[Cross-post from the Canadian IT Pro blog]

(photo by Neil McIntyre http://www.flickr.com/photos/neilmcintyre/4711178904/)

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of months – you probably know that the G20 summit is taking place in Downtown Toronto this weekend. As an IT guy – I can only imagine the amount of work and planning the IT staff had to do for all the Business Continuity plans that had to be activated for all the businesses directly affected by the security perimeter, checkpoints, travel and restrictions for one of the most densely packed areas of urban businesses.

From what I’ve been hearing – a good chunk of people are just being asked to take vacation / not show up for work today and over the weekend. The remainder will either brave the barricades to work as normal or will work remotely at alternate sites or from home.  Of those that are crossing the barricades – I wonder how many of them are IT folks who are supporting the remote connectivity systems and keeping the lights on for the servers.

This massive displacement of the workforce has gotten me to think more about what technologies I take for granted being a “remote worker” on my team. Thankfully – I am writing this blog post sipping my coffee in my 3rd story home office over 500 KM away in Ottawa. I’ll be able to hear about all the G20 activities remotely via Twitter and from my contacts who are closer to the action downtown.

While it is a little late now to revisit your mobile working policy / technologies in time for this disruption it does bring up an opportunity to table them for discussion at the next IT review meeting. If you are looking for more information about these suggestions and even access to trials / online trials – check out www.microsoft.ca/uc.

Some things to consider for your Remote Worker plans:

  • Exchange server (anything from 2003 SP1 and above) has the capability to be accessed with FULL capabilities remotely using at a minimum 128 bit SSL RPC over HTTPS connectivity. I say minimum – as you are able to control what type of encryption takes place inside that initial tunnel once it’s established. What this means for your workforce? They can run outlook in Cached mode on their machines while away from the office.
  • OutlookWebAccess for Exchange 2007 and 2010 has amazing usability and cross browser “RichInternetApplication’ish”. I’ve used it before while on the road to keep in touch when my laptop was not accessible. Once again – protected with an SSL tunnel – it can even be augmented with RSA tokens if you so choose. 
  • Unified Communications – OCS 2007 R2 hosted internally (or externally) gives you the ability to have phone integration from your PC, impromptu secure chats with people / experts within your organization to get the answers you need now. You can even take it mobile on your Windows Phone device. When you need it – a remote desktop sharing session, PPT presentation, HD video meeting and instant collaboration is only a click away on your PC, Mobile device or web browser.
  • Remote meetings with LiveMeeting – do you need to be in person anymore? Seriously. Done right (with HD video, audio, web conferencing) using something like LiveMeeting hosted service or your own internal Unified Communications solution on OCS 2007 R2, you’d be surprised at how productive a remote meeting can be.

Did you notice that none of these recommendations require a VPN solution to use? Why? VPNs are costly to maintain, cumbersome to manage and really are outdated in technology nowadays with applications that are more REMOTE AWARE then previous generations. Open up that VPN bottleneck / chokepoint with some newer investments in technology to enable a more flexible workforce. Heck – you can even dramatically IMRPOVE your overall security with Direct Access technologies – but that’s for another blog post on another day.

While we’re on the topic of remote meetings and how they can save time and money – when done right… Here are some Tips for making that LiveMeeting more useful for everyone involved (both local to the meeting and remote):

  • Get familiar with the tools beforehand. That takes prep on your side to ensure your connections work, you know how to share documents / slides correctly and that your video is good.  Running an effective LiveMeeting is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE – it just takes some practice.
  • Use VIDEO! You’d be surprised at how much it helps with the connection aspect with everyone in the meeting. If your laptop / desktop doesn’t have a camera – get one of the new LifeCamm Cinema HD cameras for a great CHEAP HD experience. If you are with a group of people – have you checked out making an investment in a RoundTable camera?
  • Upload your documents early to the meeting so that there is no delay in starting. Consider also populating the Handouts option so people can choose to download what you are talking/meeting about. Great thing about the handouts option is that you don’t need to email everyone the documents and further clutter their inboxes with redundant info.
  • Main Room should have an Attendee hooked up to projector NOT the presenter. This makes it so the presenter knows exactly what the experience is like for all people (remote or local)
  • All attendees in the main who choose to join the LiveMeeting should mute their microphone and speakers to prevent feedback.
  • If you are presenter / remote individual – a headset with microphone is mandatory. Don’t use the built in mic of the laptop. It is absolutely CRAP for audio and you sound like rolling thunder when you type during a meeting.

In case you are interested in trialing some of these options (Exchange, Office Communication Server, LiveMeeting or even the full monty of Business Productivity Online Suite [think hosted Exchange / OCS / LiveMeeting and Sharepoint]) you can check out the Canadian details at www.microsoft.ca/uc

Rick
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