In the last 7 months the idea of ‘work’ has evolved rapidly for many organizations a the COVID-19 pandemic made the office and the classroom high-risk environments. Federal agencies were particularly affected by this need to move to remote work environment quickly. Department of Education CIO Deputy, Ann Kim, shared how her agency embraced the new normal.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, only 22 percent of government employees were working remotely as part of their regular work week, according to a report by the Office of Personnel and Management. As stay-at-home orders were put in place, government agencies quickly implemented remote work to continue mission delivery and ensure worker safety. Many agencies had to scale up quickly; not only did they need more laptops, monitors, and keyboards, but they also needed to add VPNs and other technologies to support the remote worker. As the public sector embarked on this telework transformation, agencies looked to partners who would ensure security and scalability.
In a recent webinar, Ann Kim, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Department of Education; Vaughn Noga, Chief Information Officer, Environmental Protection Agency; Sanjay Gupta, Chief Technology Officer, Small Business Administration; and Brandon Shopp, VP of Product, Network Management, SolarWinds, came together to discuss how telework was implemented throughout the government and how it has the potential to continue in the “new normal.”
For many agencies, workers are logging in to systems from across the country, which can make remote connection and security challenging. “The Department of Education has roughly 5,500 users who are geographically disbursed across three locations,” said Kim. With main offices in D.C. and 10 regional offices, the Department needed teleworking technology able to support all workers regardless of location and enable access to the 161 systems needed to keep the Department running.
But no two agencies are the same and, therefore, face different challenges. “We have a fairly distributed environment here at the EPA. We’ve got, including contractors, about 21,000 folks who work at the EPA,” shared Noga. While they could also use collaboration tools like Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams to keep employees connected, the EPA needed technology that would do more.
And more came in the form of remote desktop and VPN technology. “It really boils down to licensing versus infrastructure,” explained Shopp. “I talked to a lot of organizations where it was just about enabling the licensing side of things. So, going through and figuring out where they were going to adjust some of their spend.”
For the Department of Education, EPA, and SBA, VPNs were being used to connect employees, but they require constant monitoring to ensure networks have the capacity and security to function, said Kim. With remote workers and remote support accessing a variety of systems and applications, networks can become overloaded, which is why monitoring is a necessity. For agencies to provide the capacity, security, and scalability needed, they must look to trusted partners.
“We have a very large and vibrant community of IT professionals. So, we were able to facilitate a lot of discussion between IT pros about information sharing,” said Shopp. The need for VPNs will continue and the need for monitoring technology, especially with employees disbursed across regions, is essential as we continue into the new normal with teleworking at the forefront.
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A version of this post appeared on Government Technology Insider on October 7, 2020