Technology

EV Charging Stations: Office buildings Will Need Them, and Soon

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By MIKE LAWLESS AND ZACH CARTER

One byproduct of the coming exponential growth of electric vehicles will be a growing demand for charging stations away from EV owners’ homes. Workplace parking lots and public parking garages will be ideal locations for these stations but building owners may find their infrastructure inadequate to support them.

The City of St Louis has already passed an ordinance that doubles the electrical load and design requirements for the electrical service for parking garages. This ordinance is a minimum that may not meet the expectations for visitors as the number of EVs and demand for charging stations continue to grow.

Accommodating charging stations will become a long-term need in the architecture, engineering and construction industry, and it will be critical for electrical infrastructure to be designed with the agility to respond to changes in technology. The infrastructure must allow for faster charging – increased capacity on the building system – and a greater quantity of charging locations. There also will certainly be an appeal from EV owners for the sustainable creation of the energy for their fuel, such as solar. Therefore, owners should evaluate their infrastructure for EV and solar simultaneously. Industry standards to make buildings EV-ready and solar-ready are easily accessible and simple to implement.

Electrical reliability (i.e., EV owners expect to see their battery bar grow) will become a consideration for the power supplies to these EV charging stations. This will lead to consideration of redundant electrical feeds, emergency generation and, more importantly, pairing charging stations with solar and energy storage. Such measures will ensure power always is available so that EV drivers can get the charge they may need to make the trip home.

At the electrical utility level, integrating fast charging of electric cars will add to the demand on an already taxed electrical grid. Initially, this additional power may have to be provided by non-sustainable sources such as gas-powered and coal-powered plants – dirtier sources of power that will offset some of the environmental benefit of electric cars. This will not be the case in the future, however, as decarbonization of the grid continues to take hold. In addition, we will adapt how and when we charge vehicles as well as how we utilize the megawatt hour of battery power that exists in electric vehicles.

Building owners are already currently considering new strategies to accommodate the return of tenants and employees to the workplace as COVID-19 vaccinations increase and restrictions ease. In addition to providing for current and future health and safety requirements, owners who truly want to prepare for the “office of the future” should include charging stations as part of their overall strategy. The growing surge in EVs will lead to an ever-growing demand for charging stations, however, so multiple car charging stations will be necessary. Having multiple EV drivers vying for a limited number of charging stations is not a viable situation, so providing a building capable of accommodating numerous EVs will be an amenity the workforce will welcome with open arms.

The future holds many opportunities as the vehicle fleet is electrified. Imagine charging electric vehicles during the day from renewable sources and then using a portion of that energy to supplement home energy use in the morning and evenings. Moving renewable energy to time periods when photovoltaic (solar) power is not available to meet demand makes the grid more efficient and renewable.

The technology already exists for a bidirectional (two-way) charger for home use. This would allow homeowners to charge and discharge so the EV battery can be used to power their homes. This same technology could expand to commercial applications. An electrical vehicle parking garage, for example, could be a renewable power storage source/sink that supports maximum efficiency for a portfolio of buildings. It could simultaneously provide a source of revenue for the owner, satisfy a need of EV-driving employees and be an added amenity for attracting new tenants – a particular advantage over competitors who fail to provide charging stations.

Energy storage – whether in the form of electric vehicle batteries or building-scale energy storage – will be part of the solution for optimizing renewable energy usage and should be considered when designing charging stations. Doing so will not only support the vehicles of the future but also positively impact the environment as a whole – something 50-year-old electrical technology and design cannot accomplish.

Mike Lawless, PE, FPE, LEED AP, is director of innovation at IMEG Corp. He can be reached at Michael.J.Lawless@imegcorp.com.

Zach Carter, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a senior electrical engineer working out of IMEG’s St. Louis office, and can be reached at Zachary.W.Carter@imegcorp.com.

