ITSM Podcast

Powering Business Operations Through “Work From Home”—SolarWinds TechPod 026

April 21, 2020

As COVID-19 forces employees out of the office in masses, many IT departments have been tasked with keeping productivity high and entire organizations operational. How are IT leaders preparing, both long-term and short-term? What challenges are popping up in supporting employees as they work from home? And how can the IT service desk smooth the transition and manage the influx of unfamiliar tickets as organizations adjust?

Azunna Anyanwu, IT Director at Aronson LLC, joins Chris McManus to discuss the ways his team prepared to support remote work through the service desk, and some of the unanticipated challenges working from home has presented. 

This episode of SolarWinds® TechPod is brought to you by SolarWinds Service Desk, an ITSM solution built for more than just tickets. Request a demo of Service Desk and start connecting employees to IT support through live chat and a requester mobile app. SolarWinds Service Desk—IT just got a new reputation. Visit SolarWinds.com/service-desk. 

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Episode Host
Chris McManus
Marketing Manager, SolarWinds

Chris McManus is a multimedia content producer in the SolarWinds ITSM business unit. He works with Service Desk customers on case studies and video stories, and he’s the go-to producer for ITSM webinars and training material. Chris also contributes to the Orange Matter™ blog, THWACK, SolarWinds Lab™, and SolarWinds THWACKcamp™. Prior to joining the SolarWinds team, Chris was the brand manager for an ESPN Radio affiliate, and still enjoys all things sports. 

Guest
Azunna Anyanwu 
Director of Information Technology, Aronson LLC 

Azunna Anyanwu is a seasoned technology executiveservant leader, and problem solver. Hes a trusted advisor who provides strategic technology leadership to organizations and corporate boards. He has over 20 years of experience across IT operations, cybersecurity, and business (digital) transformation activities. His domain expertise includes systems implementation/integration, project management, technology strategy, solution architecture, and cybersecurity. 

Episode Transcript

Chris:
This episode of SolarWinds TechPod is brought to you by SolarWind Service Desk, an ITSM solution built for more than just tickets. Request a demo of Service Desk and start connecting employees to IT support through live chat and a requestor mobile app. Solar Wind Service Desk, IT just got a new reputation. Visit solarwinds.com/service-desk.

Chris:
Welcome to TechPod. I’m your episode host, Chris McManus, with the SolarWinds ITSM team. We have a topical episode today on IT’s role in enabling remote work. And so, we wanted to start with a little bit of context. This stat is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that nearly 42 million Americans can work from home, or about 30% of the workforce.

Chris:
An overwhelming majority of those people and millions of others around the world have been forced to exercise that option during the global response to the COVID-19 virus. On today’s episode, we’re going to look at the enabling factors in working from home, namely the technology, and more importantly, the people supporting the technology in IT.

Chris:
And joining us today is Azunna Anyanwu, he’s the director of information technology at Aronson LLC, a comprehensive platform for assurance tax and consulting solutions for businesses and individuals. Azunna has over 20 years experience across IT disciplines. He’s a certified project manager and an agile practitioner, and he’s led the initiative to prepare his organization to work from home.

Chris:
His team is currently supporting nearly 300 employees as well as the pop-up technology needs with clients who are also working remotely. Azunna, thank you so much for joining us on TechPod. Welcome.

Azunna:
Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me today.

Chris:
Let’s start with that statistic we read off the top. That’s nearly 30% of the workforce, just in the United States, is able to work from home, and most of them are. So, for those millions of people who might be out of work or risking their health in the office, if not for technology, they’re relying on IT. So, what are you seeing sort of from a broad view in the IT community in terms of the response to the pandemic?

Azunna:
It’s been interesting, to say the least. So, I believe the IT community has really kind of come together. I see a lot of the vendors that support us, and frankly, even the vendors who are looking at us to purchase some of their solutions to offer free trials, extend trial periods, increase number of licenses that are available just to kind of help organizations kind of get through this crisis.

Azunna:
The other thing that I’m seeing is, frankly, an appreciation for the value that IT kind of provides. So, on a day-to-day basis, it’s the kind of thing that you either don’t notice at all, because everything is working, or you complain about incessantly because nothing’s working. But in this case, I think that people have kind of come to realize that it is a critical function as it relates to organizational continuity, especially as you talk about this new reality that we’re mostly living through globally around remote work.

