Hot Spots: Remote workers, stand up and be counted


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What's getting protected at remote sites

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Sharing app makes ROBO life easier
During my tenure as a ROBO worker, I've only had to overcome one major application-access impediment that was a direct result of not being located at headquarters. The solution--ESG deploying Microsoft SharePoint to improve information sharing and collaboration--caused me to utter words I thought I'd never say: "Thank you, Microsoft." Before SharePoint, we used a traditional file share, which wasn't a pleasant experience for a remote user. For security purposes, I first needed to connect to ESG corporate via a VPN before accessing our shared network drive. Then I'd look for a Starbucks where I could kill time over a latte while I waited for files to wend their way across the Internet from Massachusetts to California and onto my PC. But even that didn't work very well, so I avoided the VPN and file share and relied on email to do my file sharing. This worked for me, but my requests for certain files to be emailed didn't help headquarters' productivity.

SharePoint is secure, leverages the Internet, uploads and downloads documents at a reasonable pace, and has some other cool features like file check in/check out for version control. Before you think I'm the SharePoint poster boy, I should point out that the app has its shortcomings. SharePoint is a Web site, so the ability to access information depends on your Internet connection. In addition, downloading or uploading files from SharePoint can often hog your PC's resources; I've even lost data from open files because SharePoint crippled all my other processes.

Tell IT what you need
Remote-office workers need to share their experiences with corporate IT because there are many different issues associated with working remotely, and a wide range of products to address those problems. According to ESG's study, most corporate IT staffs believe that simply backing up servers covers all critical data in a remote location (see "What's getting protected at remote sites," this page). But the research data also shows that many PCs and laptops go unprotected. The real danger is having headquarters believe that all data is protected when, in fact, current processes don't fully address the problem.

Most remote workers are therefore left with two options. They can try to control their own IT destinies and assume responsibility for protecting and securing the information they create, or they can simply expect corporate IT to take care of everything.

There are some things ROBO employees and headquarters can do. First, if your organization is among the more than 60% that don't regularly back up laptop data, you should immediately change that policy. Second, if you back up laptops, but don't create an image of your OS for a bare-metal restore, you should consider adding this level of protection, especially if your company is planning an OS upgrade soon.

For file sharing and collaboration, there are several options, including WAFS products and workgroup apps like SharePoint. These options are much more affordable than adding more network bandwidth. The subliminal message here is to stop using email as your primary means of file sharing. When looking to accelerate file sharing, however, you need to consider performance and security, and you may need to make some sacrifices. These are relatively modest steps that should improve the working life of ROBO employees without breaking the bank at headquarters.

This was first published in April 2007

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