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Top 10 Things to Know about the Internet of Buildings

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By JEFF CARPENTER

Jeff Carpenter

You’ve no doubt heard about this phenomenon known as The Internet of Things, or, perhaps, the Internet of Buildings, but you’re not sure how they relate to building design and construction. No problem. In the spirit of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” here are the Top 10 Things to Know.

#10. The Internet of Things (IoT) begat the Internet of Buildings (IoB), which represents a design philosophy more than it does a specific collectionofproducts. Just buying certain products alone does not guarantee the benefits of the IoB.

#9. The phrase “the Internet of” is best understood by thinking of it as a verb that means “giving connectivity to things(devices or systems) in your building.” The revolutionary impact of this concept is best appreciated by understanding that many of these thingshave never had connectivity before.

#8. Focus on the desired outcome. While it is important for things in a building to gain connectivity, your goals should be identified first. Ask yourself what you want to achieve now or in the future, then identify the things whose connectivity will allow you to achieve those desired outcomes.

#7. Difficulty identifying important future needs and outcomes rightnow does not mean you should not concern yourself with the Internet of Buildings. Such a decision does not take into account the undeniable future impact of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) in buildings, the benefits of which could provide your competitors with a distinct advantage should they decide to prepare for the IoB now and you do not.

#6. Analytics and AI are the computing power that allow you to achieve outcomes in your building that would not be possible with unconnected systems and conventional human decision making. The algorithms that power AI need massive amounts of data for machine-based learning and decision making.

#5. The reason that you connect thingsin your building is so that they can communicate data, which is then fed to the algorithms of AI to achieve your desired outcomes.

#4. This does not have to be expensive. A key element of the IoB is unifying building system selection, installation, and integration around a common set of industry-standard IT-based principles. This allows for tremendous economies of scale in a building’s infrastructure, resulting in capital being available for the fun stuff!

#3. If you want unified building systems, you need to unify your design partners and unify your construction partners — and have a single point of responsibility for design and a single point of responsibility for construction of the entire building systems ecosystem. If you find yourself hiring a consultant for AV, a different firm for telecom and security, and a separate group for MEP, then you’re moving further away from your goal. If you’re dividing technical specifications and distributing them to three or four different tier 2 subcontractors, then you’re moving further away from your goal.

#2. Take an active role in achieving your outcomes from the start. Tell your architect you want to be involved in the selection of the design team. Ask the candidates to discuss specifics about their strategy and process as it relates to the Internet of Buildings. This is the best way to ensure everyone on the design team understands your goals and becomes a trusted partner.

#1. Spend your first dollar on hiring a trusted design partner who can provide thought leadership. The second dollar should be spent on a unified infrastructure that allows you the flexibility to do tomorrow what capital constraints won’t allow you to do today. Then, and only then, should you chase the shiny objects that you were tempted to spend your first dollar on. Resist the temptation! The Internet of Buildings will bring so much over the next decade that we can’t see today. Getting the design approach and infrastructure right today is critically important. You only get one chance to build a building right.

Jeff Carpenter, PE, RCDD, is a principal at IMEG Corp., where he leads the firm’s technology team and is vice president of India Operations. He has spent his entire career with IMEG, where he has led some of the firm’s largest, most complex projects. He can be reached at Jeffery.A.Carpenter@IMEGcorp.com.

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Transforming the Construction Industry in the Coming Decade: An Opportunity for St. Louis IT Innovation

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By LEE METCALF

Lee Metcalfe

For the past three years, investments in construction industry startups have skyrocketed. These startups are looking to improve the industry’s communication, payment processes, workforce development and management processes while promoting access to real-time information across the construction value chain. Many of these improvements are driven by significant IT hardware enhancements; building, tailoring and deploying software; data analytics tools and the ability to leverage artificial intelligence.

A popular technology-focused publication, TechCrunch, recently published an article with the headline, “Construction Tech Startups Are Poised to Shake Up a $1.3 Trillion Dollar Industry.” The article asserts that “the lack of tech sophistication on construction sites materially contributes to job delays, missed budgets and increased job site safety risk.” A huge industry coupled with enormous, unrealized efficiency gains has fueled this recent explosion of startups and the money to back them.