Chris:
Yeah. I would say I’m one of those people who doesn’t think about it much, because when I show up at the office, my technology works and I use it to do my job and I don’t think about it a whole lot. But now, I’m home. I have to work from home. And so, I see all the things that I need.

Chris:
I know I need to connect to the VPN. I know I need to connect my tools to my Wi-Fi at home and access the tools that are sometimes only accessible to me at work. So, I see, from the user perspective, what that’s like. But when you have hundreds of those users, what is it like behind the scenes trying to transition those people to work in their homes?

Azunna:
Honestly, it’ll depend on the organization. So, for some organizations, it’ll be a complete chaos; for some organizations, it will be organized chaos; and then for some organizations that may have already been on the cutting edge of this remote workflow kind of capability, it may be just business as usual. If I had to sort of guess, I would say that the vast majority of organizations are probably going to be more on the chaos side, but it doesn’t have to be.

Azunna:
So, there’s a lot that goes into transitioning where people work on a day-to-day basis. So, there are physical aspects of that. So, if I’m deploying, for example, desktop computers, and now people have to work remotely, am I sending those desktops back? Am I ordering replacement laptops? Do I have the means to order those things? Can my suppliers get me the number of computers that I need? So, there’s a lot that kind of goes into that, even something as simple as kind of bandwidth perspective.

Azunna:
So, if you’ve sized your organization and your bandwidth usage with the assumption that whatever percentage, 10%, 5%, something like that, of people are remote and the rest of them are in the office and connected to the existing systems, what does that look like now when you shift all those resources that used to consume bandwidth on the inside of the organization, and then now outside coming from their homes, coming from hundreds of points, thousands of points in many cases, to the same kind of core infrastructure.

Azunna:
So, it can be a challenge. But depending on how much planning and depending on how much preparation has gone into, not just this environment or this situation, but how much preparation has gone into actually thinking through different scenarios, then, like I said, in those situations, you have people who… Thankfully, for us, we were able to kind of deal with it fairly quickly. But I know there are still companies that are still struggling today, two, three, four weeks into the pandemic, with trying to help their companies adjust to this new normal.

Chris:
You and I have talked a bit about this in the past, and we’ve discussed some of the things that your organization has done, and we’ll get into them throughout the TechPod today. Some of them are long term, and some of them are things that you’ve been working on, not just in this short period of time that you had to prepare for this. So, I’m thinking about this from the overall perspective of today’s digital business. Do you think any of this is possible say 10 years ago to be able to send an entire organization home to work?

Azunna:
I think the cloud has been a game changer in terms of our ability, and that’s what I recommend for the organizations that I work for, and that’s what I recommend for the clients that I serve. So, just think about that. Five or 10 years ago… Amazon Web Services has been around for a while, but they’ve really kind of ramped up in the last decade or so.

Azunna:
Microsoft has cloud offerings. And it’s not about the cloud. The cloud isn’t the end, it’s the means to the end. And what I mean by that is, just take telephony, for example. If I had an organization 10 years ago, I would have had an on-premises phone system that was physically tied to my network that could not route over VPN and things of that nature.

Azunna:
So, now, all of a sudden, I’m shifting my people remotely, and I have no way to get those calls to get to them. Same thing with these conferencing systems, right? So, video consumes a lot of bandwidth, things of that nature. But with a traditional on-premises system, I would have had to figure out how to scale up using that example, go from 10% of my employee base to 90% or 100% of the base accessing and consuming these services, where now, because it’s “in the cloud,” you have near infinite capacity.

Azunna:
And it’s not like you we haven’t had our share of hiccups. You name the different service, they’ve all kind of dealt with and buckled under the load at one point or another. But in general, the internet has continued to sustain. In general, most of these platforms have more than met the demand. And I’m talking about triple digit increases in the number of people who are accessing and consuming and using these services compared to just a few weeks ago, let alone years ago.

Azunna:
So, no. I think we’re opportune to be; one, in a unique time in history, and frankly, to be in a unique environment from an organization perspective. I don’t presuppose that every country is fortunate enough to be at this level. There are still plenty that are not wired and things of that nature, where this is not a working reality for them. They can’t afford to send people home, and even if they did, people wouldn’t have anything to do. But for us in the IT industry, for many of the “knowledge workers” that are out there, I feel like the vast majority of them are able to benefit from these technologies.

