How rapid stress testing ensured seamless remote working, and the lessons for future IT changes

Many organisations have had to implement remote working at short notice in recent weeks. Shortly before the lockdown was announced, one of Fordway’s customers decided to stress test its remote working solution, giving just 24 hours’ notice. By anticipating the issues most likely to arise and preparing support staff accordingly, Fordway ensured that problems were resolved quickly and the organisation was able to continue with business as usual with all staff working from home.

Understanding the parameters: a cultural and technical challenge

The organisation has two offices with around 300 staff and runs the majority of services on-premise. Its management team wanted to stress test remote working for two reasons: to ensure staff were prepared for home working, and to test the resilience and capacity of connecting everyone to their internal domain via their VPN.

Many members of staff had never worked remotely before. This meant it would be a major cultural change as well as a technical challenge, with most people unused to logging onto the corporate network from anywhere but their office computer.

Fordway was given just 24 hours’ notice to set up the test. During this time they had to prepare the operating model for user support and allocate engineers and Service Desk staff to handle any issues arising. They also had to inform users of how the process would work and what to do if they experienced any problems.

Designing new processes to streamline support

The agreed plan was that on day one, everyone in one office would work remotely; on day two, they would return to the office to work as normal and the other office would work remotely; on day three, both offices would be closed with everyone working remotely.

The key issue was how to handle user problems in the most efficient way. Fordway already provided second and third line support; on ‘standard’ business days, users with an IT problem would call their in-house support team, who would either resolve it or raise a ticket with Fordway’s Service Desk.

The organisation wanted a dedicated Fordway level three engineer available for all three days to address the issues that were bound to arise from asking users to work in a different way. However, it was important that the engineer’s time was spent resolving IT problems, not logging user requests. Fordway set up a new process in which the head of the in-house support team and some of his staff would contact the engineer directly as issues arose. He would immediately begin working on the problem, while the in-house team raised the support ticket. This speeded up the process whilst ensuring that all issues were logged and any patterns identified quickly.

Fordway ensured that all first line (in-house) and second line (Fordway Service Desk) staff had a copy of the organisation’s user guide, plus details of the most common questions to expect so that they could handle routine questions. This enabled the third line engineer to focus on the most complex issues.

Anticipating user needs and allocating resources accordingly

It quickly became clear that most of the issues were user related, such as not knowing how to access the VPN remotely, forgotten passwords or having the VPN client incorrectly configured. These could be resolved quickly by first and second line support, leaving just 25-30 issues that required more detailed investigation.

The network stood up well to the new workload, although it confirmed an issue the Fordway team had suspected – an incorrectly configured firewall. This created a bottleneck but did not throttle capacity. Fordway quickly resolved this by asking the WAN supplier to change the configuration. The test also enabled Fordway to identify future improvements to the network that will be implemented once in-office working is resumed.

The stress test went extremely well, meeting the management team’s expectations and providing vital business reassurance that everyone would be able to work effectively when lockdown began. User feedback was also universally positive. Fordway regularly reviews the statistics for network use and user calls, which show a decrease in demand as users have adapted to remote working.

Due diligence ensured smooth implementation

For Fordway, the key to success was to understand what they were dealing with. In the critical 24 hours of preparation, they carried out extensive due diligence and made informed assumptions about what problems were most likely to occur. They predicted that one would stand out – did all users have the correct VPN client and had they all used it previously? – and this proved to be correct. Preparing first and second line support ensured that the bulk of issues could be resolved quickly, leaving third line resource for more complex issues.

As Fordway Head of Operations Stephen Humphreys observed: “The implementation was relatively easy! As we anticipated, most of the issues were simply because users were new to remote working. By preparing accordingly and setting up an effective process for directing calls to the most appropriate resource, we were able to deliver business as usual for this organisation without disrupting services. They’ve been able to continue operations smoothly with all staff working from home, and we’ve learned how we can further improve their network when they return to the office.”

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