In coming St. Louis CNR editions, I will delve deeper into the nature of the IT innovations coming to the construction industry: the tools, techniques and tactics such as agile software development, digital product thinking and data analytics use cases.

But let me raise with you now a strategic, almost tectonic shift in St. Louis that is poised to support the construction industry like never before. National IT and innovation trends – coupled with the recent movement by leaders in the St. Louis community – will improve coordination and focus resources on key economic and industry drivers for our region.

One key to this momentum is leveraging our own innovation community even more effectively. Just see page 67 of the recently released STL 2030 Jobs Plan: Driving a Decade of Inclusive Growth (https://www.greaterstlinc.com/jobsplan/).This effort is bringing together an alliance of CIOs to drive workforce development and take advantage of other opportunities that can be leveraged for individual companies as well as the St. Louis IT community as a whole. 

St. Louis is already a technology hub. But if we can operationalize this new level of collaboration and coordination, St. Louis will not only be a technology hub. It will be the technology hub in the Midwest, if not nationally. 

Daugherty Business Solutions is in the middle of this movement. We are proud to be a St. Louis-based company and applaud the construction industry in this region for its positive impact on the community. I encourage you to examine this new plan and renew your engagement with the leaders in our innovation community including Cortex, T-Rex and The Yield Lab. 

With all the challenges of the last year, 2021 offers huge opportunity. Let’s make the most of it.

Lee J. Metcalf is vice president of Daugherty Business Solutions and a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. He can be reached at lee.metcalf@daugherty.com or (314) 409-4392.

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The Coming Decade: A Revolution in Technology, Education and Impact of Women

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By Lee Metcalf

Lee Metcalfe

The 2020s will see further transformation of business and society around the world because of technology. This means unheard of levels of productivity across every discipline of the construction industry – actually, across every Industry.

At the core of this movement is information technology and the ability to access and harness huge volumes of data, the ability to put the insights from this data at the fingertips of every worker and the ability to create software, programs and visualizations that increase the usefulness and relevance of that information to businesses and to everyday lives.

But this engine of productivity, like any engine, needs fuel. In this instance, that fuel is savvy, creative, motivated people with the right skills who understand how to isolate the business requirement and focus the myriad of IT tools and techniques to best effect. And we will need a lot of them, which means that the 2020s will bring a revolution in education –

one that will inspire more women and young people of color to choose careers in IT.

According to Sarah K. White, senior writer for CIO Online magazine (January 2020), women comprise 47 percent of all employed adults in the U.S., but as of 2015, they hold only 25 percent of computing roles, according to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Of the 25 percent of women working in tech, black and Hispanic women accounted for 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

What is happening to reverse this trend? Alignment and collaboration between the educators and employers. Clearly many companies are involved in supporting young people and STEM education on some level. But this is the tip of the iceberg.

Employers are opening their doors to young people earlier and more powerfully than ever before. Employers, school districts and nonprofits like the Girl Scouts will increasingly be working together on levels unheard of in the past. Reaching out to young women to consider careers in industries, such as construction and IT, where they have been underrepresented is a key to our future. 

Jennings School District in St. Louis and Superintendent Art McCoy exemplify this. McCoy starts children thinking about the possibilities and careers in the 3rd grade. Each school year, they are increasingly exposed to employers and a wide range of types of work. Even more importantly, Jennings students focus during their high school years on completing key certificates for their chosen industries of interest in health care, construction, manufacturing, IT or the arts. This is the age of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and math – and creative ways to inspire involvement.

McCoy has partnered with area businesses to not only fund creative learning experiences in the school but integrate on site learning experiences (the next generation of internships) into the curriculum. At Jennings, students engage in internships with and site visits to companies and institutions such as World Wide Technology, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Clayco. McCoy has taken the district’s construction career development initiative and put it on steroids. 