Chris:
So, a minute ago, you mentioned the cloud, and that was a key point of emphasis in terms of that flexibility. What types of cloud platforms are you guys using that have helped made that possible to move everyone remote?

Azunna:
So, the big one that we adopted is Microsoft, Skype and Teams platforms. So, we had, like I said, a legacy on-premises phone system. We had another product that we use for instant messaging that were not integrated. We decided, a couple years ago actually, as an organization to adopt Skype at the time, and now Teams. We’re in the final migration to Teams as our collaboration platform for everything.

Azunna:
And so, that’s actually been a big gain for us, because your phone call, your communications follows you wherever you are. You can even have on your mobile device, so I’m a big proponent of that. I’ve got my mobile device. I’ve got my Skype for mobile, Teams for mobile app on there.

Chris:
I wanted to talk about the Service Desk with you Azunna. That’s the group that is on the front lines immediately as soon as people move home. They’re going to have issues and those issues are going to be tickets and IT has got to try to resolve those as quickly as possible. What challenges has the Service Desk faced, and what are you guys doing on that front to try to transition people?

Azunna:
So, one of the biggest challenges is, from a security perspective, we actually have our laptops and equipment that we issued to employees pretty locked down, so no one has administrator access. They can’t install software, they can’t install hardware like home printers and things of that nature. And so, frankly, that was one of the big challenges that we anticipated, but didn’t really quite know just how challenging it was going to be.

Azunna:
So, there are people who are working remotely for the first time ever. They have a need to print to their home computers or their home printers, which previously they probably wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it. It’s just like, okay, I’m working remote today, but tomorrow I’ll be back in the office and I’ll print whatever I need to. When now you’re at home indefinitely, you’re used to working with paper or you prefer working on paper, and now you have to be able to print to your local printer.

Azunna:
Those requests actually come through my team. And so, we’ve actually had to relax some of our standard rules for obvious reasons, where we say we don’t support home computers or we don’t support home environments. But we’ve literally had to get on calls with some of our employees and help them through trying to navigate with Verizon or Comcast or whoever their telecom provider is to address issues with their wireless or things of that nature.

Azunna:
So, the good news is we have the tools to be able to demonstrate to people and prove to them and say, “We’re not having an issue with VPN because there’s 250 people on it. So, if you’re the only one that’s not getting in, it’s generally an indication that it’s something to do with your specific setup, your internet, your computer, whatever you have and kind of diagnose.”

Azunna:
So, that’s probably been the biggest challenge, is we had an influx of tickets that came in when people adjusted to kind of working from home. Related to that is even just general setup. So, while we are a laptop-first kind of environment in terms of what we provide to our team members, we have a standard setup that we have at our office, two computers, a docking station.

Azunna:
Well, I’m fortunate I’m an IT guy, so I’ve got a home office and I’ve got computers and monitors and all that stuff, but a lot of people don’t. And so, we actually allowed people to take their monitors home, but they didn’t know how to set them up. And so, now here we are over the phone trying to help them to say, “Yep, that blue cable goes into that one place. What do you have on that end?” And they’re trying to describe things to us.

Azunna:
And I really do applaud my team because they really have risen to the occasion and worked through some challenging stuff because you just assume people are tech savvy and know what a VGA cable and a DVI cable and things of that nature and they don’t always. But we’ve been able to kind of work through some of those challenges to get everybody up and running at home.

Chris:
And I think that’s so true of a lot of the employees and the end users that the Service Desk is working with on a day-to-day basis. I know, just for myself, I thought about working from home and sort of started mentally preparing for it once the news of the pandemic started breaking and I knew it would be a possibility. But the first few days of working from home and I’ve got my laptop and my charger and that’s it.

Chris:
And I’m sitting there at the dining room table like, this can’t end fast enough. And luckily, we’ve got a great IT team that can connect us with the rest of the equipment that we need: the monitors, like you talked about, my mouse, my keyboard. And I would imagine that a lot of your typical employees just don’t know how to set that up because IT does it for them when they’re at the office. So that first few days is huge because that’s potentially all lost productivity if IT isn’t on the ball with that.

