In 2009, Europe was hit by a gas crisis caused by disputes between Russia and Ukraine. In reaction to the rapidly evolving situation, ESET came up with a strategy that would allow the company to work remotely in case of emergency. That was one of the first disaster recovery plans that Ján Kulich, now the IT manager of the company, helped create. Eleven years later, the very same plan served as a starting point in another crisis: the coronavirus pandemic. Without having to cancel a single important project, Kulich’s team is now successfully working remotely – just like hundreds of other employees at the Slovak offices. It only took them a week to adapt themselves to the new situation. A simple but significant rule helped ESET to stay on track: Security and Digitalization first. When preparing the pandemic plan, you were closely cooperating with Daniel Chromek, ESET Chief Information Security Officer. He mentioned that at the beginning of the crisis, you had to run from one warehouse to another to get laptops for each employee who had been working on a desktop. What was on your mind back then? That this situation is really serious and exceptional. It was probably the strongest experience of the whole crisis, as I’d never seen anything like that before. Strict security measures had just gone into effect, so we couldn't take anything out of the warehouse ourselves. We were standing in line, following the two-meters distancing rule, with masks on our faces. That was a very strong feeling. Now we’ve gotten used to it, but the beginnings were mentally demanding. When looking at recent history, this pandemic is simply unique, and humankind has no experience with it. How many extra devices did you need? About sixty. We got some of them from the warehouses; others we purchased. Then we had to set all of them up, working days and nights, which was also demanding. But within a week, we all managed to start working remotely. What does a well-prepared device for remote work look like? First of all, its technical parameters should allow employees to perform usual tasks when working from home. In our case, it was necessary to buy extra VPN licenses so that more employees could connect to our network remotely. Another thing was security. Outside of the corporate network, devices are more vulnerable to attacks, so it was crucial to increase security measures, this is led off with the installation of high-quality endpoint protection -in our case ESET Endpoint Security- and disk encryption as well. We also focused on monitoring, from firewalls to applications – employees now use more digital tools, which is also a risk factor, so we need to be aware of any anomalies. We also reassessed our user support. Can user support be handled remotely as well as when you're all in the office? Even better. But first, we had to create a standardized and automated infrastructure that is easier to take care of. When a problem appears, we can solve it on multiple devices, workstations or servers at the same time. Users' problems are more or less the same – normally, they have troubles connecting to the office printer, and now they struggle to connect to the printer they have at home. In any case, remote administration saves us time. Still, it is critical that you make sure to limit remote administration risks, -especially when using RDP- with good practice, authentication tools and by leveraging the existing knowledge base. Before the pandemic, we often ran from one floor to another, or even commuted between buildings. Now we’re able to help 10 users in an hour. This is certainly one of the measures we will keep even after the crisis. We would like to build infrastructure that will allow us to handle as much work as possible without having to be physically present. Generally, we are planning to minimize personal contact on all levels. Does our experience from the pandemic sound familiar? Were you also able to start working remotely, or was there something you or your company could have done better? Share your views in our 5-minute survey and find out how well you did, compared to other companies.
The pandemic has shown the necessity of effective digital solutions that have allowed businesses to continue to operate – just like ESET. How does this illustrate the role of IT in companies?
It shows that the IT department should be a main partner in business, being able to identify which areas or services are essential for the business and can’t fall out even in times of crisis. Finding new online solutions goes hand in hand with security: The more you move your business into the online environment, the more your business is at risk and must be well-protected from digital threats. Today, good IT support is the key to success. When a company pursues digital transformation, almost everything becomes possible. The C-suite should be aware of this.
Do you think that thanks to the crisis, companies could start to perceive digitalization and IT more positively?
Definitely. It is obvious that companies that have been preparing for digital transformation are able to withstand the pandemic better than the ones that were fully offline. Digitalization will also be important in the long term. The more employees that can work remotely and the more processes that can take place online, the more advantageous it will be for companies – also because such measures will reduce absences caused by illnesses.
It is clear that some fields cannot be fully digitized yet, but small changes make a difference too. For example, if you transfer your accounting to the online environment, you can not only manage finances anywhere and anytime, but you are also more efficient. You can work with metadata and analyses and compare data easily. As a result, digitalization can bring the company further than developing a new product for example.
Introducing digital tools is one thing; motivating employees to use them effectively is another matter. What has worked for you?
You need to know your employees, their values and attitudes, and approach them accordingly. People need space for self-realization, and they should be assigned tasks they enjoy. Thanks to that, they will work as best they can and use new tools enthusiastically. It is also essential to talk to employees so that they realize the importance of the digital environment – it’s only thanks to information technology that many people can work online and be safe at the same time.
I believe that even those who have not used online tools at work can find their way to digital transformation. It’s all about creating a user-friendly environment. After all, almost all of us are active on social networks, including older generations. And if we have managed to digitize our private lives, we can do the same with our work.