From graduates leveraging their internship experiences into job opportunities to graduates going on to higher learning, Jennings School District has them. Malik Sediqzad, a graduate who is becoming an architect with a full ride to Harvard, is one of them. The district is claiming success across the board. Women in technology are and will continue to be a big part of the STEAM that is fueling the productivity surge of the coming decade.  

Lee J. Metcalf is vice president of community engagement at Daugherty Business Solutions and a retired Navy Reserve Rear Admiral.  https://www.daugherty.com/

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Minimizing Your Risk of Cyber Breach

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Submitted by: Schmersahl Treloar & Co.

Concerns about cyber threats disrupting core operations are now a top operational risk.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has called threats to cybersecurity “the biggest systematic risk we have facing us.”

Given the impact that breaches can have and the level of sophistication shown by hackers in recent breaches, it’s not a matter of if a breach will occur, but when and how it will occur.

Cyber data — including financial data, sensitive customer information and employee records stored on the cloud or on the company’s technology devices and networks — is one of the most valuable assets many companies own. Each year, management should evaluate what’s being done to protect these intangibles, where vulnerabilities exist and how to make the assets more secure. Here are some cyber protection best practices for you to consider.

Think Big (and Small)

Many hackers operate overseas, making them harder to identify and prosecute. So, think globally when assessing your cyber breach risks.

However, hacks are often perpetrated through the victim’s small or midsize vendors. That’s because smaller companies often lack the resources to put strong security measures in place — and hackers are ready, willing and able to take advantage.

Consider the 2017 breach of the Equifax credit bureau when hackers gained unauthorized access to sensitive personal information on more than 143 million individuals in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The theft was accomplished though a vulnerability in a website application.

That was just one high-profile hack. Other big-name victims have included the Securities and Exchange Commission, JP Morgan, Target, eBay, Home Depot and Yahoo.

In the Target case, hackers reportedly obtained information through a third-party heating and air conditioning vendor, which had access to the retailer’s computer network. The stolen credit and debit card data was then moved to a server in Russia. Many other cyber crime incidents have also reportedly been linked to vendors with lax security.

Some companies limit outside access to their computer networks, refusing supplier and customer requests to share data. Others require vendors to verify their network security protocols. Some companies are establishing cyber security ratings — similar to credit scores — based on the amount of traffic to a company’s website coming from servers that are linked to cybercrime. As those ratings become more refined, managers may choose to avoid doing business with high-risk customers and suppliers.

Engage in “Cyber Hygiene”

Protecting against cyber threats is an ongoing challenge, not a one-time event. Every time a software, hardware or application manufacturer releases an update or patch, install it immediately on every device in a systematic fashion. Why? Hackers constantly troll for the latest patches and updates because they show where vulnerabilities exist. If hackers are nimble, they can exploit these vulnerabilities to steal data before customers have a chance to install the fix.

Another useful prevention strategy is requiring periodic changes to log-in passwords. Hacked passwords can cause a domino effect, because people tend to use the same password for multiple accounts. For example, when Adobe lost 33 million customers’ log-in credentials, other websites discovered that their accounts were being accessed using passwords stolen from Adobe. Some companies also use a security question or require users to select a preferred image to add another layer of identity verification.

Limit Access

Companies often have more devices connected to the Internet than management realizes. Moreover, when employees take devices out of the office, they expose data to less-than-secure home networks and public hotspots that provide wireless Internet access. Evaluate which devices need to be connected to the Web and take steps to minimize off-site risks. Consider limiting which employees can work from home, educating employees about the risks of cyber breaches and installing encryption software on devices that link to external networks.

Encryption may create compatibility issues when sharing data with other companies and slow down data transmission. But it can be a powerful and cost-effective tool in the battle against cybercrime.

Seek Outside Help

Cyber security is an important task that few organizations can handle exclusively in-house. Consider seeking outside help to reinforce your current information technology (IT) policies and procedures. For example, a growing number of small and midsize companies use outside computer security companies to evaluate vulnerabilities in their network and test how well in-house IT professionals are securing their networks.

