[00:38] This is not a drill. Around the globe, coronavirus is putting millions of business continuity plans to the ultimate stress test. Which ones will hold up and which ones will prove to have fatal weaknesses?

[00:54] Today, I have two guests who are, in their words, “ready to roll” through this pandemic. I’m joined by Jim Millican, the founder and CEO of Ashton Technology Solutions, a 24-person MSP based in the Cleveland, Ohio area. And I’m also joined by Travis Grundke, Ashton’s operations manager.

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[01:12] We were originally booked to talk about how Ashton doesn’t have much trouble hiring tech staff even in the current job market. It’s a really interesting topic, and I hope to get them onto a future episode to talk about that. But we before we go into it, we were sidetracked—by coronavirus.

[01:36] We recorded this chat on March 13, 2020. Things were changing rapidly. Spain wasn’t on lockdown yet. California wasn’t on lockdown. Ohio, where Ashton is headquartered, wasn’t on lockdown or shelter in place, but there was still a sense that big disruptions were on the way.

[01:54] As we spoke, what struck me most about Jim and Travis was how well they had planned and prepared for coronavirus. Something like coronavirus had been part of their disaster recovery plans for their clients all along.

[02:11] Over the course of this wide-ranging conversation, we talk about everything from the importance of communications and culture during a crisis to why you want to stick to your guns now more than ever.

Prepare, Communicate, Secure to Stay Steady in a Crisis: Interview With Jim Millican and Travis Grundke

Jim Millican Ashton Technology Solutions
Jim Millican

[02:53] The big thing for these kinds of situations is internal communications and having a business continuity plan in place. You want to have things set up in advance so when it’s time for people to work at home they’ll be prepared.

[04:09] A lot of modern collaboration tools really come in handy such as Microsoft Teams or Slack or similar solutions.

[05:11] We really impress upon our smaller clients that they have to have a plan in place. We’ve done a good job of explaining the benefits of remote, secure communications and interactivity.

Travis Grundke Ashton Technology Solutions
Travis Grundke

[05:49] We insist on secure remote access. That’s why we recommend Sophos firewalls. The SSL VPN built into it is secure and high-performing.

[06:29] Having the right solutions in place from the beginning sets the stage. Sophos built in SSL VPN makes it easy to create security groups and get people up and running.

[07:26] There are clients who can’t work from home, like our manufacturing clients. We are prepared to support them just like we always have.

[08:46] Everyone on the Ashton team is used to securely working from home. They also have redundancy in the system. Everyone has already been testing at home, so the staff is ready to roll.

[10:26] Microsoft bundled Microsoft Teams into the majority of their subscription services. A younger workforce is less reluctant to use collaborative tools. There’s also more of an interest in exploring new tools. Working from home is a natural conversation that has evolved in the last 18 months.

[11:22] The ease of use of collaboration tools and videoconferencing has improved so much.

[12:48] Repercussions of the pandemic will make things like remote working and distance learning much more acceptable to everyone.

[14:06] Businesses are discovering that through these tools they can operate a business in a very non-traditional way.

[15:21] One thing Ashton thinks is important is helping clients with internal communications and conveying to them why it’s important to have clear simple communication in a time of crisis.

[16:49] They sent out communication to clients with four steps for clear internal communications. Then they reiterated what they do as far as continuity of services.

[18:13] The team has been available by phone to help clients make sure that their remote access is working smoothly.

[19:47] They want clients who stay with them on a regular basis. New hourly clients will have to pay more and go to the back of the line.

[20:22] It’s easier to deliver services when there’s a regular relationship with expectations and deliverables.

[21:41] They will never jeopardize the company culture and service delivery excellence. The relationship has to benefit the company and the client.

[23:17] Some people will just keep doing things like they always have, but some other people will take the time to think things through and have a better plan for the future in case of a disaster.

[25:04] In the future, companies may think that having employees grouped in a single office is a risk, and that it would be better to disperse people for better system redundancy. Jim gives the example of a centralized call center where something like coronavirus could take everyone offline all at once. Better to spread people out across locations and time zones.

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