Robust technology systems have long been a key to success for businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how important a good IT system is and laid bare shortcomings in many businesses’ technology.

“One of the things businesses ran into right off the bat was they have a remote access solution in place, but it wasn’t set up for the entire staff to be working remotely,” said Wes Gilbert of Mankato Computer Technology.

“Some businesses didn’t have any remote access system in place because they had security concerns.”

Nathan Stolt of Tech Connect in Mankato said it wasn’t just businesses but also employees who found gaps in technology when they were sent home to work.

“What people realized when they started working from home was their wireless. It’s one thing if you have a basic wireless and you have a couple of kids on their phone or game boxes, but now you have a work computer and you realize there are a lot of people on your network. You have to print and do Zoom calls and maybe log in remotely,” Stolt said.

Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors Corp. has spent decades working on getting improved broadband internet access to rural Minnesota. He said the gaps in high-speed access became glaring when more people began working remotely.

“People just at home at night and streaming one or two devices, it’s fine. But it’s not enough when they’re at home working and going to school and there’s Zoom meetings going on,” Coleman said.

“With businesses if they send 100% of their workforce home and only 75% have adequate connectivity, what do they do? Do they get laid off or drive somewhere and sit in their car outside a library Wi-Fi or something?”

Coleman noted school districts spent a lot of money handing out cellular hot spots to kids. Now students have to turn them in and many of their families are without reliable internet again.

Hardware, firewall updates

Gilbert said the move to more remote working left many businesses vulnerable.

“If people work from home, you want to have firewalls. Some small businesses ignored that to save money.

“With people working remotely you provide a door into your (business) network, and if you don’t have good security on that door, bad people will find a way in,” Gilbert said.

For many businesses and for individuals there are also good free antivirus programs available, including AVIRA, Malwarebytes and AVG, among others. The free versions often have some pop-up ads.

Good firewalls on business networks are also a must.

“Upgrading firewalls was the main thing we were doing early on,” Gilbert said. “Firewalls are rated for a certain number of remote users. So if you have 30 workers and they want five remote accesses, that’s one type of system. But if now you have 25 or 30 people working remotely, you need an upgrade.”

Gilbert said that in spite of some technology shortcomings businesses had, he’s glad most businesses have IT systems that allow for remote working.

“Thank goodness this (pandemic) didn’t happen 10 years ago or the economy would have really been harmed.”

Gilbert and Stolt said updated security patches are a must for businesses to protect themselves. They said some businesses were also lax on having good backups to save their vital information in case something does happen to their system.

Stolt said they spent a lot of time upgrading employees’ home Wi-Fi hardware.

“You don’t realize it until you need it. When it was one or a couple of people using it, it was fine. But when a lot of people were using it for business and school, it needed an upgrade,” he said.

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