Another popular security measure is cyber liability insurance. Professional and general business liability insurance policies generally don’t cover losses related to a hacking incident. Cyber liability insurance can cover a variety of risks, depending on the scope of the policy. It typically protects against liability or losses that come from unauthorized access to your company’s electronic data and software.

Instead of purchasing a standalone cyber liability policy, you can add a cyber liability endorsement to your errors and omissions policy. Not surprisingly, the coverage through the endorsement isn’t as extensive as the coverage in a standalone policy.

In addition, external auditors can help companies evaluate their exposure to cyber breach risks. Risk assessment is an important part of year end audit procedures. Forensic accountants are familiar with ways to identify and reduce cyber breach risks. Failure to protect valuable intangibles against the risk of cyber breaches can turn this valuable asset into a costly liability.

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The Future of Office Space in a Post COVID-19 World

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By BRIAN J. NOLAN

Brian Nolan

COVID-19 has led to an enhanced health consciousness across the country, affecting virtually every aspect of our lives. In response, federal, state and local governments implemented laws, rules and regulations regarding health and safety. These changes will have an impact on how we work and on the future design of the spaces where we work for the months and years to come.

Which rules and regulations will affect the office?

The CDC rule that will have the most immediate impact on office use and design is the need to establish policies and practices for social distancing, including closing or limiting access to common areas where employees are likely to congregate and interact in the office. For local level guidance, a best practice is to contact your local attorney to walk through all local requirements, which can vary greatly depending on location.

To comply with the new guidelines, building owners and the companies/tenants within their buildings must work together on solutions that keep offices safe and a viable option. A focus should be to find ways to foster collaboration while accommodating the health and safety of office members as employees slowly return and office spaces gradually increase to full capacity.

Outdoor Meeting Areas

Where possible, one option for more open meeting spaces is an expansion of accessible, quality green spaces and outdoor areas where people can gather while socially distanced. The ability to foster teamwork is an important factor to consider when designing office space. Collaborations between co-workers still need to take place while taking into consideration new health guidelines. Outdoor areas allow for socially distanced meetings and could be used by office members as a place to meet, discuss, and collaborate.

It is in the best interest of building owners to invest in ways to bring people together and enhance the space while conforming to social distancing guidelines. Businesses will likely focus on maintaining some semblance of their normal office culture through design changes, while building owners will look to enhance their properties to bring more value. This value can be driven by investors who have already begun showing an increased interest in sustainable investments.

Individual Working Spaces

The glory days of shared office spaces and co-working space may be behind us, at least for the time being.

Video conferences have proven to be low-cost, efficient alternatives to in-person meetings. The need for individual spaces that allow for people to participate in video conferences without disrupting others will have an increasing importance in a post-COVID office. Individual office spaces will also reduce close interactions and the use of communal surfaces. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has already shifted its focus to reducing the spread of COVID in the office through updating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) strategies to address factors that could affect COVID spread within the office – such as indoor environmental quality and cleaning – and by creating new pilot credits focusing on social distancing, nontoxic surface cleaning and air quality. The implementation of strategies for clean air and clean surfaces will be supplemented by individual spaces, allowing office members to maintain their own work area and keep a safe distance from others in the office.

New Office Construction

COVID-19 has many in the construction industry questioning the market for newly constructed office buildings and asking how construction will look in the future.

COVID will likely change new office construction designs. Technological advancements such as touch-free elevators and touch-free thermal scanning at lobby security desks may be implemented in new builds. Construction job sites may see increased usage of digital collaboration tools, 4D and 5D simulations and online channels for everything from monitoring employees to ordering materials and maintaining cash flow. 