Azunna:
Like I said, you take it for granted, right? You go into your office and everything’s set up for you. So, if you think about the typical employees experience day one, if IT’s doing your job. Our job is to make it seamless for you. So, you get to your desk and you get through orientation, or whatever they have, you sit down at your desk and you start to work.

Azunna:
You don’t have to worry about hooking up computers. You don’t have to worry about whether the mouse is paired with your computer and things of that nature. We’ve kind of taken care of it. The assumption, also, and we have to touch on that fact, is some people don’t have the luxury of having a home office or don’t have the luxury of a dedicated space they can actually…

Azunna:
So, for some people, they’re actually moving from place to place. So, one of the challenges we faced with that was, literally in week one, probably in the first two days, I don’t think it even took the first week, we had three different employees that contacted us because they had spilled liquids all over their laptops. Well, IT is remote. The employees are remote.

Azunna:
We got to practice this social distancing, and how do we do that? The D.C. Metro area where we’re based is actually fairly large. So, you have people commuting from an hour away, maybe even two hours away, just cost of living and things of that nature. So, now it’s not just that the person doesn’t have the equipment and we’re not in the office, it’s also like now we’re treating this like a remote worker. We’ve got to provision a new computer. We’ve got to mail it out to them.

Azunna:
We have to copy all their content over. They’ve got to both be on the network. So, we actually sent out some guidance that basically said, “Please keep liquids away from our laptops. They’re not waterproof.” Just in case they didn’t know that part. But I don’t blame them. I’ve seen some kind of funny memes on the internet where you have this person working literally in the bathtub because that was the one quiet place they could find to get some work done.

Chris:
If the neighbor’s lawnmower gets any closer to my house here, I might have to move the TechPod to the bathtub.

Azunna:
There you go.

Chris:
So, I know you’ve been a huge proponent of leveraging the ITSM solution to provide sort of versatility or resources to the users—self-service options, request forms, those types of things. Have you seen changes, or have you made changes in the way you utilize those aspects of the Service Desk?

Azunna:
The change, if anything, is a positive change. So, we’re using more of it to date than we did. So, just to kind of give you a sense of kind of our timeline. I’m familiar with SolarWinds and Samanage before that. Even from my prior role, I’d evaluated a bunch of products I feel very strongly in terms of how well it particularly meets the needs of the small-to-medium business, but even larger businesses can kind of benefit from that. So, a big proponent of what an ITSM kind of platform can do.

Azunna:
So, we rolled out SolarWinds to replace a legacy platform. We’ve made the investment, so we’ve gone beyond just generating tickets. I actually wrote an article about that, that your ITSM platform should not just be about generating tickets to tracking all of our assess, tracking changes, problems, creating forms so that people can submit requests, and then the knowledge base in particular.

Azunna:
So, a couple of the big things, that unbeknownst to us, right, this was kind of coming up, we invested in just a few months ago, December or January was; one, we wanted to encourage people to always get into the habit of putting in a ticket. So, even if they walked up to the IT desk, we would take you from a support perspective. So, we actually put up an iPad. We actually logged in to the SolarWinds Service Desk application on there.

Azunna:
And the first thing we said to you, after we said hello, was please put in your ticket if you hadn’t already put one in. And the other thing we did was we communicated the availability of the IT portal so that people knew that we spend time. I think we’ve got probably close to 100 different pieces of content that people can use specific to troubleshooting tips for our specific applications, how to deploy or download mobile applications and connect through those, as well as just kind of anything that we thought was relevant.

Azunna:
If we got more than one or two tickets, and there was some commonality, we typically created a solution or a knowledge-based article about that and kind of published it. So, I feel like that’s gone a long way in assisting us with the transition from being in the office to being remote.

Chris:
Are you finding that people are taking better advantage of those resources now that they don’t have that option to walk up to you and say, “Hey, can you help me with this?”

Azunna:
Yeah. I’m a numbers guy. I’m a data guy. I’m a numbers guy. So, one of the things I look at is the number of views of the articles. So, as a team, our standard is we want to make sure we create those standards in terms of how we communicate solutions. So, 10 people have the same problem, I want the same response to go to all of them. And so, the first time we encounter it, obviously, we kind of make it up or whatever it is as we go along.

