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Planning For The Unprecedented: How Ashton Helped Clients Quickly Transition To Life During Lockdown

Planning For The Unprecedented: How Ashton Helped Clients Quickly Transition To Life During Lockdown

Insight is one of our core values. We believe that serving our clients means more than just responding to challenges; it means anticipating and preparing for them too. So in January, around the time that China sealed off the city of Wuhan due to the coronavirus and the first U.S. case was reported, we started talking internally about how to prepare for pandemic-related disruptions to our own and our clients’ operations.

Ashton has always had remote-work capabilities.   We established our business continuity plan in 2015 and have tested and refined it repeatedly since then. A few of our team members work from home on occasion, and one of our engineers works full-time in Columbus, OH (a two hour drive from our office). And we’ve always offered disaster recovery services, so we know what it takes to help a business continue operations after it’s been forced from its premises. But we’d never tried to do this for every client at once, and it’s against our nature to wing it.

A Plan Is Formed

By late February, a plan was in place.

Monday, March 2: We started reaching out to clients to gauge their interest in preparing their teams for remote work. A few took us up on the offer, but understandably, most weren’t there yet.

Thursday, March 12: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that all K-12 schools would close temporarily. The writing was on the wall, and it was time for phase 2 of our plan.

Monday, March 16: The Ashton team started working entirely from home. We wanted to stress-test our own operation before the anticipated spike in requests for help. In an email to all clients that day, we outlined the basics of a business continuity plan:

  1. Contact Ashton to discuss the technical requirements for remote access, and how we can best assist in preparing your organization.
  2. Focus your immediate efforts on communication, and chain of command: who is responsible for coordination and communication?
  3. Determine what core systems must be accessible.
  4. Determine what core staff need to be prioritized in terms of access and support.

Wednesday, March 18: In an email, we advised clients of a warning from the Department of Homeland Security: “Remote work options—or telework—require an enterprise virtual private network (VPN) solution to connect employees to an organization’s information technology (IT) network.” This is one of the reasons we’ve long insisted on Sophos firewall solutions — they offer unlimited VPN connections, which keep the business network secure even when employees are working off-site, and are easy to configure. Less mature managed service providers often resell value-priced firewall solutions that make setting up remote access more cumbersome, and often require additional licensing for unlimited VPNs, which rarely include multifactor authentication security, even as an option. (For more on the ongoing threats related to working from home, visit the COVID-19 Security Resource Library.)

This graph highlights the spike in malicious emails stopped by Ashton’s spam filters, as coronavirus became a daily news topic in early March, 2020.

Friday, March 20: In an email, Ashton President Jim Millican assured our clients that we were prepared for the now seemingly inevitable statewide shutdown:

“We have completed the transition of our staff to remote work across our organization which includes support, administration, account management, and sales. Our datacenter and cloud-based business systems have ensured that we have no reliance on physical offices and our systems all leverage redundant architectures. This has enabled us to maintain availability, support response times, and all functions without any interruption. … Rest assured that the entire Ashton team remains unwaveringly committed to your success and that we will continue to activate practices and policies to ensure our business functions as usual.”

(note: “All of Ashton’s core monitoring and management systems are run from our private SOC2 datacenter as well as from SOC2 compliant SaaS vendors.  These systems, and our corporate VPN, are protected with multifactor authentication and split tunneling, which allow us to work securely from wherever we are.”)

Sunday, March 22: Ohio became the sixth state to declare a lockdown of non-essential businesses. That week, we saw a surge in calls from clients who were now scrambling to resume operations with a home-based workforce.

Support requests trended upwards as people began to work from home.

Friday, March 27: By this point,  we had helped more than 1,500 end users begin working from home. Support requests spiked at the start of the lockdown, but have since returned to normal levels. Tellingly, client feedback is overwhelmingly positive; as of May 4, days after the highest request volume of the year: 859 positive ratings vs. 2 (yes, two) negative. The response rate on our satisfaction survey doubled, and the number of people providing open-ended feedback almost tripled.

While requests for support doubled, client satisfaction remained extraordinarily high.

“With many of us (we’re a small business, too) enduring one of the most difficult economic times of our lives, we take tremendous pride in our ability to serve our clients and keep as many people working as possible,” Jim Millican wrote in a March 25 email to clients. “We are proud to be of service and keep the nation and economy moving. We are all in this together.”

Was Your Provider Prepared?

Was your business prepared for the shutdown order? Was it a smooth transition to working from home? Here are some things to consider:

  • Did conversations about remote access for your company involve a discussion about security, specifically about multifactor authentication?
  • What written, tested protocols did your technology management partner provide to ensure continuity of service? A mature partner should have written guidelines and procedures for remote access.
  • Has your technology management partner been able to maintain service delivery and consistency?
  • Has your technology management partner kept you apprised of evolving security threats for work from home, and taken steps to mitigate those risks?

To learn more about Ashton’s preparations and the technologies we use, give us a call at 216-397-4080.


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