Outside of technological advancements, larger corridors and washrooms are a possibility due to social distancing requirements. Rooftop gardens, or other green outdoor balcony areas, are also sustainable options for new designs. Look no further than the extensive outdoor garden area and green designs planned for the Forsyth Pointe office building currently under construction in Clayton. These gardens and balconies could be used in the same ways as the outdoor spaces described above.  

While the extent of the long-term impact remains to be seen, office spaces as we know them will face both immediate and enduring changes.

Brian J. Nolan is a partner at Carmody MacDonald and focuses his practice on commercial real estate, banking and business law. Carmody MacDonald is a St. Louis-based law firm offering business, individual, and litigation services and focused on establishing close relationships with clients, serving as valued counselors and providing exceptional service.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be considered legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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Mobile Security: Protect Your Device and its Confidential Info from Falling into Enemy Hands

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By BARRY HERRING

If you ask people what IT security means, you are sure to get a different answer from each person who answers the question. Working with companies every day, we are constantly communicating the need for security and trying to find that balance of what is needed and falls within their budget.

Let’s talk specifically about mobile security. Smartphones, laptops, tablets. Mobile devices are becoming a gigantic part of the daily business landscape. Working at a jobsite, working from home or working while traveling, most people possess a minimum of two mobile devices, typically a smartphone and a laptop.

Smartphones are a critical part of any security-related discussion. Many people forget about them and what they mean to our daily lives. First, most people, not their employer, own/lease their own smartphones. Unless your company issues smart phones, most employees will use their own smartphone for convenience. Because good employees want to stay on top of their work emails, they will configure their smartphone to retrieve company emails from the server, downloading emails that may have client data, company data and – depending upon their job – confidential employee information or attachments that contain confidential company information. This information could include employee contact information such as home addresses, personal cell phone numbers and clients’ contact information.

If an individual loses or has his/her smartphone stolen, his/her first reaction is to replace it. No need to tell the company, the individual often assumes, because it is not the employer’s phone. But what about the data on the lost or stolen phone? Much of that was company property. Now the real struggle begins. Who now has possession of my company’s data? What do they have? Are they in possession of my clients’ information, projects/bids details or potentially the proprietary work our firm produced for them?

How many employers or managers reading this article have overheard an employee say something like this? “I was on the jobsite the other day, left my truck unlocked and my phone was on the dashboard. When I got back to the vehicle, the phone was gone.” Or “I left my phone at the restaurant last night and someone took it.” Smartphones are easy targets. Most are small and easily fit into a pocket. No one notices someone with a phone in his/her hand. They are everywhere. Easy access to confidential information also applies to laptops and tablets that are misplaced or stolen.

If you have mobile device management (MDM) for these devices, you are able to do many things, some of which include the following:

  • Remotely change the password and tell the device to lock itself. If the phone is recovered, the user can log in and change the password.
  • Do a remote wipe of selected data, email accounts and/or company-installed programs.
  • Do a complete wipe and remove all company and personal data.
  • Track and locate the piece of equipment when it is turned on.

What can be accomplished depends upon the MDM software you choose. Most are managed by a central portal (website) that can be logged into from anywhere by an administrator and select features can be executed.

If your company does not have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, you may need to create one for your employees. The BYOD policy will need to cover items such as this: If employees want to set up access to company email, access company data or install company software, they will have to allow the device to be set up with MDM. The policy may likely also need to cover how much time is allowed before an employee must report a lost or compromised device. This policy can be very comprehensive or brief, depending upon what best suits your organizational needs.

If your company does indeed issue mobile devices to employees and one of these devices is lost or stolen, an additional benefit of MDM is that you can set it up to deploy and configure applications from a central location. If you have software, email or data that you want to be deployed to a mobile device, you can push it out to all or selected devices.

Barry Herring is CEO/president of CMIT Solutions, a St. Charles/Chesterfield-based provider of enterprise-level services, products and expertise. Herring can be reached at 636.489.3669 or bherring@cmitsolutions.com.