Azunna:
But if we see a pattern two, three, four people, we’ll literally take the time as a team. We’ll brainstorm around what the right message should be and how it should be presented. We’ll document that up as a solution. We’ll communicate that out through formal channels, if necessary. So, we’ll always kind of associate or tag that solution. And so, that helps with employees knowing that, oh, well, they kind of sort of gave me a canned response, but in a nice way.

Azunna:
It was, “This is how you go through the step to kind of do this thing.” And so, there’s now a reminder in their mind that says, “Maybe the next time I could go find out the solution, the answer to my question.” The other thing that the IT portal does, which is better than send an email is I love the smart suggestions. So, you can be typing out your requests, and you’ve got smart suggestions popping up, potential answers to your question.

Azunna:
You can click on it, and that’s actually a ticket or a request that doesn’t make it to us. It’s interesting. I wish there was a way to kind of captured those from a metrics perspective. I don’t quite have that. But I do look at things like how often solution articles are viewed and use that to determine, what is driving that? What are some of the things? Are there other ones? Is it the way it was written or is it the problem that it’s solving? Just to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Chris:
You also mentioned a few minutes ago the asset management piece of this, and that’s probably amplified a bit right now as well, because you’ve got 300 employees in your case that need access to all these different things and maybe access to more of them now that they aren’t in the office with the resources in the office. So, how has that part of it come into play and related to the way that you’re handling their requests and their incidents?

Azunna:
I’ve got over 2000 pieces of equipment, other assets, and that doesn’t include computers. So, I’m using the SolarWinds Discovery Agent on our computer. So, we probably got about 400 computers, various stages, and things of that nature. But 2000 pieces of other assets that I keep track off through the system. And so, one of the first things we did was we anticipated this demand.

Azunna:
We had conversations with our leadership to say, “Yes, people might have a need to take some equipment home, but I wanted to make sure that it was properly accounted for so that it can be returned at the end.” So, who knows how long? Honestly, when we were doing this, we thought maybe it was like a week or two. Now we’re four weeks in and who knows how long it’s going to take?

Azunna:
But the idea very simply was that, if somebody took a monitor, or they took a docking station, that is an asset that belongs to the firm, and under normal circumstances, they would not be allowed or authorized to take that equipment home. We had to obviously make an exception because of the extenuating circumstances. But we wanted to do it in a secure manner, in a way that allowed IT to continue to have visibility and trackability, especially for the things that are not connected in network and things of that nature.

Azunna:
So, we spun up fairly quick form. We already had a couple of forms that we had for people to check out chargers and loaner badges and things of that nature. So, we very quickly spun up a new form and we sent that out as guidance to the organization to say, if you’re going to take something home, well, we didn’t want to force them to come to the IT desk and create this rush or this demand that we couldn’t meet.

Azunna:
We said very simply, “Fill out the form.” We already know who has what. We already know what’s associated with each desk. What we want is just an acknowledgement that you’re taking company equipment home and that you’re going to bring it back in the same condition or better than you took it. And that took minutes. I mean, literally, that morning we brainstormed, we tried to figure out, what would people be taking?

Azunna:
What shouldn’t they be taking? And we’d provide that guidance and send that form out. We have hundreds or tens of those requests that are in our queue of people saying, “Yep, I took a monitor home. I took a docking station home. I took two monitors home.” And we have the trackability, so that when this is all said and done, we can follow up with those individuals and say, did you bring that equipment back?

Chris:
Okay so, you’ve prepared for a lot. I know there’s only a short amount of time that you have to kind of make your final preparations. As we talked about on our webcast the other day, that it’s like two or three days when you know that, okay, everyone’s going home. We need to be ready for this. Are there things that you didn’t anticipate that you’ve had to try to solve?

Azunna:
We’ve been fortunate. While the call to move happened literally over a weekend. As an organization, we’re in the state of Maryland, so we were watching daily briefings from the governor. We were trying to come up with different scenarios as a leadership team. So, we ultimately made the call, I think, the same day he made the call to close the public schools, that we would start remote work three days from hence.

Azunna:
So, we’d been thinking through many of those things, and that’s where the ITSM tool comes in. That’s where planning and strategy, and things of that nature. So, I was reaching out to my bandwidth provider to say, okay, I’m paying for a gig. I want to make sure that I’m going to get that gig connectivity. Thinking about, okay, what does use case look like?

