Dec 05 2011

The Small Business Remote Access Checklist

Use this list to help plan your company's remote-access solution.

The traditional office is no longer the only place where work gets done. More companies and workers rely on the flexibility of telework to accomodate their work and lifestyle preferences. Companies that deploy remote-access solutions are in turn, more likely to be seen as desirable and forward-thinking organizations to work for. But as with everything in IT, setting up a smart remote-access system requires thorough planning and strategy.

Business owners and IT managers recommend that companies consult the following checklist when deploying a remote-access system:

Know your comfort zone. Deploying remote access doesn’t require that you relinquish control of your company or compromise company values or priorities. For officials at Olé Mexican Foods, it was important to retain control over company data and applications. The IT team set up a virtual private network and other security measures to ensure that applications and data remained centrally located behind the company’s firewall.

Trust, but verify. Companies that decide to turn their applications and data over to a third party for management and remote access need to perform due diligence on potential providers, examining their financials and the references of businesses in similar industries. “You really are putting your business in their hands,” says Frank Sanders, president and CEO of CSM Research.

Double down on security. Rolando Angulo, IT manager at Olé Mexican Foods, secures his company’s remote-access system with a VPN, antivirus protection, network authentication through Active Directory and administrative controls on Internet use and notebook operation. He also uses policies and software that prevent employees from saving or exporting data to external media. Companies that access their data remotely through cloud services need to make sure manufacturers offer encryption, multifactor authentication, antivirus and antimalware protection, and strong redundancy, as well as multifactor entry controls, camera surveillance and physical security at their data centers.

Make the connection. Maintaining an Internet connection is the biggest challenge to managing a remote-access system. Companies may have to invest in at least a T1 line to ensure adequate bandwidth, and employees working remotely need to have broadband speeds.

Prepare your staff. Remote access can be a culture shock for employees accustomed to using their hard drives for documents and applications. Angulo says it’s important to offer training. For example, he needed to educate sales personnel to recognize whether a slow connection was caused by the Internet or by the VPN tunnel and then how to fix those issues to achieve better connectivity. “Once we worked with them and showed them how to identify the source of the problem — which is usually the Internet connection — then instead of reacting and calling the IT department, they find better spots where they can have a better, more stable connection,” Angulo explains.

For more on remote-access systems for small businesses, read the feature story, "Remote Access Keeps SMBs Open for Business."


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