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It’s a Good Time to Consider the Cloud for 24/7 Access to Resources Anywhere, Everywhere

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FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailBy MARTY HOOPER

As more and more cities, states and the federal government restrict gatherings during this current coronavirus crisis, many companies are making the decision to have their employees work from home.

This is especially trying for construction companies. With a mix of office staff, field personnel and folks who work in both the office and field, how to limit personal contact but still keep your employees working is a challenge. The first obstacle is gaining network access for office personnel from home.

There are a few ways to access your work network from remote locations. The quickest way to get up and running from home is to install SSL VPN access on your company’s firewall. This allows users to login to the network through a secure tunnel and access resources. The only drawback is that accessing large documents or databases may be slow since a lot of data is flowing back and forth across the Internet. Even though it is through a secure tunnel, the lag time tends to make remote VPN access non-workable.

You can also access the VPN and then connect to your desktop using Remote Desktop. That’s a service built into Windows that allows users to access their work desktop that is inside the network from home. It’s a little clunky since you have to login to the VPN and then login to your desktop. It also requires some setup before it will all work. That solves the lag problem since you are working from your desktop and just basically sharing the screen. Of course, that doesn’t work for people who have a laptop and take that home with them.

The best and most efficient way to access company documents and resources may be to move to the Cloud. Instead of being restricted to a local server and having to find a way to access from a remote location, moving all of your server functions to the Cloud means 24/7 access to all of the resources your employees have now from anywhere in the world with Internet access.

Cloud servers are just as secure as a local server. In fact, with the right security in place, they can be more secure. The same access rules can apply. Your employees can access the documents and programs that they are allowed to access, just like on your local network. While workers are at the office, they access the Cloud the same way, so that when it’s time to work remotely, there’s not any additional setup, education or training that needs to happen.

The major concern from companies who have not moved to the Cloud is, “What if our Internet goes down? Then we can’t work?” While that is a legitimate concern, with the reliability of most high-speed internet providers, that’s rarely an issue. If it does occur, there are a couple of ways to make sure your people can work. A backup Internet service is one way, so that if your primary ISP goes down, your network will switch automatically to the backup. Most folks may not realize that they can also use their cell phone as a hotspot and share that with their computer. One of the great features of the Cloud, if set up properly, is that the data and processing remains in the Cloud. So, accessing it and working from the Cloud uses very little cellular data.

One of other benefits of cloud computing is the hardware cost. Since cloud servers are all virtual, there is no expensive hardware to buy up front and then replace every five years or so. Maintenance costs can be less as well, since there is no actual hardware to maintain and troubleshoot. It’s all virtual so no hard drives, memory, network adapters, etc. are vulnerable to failure as in a local server environment. Most major cloud providers have redundant data centers so no matter if large segments of the Internet are affected by an outage, users can access their data from one of the redundant servers.

Moving to the Cloud can also benefit your field personnel. With the right cloud setup, project managers and supervisors can access job plans, drawings, work orders, change orders and job assignments from remote laptops, tablets and even cell phones. That way, jobs can be managed without coming back into the office. Most systems also allow your employees to submit time and expenses remotely without the need to travel back to the office with receipts and time sheets. Not only does that help protect your work force during a crisis, but it can also pay dividends in increased productivity – no matter what the current climate is.

Talk to your managed service provider to see if the Cloud is right for your company. Your provider may not be able to get you up and running in the Cloud for this crisis, but you will be better prepared for whatever the future holds.

Marty Hooper, regional account executive for Common Sense Solutions, has been helping businesses grow for more than 15 years by managing all of their technology. The past six years, Hooper has specifically focused on IT in the construction industry. Contact Marty at 314.720.8312 or martyh@cssworks.com.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

It’s a Good Time to Consider the Cloud for 24/7 Access to Resources Anywhere, Everywhere

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FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailBy MARTY HOOPER

Marty Hooper

As more and more cities, states and the federal government restrict gatherings during this current coronavirus crisis, many companies are making the decision to have their employees work from home.