Azunna:
Because some of these things you can’t model, right, so it would have been nice. And we actually talked through this as a leadership team. We talked through, should we send people home in advance of when we decided to ultimately send them home just to test out some of that connectivity? We ultimately decided that wasn’t the right move for a variety of reasons.

Azunna:
But the benefit of having thought through that was I could think through some of those challenges. One of the things that I wouldn’t have anticipated prior to this whole exercise was I didn’t have VPN licenses for every single employee. Because, on any given day, I probably had like 50 or so employees kind of connected through VPN, so the fact that we’re 300 people is irrelevant.

Azunna:
So, I actually have to reach out to Cisco, and thankfully, they turned that around literally within a day and got me the extra licenses I needed, just to kind of weather this period.

Chris:
Do you have any advice for IT pros, be it folks on the Service Desk, or folks on the infrastructure side, that are dealing with all these new challenges? And it’s potentially massive workloads and long days and maybe there are kids at home. And it’s stressful to try to keep the business afloat, because I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that these are the people that are keeping all these businesses afloat that are continuing to operate.

Azunna:
Yeah. They’re certainly key members. Advice for IT pros. I would say take a breath, focus, prioritize. One thing that’s kind of worked for me with my team is, and we were doing this well before this hit. It’s just part of, I guess, my leadership style and the culture that I’ve imbibed in my department and places that I’ve done before, is I have a daily standup.

Azunna:
So, I have a daily touchpoint with my team, where we talk about critical priorities, what may have come up overnight that I need to be aware of. What things that I’m now privy to that I need to share with them. Any upcoming deadlines that we need to kind of make sure are we fully planned for. So we do that on a regular basis. And so, that’s one of the things, from a focus and a prioritize, because it can be hard.

Azunna:
You’ve got the whole world. You’ve got everything that you’re dealing with. I know that I can be just as guilty of that, of trying to multitask across different things. And so, I literally have lists every day of these are the high priority things. And I don’t always get through everything because there are emergencies that trump some of them.

Azunna:
But at the very least, I know that, if nothing else, this needs to be done by the end of this period, or this needs to be accomplished by then. So, that’s what I would say. So whether you’re dealing with the whole world and the sky is falling kind of situation, or whether you’re floundering. So, our first week, I think for us, was more of that, where I felt like, okay, our rhythm was off.

Azunna:
We’re still kind of trying to maintain kind of our regimen and things of that nature in this new kind of normal. And challenges at home, I’ve got three kids, and so trying to adjust to that. And then I just have to be honest to myself. So, this is atypical. Everybody else is dealing with the same thing. So it’s okay to have a little bit of time where you kind of adjust, and then pass that, we’re actually in a point where we’re focusing on the future priorities. So, the things that we wanted to be doing and the things that we were doing prior to the outage, we’re back getting in and making progress on them. However long this period lasts, I don’t want it to have been lost time for some of the priorities, especially when you start talking about things like cybersecurity things.

Azunna:
Unfortunately, the malicious actors, the hackers, all of them, they’re not taking a breather. They’re not saying, “Oh, it’s a crisis situation. We’re not going to attack people,” and things of that nature. So, especially those priorities, you want to make sure that you’re staying on top of it, essentially just change your risk profile with everybody kind of being remote.

Azunna:
To your earlier question about kind of unanticipated, that was probably one of the big things that I had to kind of quickly wrap my head around was, it’s one thing to protect our organization. I’ve got firewalls and things of that nature. But how do I protect our people when they’re home on their networks and their environments that I have no visibility into it?

Azunna:
So, what additional tools and capabilities can I kind of roll out? So, the good news, I felt very strongly that I had some of the best-of-breed tools that are out there: antivirus, endpoint detection response. But we looked into things like DNS routing, for example, and whether or not we should kind of force some of that so that all the traffic goes through known good places as opposed to kind of malicious places.

Chris:
One of the things I think that is unique about Aronson, but also, I’m sure there’s a fraction of businesses that are dealing with this as well, is that you’ve got clients that are also all suddenly working remotely and they’re on different networks and home networks. For folks listening that are in the same boat, I know it’s not every business, but for the ones with clients that are also dealing with this and you’re trying to navigate that with clients, what has that situation been like?

