL to get to the system, particularly if hosted by our organisation, may not be accessible by the outside world. This might be overcome simply by purchasing an SSL certificate (this effectively changes HTTP to HTTPs in the browser URL with the S standing for secure to ensure that data remains secure.

Quiz Fact #1: According to Wikipedia, “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an extension of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It is used for secure communication over a computer network, and is widely used on the Internet.”

If you are unable to access systems remotely then please contact us for assistance. We may also be able to help you in getting software solutions remotely accessible using our hosting services within our data centres.

Can the different systems talk to each other?

This is the same whether systems are on-premise or in the cloud, there are add-ins and features that can access other systems, for example most CRM systems have an add-in toolbar to Outlook in order to save emails into CRM. Theseadd-ins are usually configured by entering the CRM’s URL into a field in Outlook – are you still with me? The crux of the matter is that our Outlook needs to be able to access our CRM so the servers they are on need to be accessible to each other.

The same applies to any integrations or interfaces between systems, such as between CRM and our accounting package; the two systems need to be able to communicate with each other.

Quiz Fact #2: The difference between interface and integration:

 

 

Interface

Also known as a bridge, an interface is where two or more separate software products communicate under limited capacity.  Data is maintained in multiple locations; thus, requiring more administration.

Integrate

A fully integrated system means that the products are one.  This happens when two or more products work closely together to combine different functionalities into one product.  The data is maintained in one location.

Have you got enough licences for the systems that you use?

It is possible that, during this time of disruption, colleagues may now need access to your CRM, financial, operational etc. software. The software provider should be able to help you arrange the setup of temporary software user licences.

Do you have the necessary devices to access your operations systems?

As well as setting up systems to be accessible and usable remotely, it is important that we have the right devices.

You will hopefully have noticed that the same product e.g. Outlook is different whether you use it via browser, desktop or app. There will be different features and functionality within each deployment type so this needs to be considered before we are successfully set up for remote working.

Does your phone system support remote working?

One final point for this article is the all-important phone system. Yes, customers can send an email direct to a person or to a central email address but, even though social distancing is being enforced, we all like to talk to an actual person, don’t we? The answer here is a VoIP phone system.

 

Quiz Fact #3: According to Wikipedia, a VoIP phone or IP phone uses voice over IP technologies for placing and transmitting telephone calls over an IP network, such as the Internet, instead of the traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN).

You can usually use a VoIP phone system on your mobile (using an app) or your laptop (browser based or using a desktop app), depending on what works best for you and your organisation. Calls can be answered, transferred and put on hold in the same way you would a normal business call. Optionally included are Conference Rooms.

Should you have any questions or need advice on anything raised in this article, Avrion is here to help provide advice and guidance.

 

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