By Christine Graf
In the early days of the pandemic when non-essential businesses were forced to close, companies relied on information technology professionals to help keep their businesses running.
According to Mike Tompkins, IT director at myTechs in Clifton Park, his company’s staff responded quickly in order to meet the need of customers. In addition to providing support and help desk services, myTech offers IT consulting, security, project management, virtualization, and disaster recovery.
“One of the biggest initial things that came up was how to support people to work from home because you do have people’s personal internet that they are using and maybe even their home computers in some instances,” he said. “We worked to make sure that employees are working safely when they aren’t in the office.”
Some customers had to purchase equipment and upgrade infrastructure, while others already had the necessary systems in place. Supply chain issues made obtaining IT equipment difficult. Tompkins said prices have increased 5-10 percent.
“For the last few years, work from home has sort of been on the horizon,” he said. “A lot of our customers were working on this before COVID even hit because they wanted some kind of solution for employees who work out of state or are traveling constantly. We were already ramping up for this without knowing what was coming.”
During the shutdown, myTechs operated drop stations where customers picked up equipment. Everything was sanitized and only one person was allowed into the room at a time.
“We did things like sending laptops home and making sure they had a nice workspace setup with two monitors in some cases,” said Tompkins. “We set it up for most our customers so that they felt like they really were working in their office and not just sitting at their dining room table doing work.”
When it came to ensuring data security, myTech employed the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections. A VPN provides an extra layer of privacy and anonymity.
“The biggest thing that we rolled out was the secure VPN connections,” said Tompkins. “That puts a direct link from a person’s computer right to the office. There are no opening holes in the firewall where unruly people could attack the systems.”
myTechs also offers an advance security package that includes ransomware protection, DNS protection, anti-virus software, SPAM filtering, and backups.
“No matter where you are—in your company’s office or at home or at a hotel—our security platform follows the computer itself,” said Tompkins. “It locks down the computers and secures them, and if something does happen, we have backups and can clean the viruses off.”
They also encourage the use of multi-form authentication, a security technology that requires multiple methods of authentication to verify a user’s identity for a login or other transaction.
At Glens Falls-based TIMIT Solutions, software professionals helped customers by writing software that allowed them to work remotely. TIMIT works with small to medium-sized companies around the globe to develop software applications that improve efficiency.
“If people are working from home, they are having to do things that normally they might have done in the office using old fashioned paper and pen. We help to digitize some of those things on the software end of it,” said Tim Montgomery, one of TIMIT’s three principal owners.
When the pandemic shut down non-essential businesses, many companies reached out to TIMIT to write COVID screening software which in some cases needed to be HIPPA compliant.
“We had some local customers that deal with the medical and healthcare industry, and they need a HIPPA-compliant screening setup where they would have fully encrypted end-to-end data and people could do that on their cell phones from wherever before they were to come into the office or meet with somebody outside of the office. We did that for customers in multiple states.”
Within these application, all personal health information was fully encrypted to ensure patient privacy.
“The application was making sure end-to-end that nothing was being shared in an external email or something like that,” he said. “We had to provide a completely locked down HIPPA-compliant environment.”
The demand for this type of software went well beyond the medical industry. Customers in other industries also reached out to TIMIT for help during the pandemic when in-person contact was limited.
“This pandemic brought us from writing cool mobile apps and doing web sites and other kinds of custom apps to helping customers with their move into the digital arena. That literally meant replacing paper and pencil,” he said. “We hear things from clients saying, ‘This is so easy. Why haven’t we always done it this way.’”
As an example, Montgomery referenced the Adirondack YMCA in Glens Falls. Instead of having someone at the door screening members, they used software developed by TIMIT that allowed them to prescreen members, employees, and vendors before they walked through the door. People were required to answer screening questions on a digital device before arriving and only those who passed the screening were allowed inside.
“The Y had a database that was completely encrypted where they could see all of the rejections and all of the accepted,” said Montgomery.
TIMIT also helped an unidentified customer in Ballston Spa that is in the service industry and was deemed an essential business. The business remained open during the pandemic shutdown.
“They go into schools and businesses and do testing of their heating and cooling and water systems. They had to keep working but didn’t want people coming into the office every day,” said Montgomery. “So we developed a field service app—a custom mobile app—so that technicians didn’t have to come into the office. They could go to straight from their homes to a client’s site and complete their services and upload everything to a central database.”
Because of the challenges that were introduced by the pandemic, Montgomery said companies have become much more receptive to developing digital apps.
“I think what it’s done is opened their eyes to what the opportunities are to reduce costs by simplifying the processes, by taking labor out of the processes, and by automating simple tasks that people are bored doing anyway.”
Montgomery said it is essential that all data is encrypted end-to-end in order to ensure that it can’t be shared outside of a database. It is also critical that employees are trained on how to avoid falling victim to cybersecurity threats.
“We aren’t in cybersecurity, but education and training is probably the most important piece of it. Don’t click on that link. Don’t believe everything you get. Educate and train your people on how to respond to these types of things.”
At one of TIMIT’s international customer businesses, a member of executive management clicked on a link in an email that appeared to be from the company’s CEO.
“And bang, all of their stuff was locked. Even if the email looks like it came from your sister, pick up the phone or send them a text and ask, ‘Did you send this to me?” he said. “Any link you get can be a problem. When you click on a link it could be opening an executable file on a database somewhere that’s downloading all of your stuff or locking all of your files or sending out emails from you. You just don’t want to click on a link unless it’s in DocuSign or some secure environment.”
All of the applications that are developed by TIMIT require passwords that are at least 10 characters long and have multiple types of characters. TIMIT also recommends using two factor authentication or one-time passwords. They also architect their applications in a way that ensures that data is separate from the applications which makes them more secure.
“Passwords are not secure,” he said. “If enough time and effort is put into it, almost any password can be figured out. You really need to have that second level of protection.”