Azunna:
Yeah, that’s been an interesting challenge. Aronson is a provider of tax, audit, assurance, consulting services. We serve a lot of nonprofits in the Mid-Atlantic, D.C., Maryland, Virginia area, and beyond, Delaware, as well as government contractors. So, that’s actually a big part of our business. And so, one of the challenges is, as an audit firm, you have clients turn over or change auditors.

Azunna:
So, Aronson was their auditor last year and they decided to go to a different firm or vice versa, so we’re taking over. And typically, that work will be done in person. So, in our organization, we have a fully locked down laptop. We invite the auditor into our office, put them in a conference room with multiple laptops, and that’s where they review our work papers that we’ve kind of created.

Azunna:
Well, guess what? We’re not allowing anybody into our office. Many of our clients don’t allow people into their offices. And so, that’s where IT has stepped in to come up with creative solutions for how to deal with that. The not so great solution was, okay, let’s take our existing process that was fairly manual. We literally create a computer every time, and maybe we’re now mailing it or shipping it around the world.

Azunna:
And it was like, well, that’s not going to scale very well because, what if they don’t send it back on a timely matter? All those kinds of things. So, we actually had to come up with a solution where we’re using TeamViewer and remote desktop kind of capability to have the same kind of capability, just remote. So, now you have a fully locked down laptop that these remote auditors are getting access to.

Azunna:
And we’re sharing that intelligence with our clients, with our peers, because again, we work in the same kind of industry and part of that community of auditors and tax accountants and consultants and things of that nature. So, we’re sharing that kind of guidance with others who are having the same thing, So, “Hey, Azunna. One of my clients has to provide this thing. Do you have any suggestions on how we do this? Because ordinarily, we would have gone down.”

Azunna:
We’re saying, “Well, this is what we’re doing. I’d be happy to talk to your IT department about the steps that we took to lock it down to the point where we felt comfortable that this is a viable option.” The other thing I would say is, I’m under no pretense or interpretation around kind of return to normal. Trust me, I want everything to kind of return to normal.

Azunna:
But I’m also using this as an this opportunity to say, are there better ways that we could do things? And so, it’s funny just talking to my team, they’re like, “Yeah, we’ve talked about that, going from this physical laptop example to these virtual machines.” That might actually be our new standard, or that’s kind of my expectation, is that, that will be our new standard.

Azunna:
And we’ll cut out the physical laptops, not like we can’t support it if somebody had a strong need or desire to kind of come into our physical office. But I’m not going to assume that just because, or if and when we kind of go back to normal, that’s going to be a preferred approach. People may actually prefer to continue to work, and to some extent, using those remote tools

Chris:
That kind of leads me to where I wanted to go next. When we fast forward to the end of the pandemic and sort of return to normalcy, do you think there are lessons from this that will carry over? I mean, you’ve given us one example. Do you think, big picture, we’ll see a shift in the way companies look at remote work?

Azunna:
I would say that it is hard to make a judgment call out of a crisis situation relatively to that decision. Now, I will also say that, for many of the firms that maybe have resisted this, that this will be telling in terms of the ability to kind of work remotely. The reality is that every role, every company, company culture, the types of work that you do, the mix of your resources.

Azunna:
Do you have experienced people who can work well on their own? Or do you have maybe more junior people who need formalized instruction like apprentice model and things of that nature? All those things will go into determining how companies view remote work. But I do believe that there’ll be a greater embracing of remote work beyond just the technology profession.

Azunna:
So the technology profession in particular is one that has historically kind of embraced remote work. But I do expect that there’ll be more of that. Now, in terms of lessons that can be applied, the book hasn’t been written yet. But here’s what I’m doing and here’s what I’m encouraging my leadership team, as we kind of talk through things, is to document the decisions that we’re making, to document the policies that we’re coming up with, to document some of the things that we’re deciding. So, all the changes that IT is making, for example, “temporarily” in reaction to this crisis, relaxing rules or enhancing policies and things of that nature, I’m making sure were formally documented in our ITSM platform. So, I have a record that I can kind of go back to for two reasons. One is, if there was another issue, I have a bit of a playbook.

Azunna:
I can actually develop that into a playbook that I can reuse. And then secondly, it very well will be that, when this is all said and done, I want to go through and look through those changes and say, okay, now that we’ve shifted back to normal, what are some of the things that I may have relaxed that I want to tighten? Or what are some of the things that I tightened that I want to relax? Kind of as we go back to… And without that documentation, I wouldn’t be able to have that insight in order to do that.

Chris:
What about outside of IT? I know a lot of this has worked in terms of the service that you’re delivering to the employees at Aronson. But as far as some of the process and resources that are available, have you been able to work with other departments to make a similar service level available to employees?

Azunna:
Yeah. So I’ve been a bit of a brand ambassador for the platform, and it’s interesting because I have to be cautious in terms of kind of setting expectations. But on the other side, also, using the lens of business transformation, digital transformation like business enablement to have those conversations. So, I’ve talked to our marketing teams. I’ve talked to our facilities teams.

Azunna:
Because as an employee, they don’t particularly care or know or understand that if it’s a, as an example, badge for building A, you go through IT. But if it’s a badge for building B, you go through facilities. They don’t really care. And so they’re either emailing facilities or emailing us, and then we’re constantly kind of forwarding things back and forth.

Azunna:
And so, prior to this kind of happening, I had already had conversations, especially the ones that I interact with, or IT interacts with a regular basis, to say, can we agree to kind of adopt this platform where we can then seamlessly reassign tickets to you? And we’ve at least had one, and then we actually have one in process, and then a third that’s interested in joining kind of the platform.

Azunna:
So that’s a capability that I’m looking forward to seeing continue to expand, is this tool. It really is a service management tool, not just an IT service management tool. A service management tool being used more broadly within the organization to address requests from our team members and employees.

Chris:
Well, Azunna, this has been a lot of fun. I wanted to end with one question, revisiting something we discussed earlier. We had a good chuckle about employees spilling liquids on their laptops. What is the strangest ticket you’ve seen since the work-from-home initiative?

Azunna:
Strangest ticket. That’s a challenging one. We’ve had some weird ones, and some of them are just, I guess for lack of a better term, a lack of understanding of just how much power IT has. There’s another meme that kind of comes to mind and it basically said, can we reboot to 2020? Can we restart or something like that? And can IT kind of help?

Azunna:
And I responded back and I was like, “Yeah. Unfortunately, we’re not God.” But one of the ones that we saw was somebody decided, I guess, to move to a kind of a rural area to be closer to their parents or at their parents home or whatever it is. And they had satellite access as their internet connectivity. And if anybody knows anything, there’s a lot of lag that’s involved in that connectivity.

Azunna:
And the request that came in was, can you guys fix the VPN to work with this? And I’m sitting here, are we supposed to be rocket scientists, astronauts? How much power or how much influence? And we got a chuckle. We were like, “Yeah. There’s not really a lot we could do about your parents laggy satellite internet connectivity that’s kind of out there.”

Azunna:
And like I said, and along those lines, that’s probably been the biggest challenge, is people just not being set up at home to be able to work. That’d be a future thing. I’ve talked to different organizations. I know some places that are either fortunate to do that or sent employees home with MiFi’s and wireless hotspots right now assuming that they would have the kind of conductivity.

Azunna:
We talked about that. We decided not to go that route. But we actually have a few employees that have legacy… I caught an almost ISDN-like internet connections at home that we’ve spent hours troubleshooting. And then finally, one of us would do a speed test and is like, it was in the kilobytes. And it’s like, oh, that was the problem. So, it’s probably some of the more challenging things or areas that we’ve had to kind of work through.

Chris:
Well, it’s been fun catching up with you. I can’t thank you enough for doing the TechPod, but also, as an IT pro and an IT leader, can’t thank you guys enough in terms of making it possible for us remote employees to keep doing our jobs. After our discussion, I’ll try to avoid any bizarre tickets to our IT team. I’ll try to keep it simple.

Azunna:
Yeah, please. And don’t forget, when we get back to the new normal, get your IT professionals some doughnuts, a nice meal, or something.

Chris:
Thank you so much for joining Azunna. It was a lot of fun.

Azunna:
Thank you, Chris. I really appreciate it.

Chris:
And thanks everyone for downloading and listening to TechPod. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review. To learn more about SolarWind Service Desk, you can visit solarwinds.com/service-desk.