This is especially trying for construction companies. With a mix of office staff, field personnel and folks who work in both the office and field, how to limit personal contact but still keep your employees working is a challenge. The first obstacle is gaining network access for office personnel from home.

There are a few ways to access your work network from remote locations. The quickest way to get up and running from home is to install SSL VPN access on your company’s firewall. This allows users to login to the network through a secure tunnel and access resources. The only drawback is that accessing large documents or databases may be slow since a lot of data is flowing back and forth across the Internet. Even though it is through a secure tunnel, the lag time tends to make remote VPN access non-workable.

You can also access the VPN and then connect to your desktop using Remote Desktop. That’s a service built into Windows that allows users to access their work desktop that is inside the network from home. It’s a little clunky since you have to login to the VPN and then login to your desktop. It also requires some setup before it will all work. That solves the lag problem since you are working from your desktop and just basically sharing the screen. Of course, that doesn’t work for people who have a laptop and take that home with them.

The best and most efficient way to access company documents and resources may be to move to the Cloud. Instead of being restricted to a local server and having to find a way to access from a remote location, moving all of your server functions to the Cloud means 24/7 access to all of the resources your employees have now from anywhere in the world with Internet access.

Cloud servers are just as secure as a local server. In fact, with the right security in place, they can be more secure. The same access rules can apply. Your employees can access the documents and programs that they are allowed to access, just like on your local network. While workers are at the office, they access the Cloud the same way, so that when it’s time to work remotely, there’s not any additional setup, education or training that needs to happen.

The major concern from companies who have not moved to the Cloud is, “What if our Internet goes down? Then we can’t work?” While that is a legitimate concern, with the reliability of most high-speed internet providers, that’s rarely an issue. If it does occur, there are a couple of ways to make sure your people can work. A backup Internet service is one way, so that if your primary ISP goes down, your network will switch automatically to the backup. Most folks may not realize that they can also use their cell phone as a hotspot and share that with their computer. One of the great features of the Cloud, if set up properly, is that the data and processing remains in the Cloud. So, accessing it and working from the Cloud uses very little cellular data.

One of other benefits of cloud computing is the hardware cost. Since cloud servers are all virtual, there is no expensive hardware to buy up front and then replace every five years or so. Maintenance costs can be less as well, since there is no actual hardware to maintain and troubleshoot. It’s all virtual so no hard drives, memory, network adapters, etc. are vulnerable to failure as in a local server environment. Most major cloud providers have redundant data centers so no matter if large segments of the Internet are affected by an outage, users can access their data from one of the redundant servers.

Moving to the Cloud can also benefit your field personnel. With the right cloud setup, project managers and supervisors can access job plans, drawings, work orders, change orders and job assignments from remote laptops, tablets and even cell phones. That way, jobs can be managed without coming back into the office. Most systems also allow your employees to submit time and expenses remotely without the need to travel back to the office with receipts and time sheets. Not only does that help protect your work force during a crisis, but it can also pay dividends in increased productivity – no matter what the current climate is.

Talk to your managed service provider to see if the Cloud is right for your company. Your provider may not be able to get you up and running in the Cloud for this crisis, but you will be better prepared for whatever the future holds.

Marty Hooper, regional account executive for Common Sense Solutions, has been helping businesses grow for more than 15 years by managing all of their technology. The past six years, Hooper has specifically focused on IT in the construction industry. Contact Marty at 314.720.8312 or martyh@cssworks.com.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

A Look Back at 2019 and Toward 2020

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FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailBy JOE BALSAROTTI

Last year I gazed into my laser-etched, OLED-lit, solar-powered crystal ball and offered up some of the technical innovations that would hit the prime time in 2019. Here’s my score card:

Continued push toward 5G cellular communications. Check.

5G has already had a limited rollout and the Sprint/T-Mobile merger was approved. Look for the major metro areas to get this first. Don’t run out an buy a new phone to take advantage of 5G because it will be a painfully slow rollout for the rest of us.

I think we’ll see a pause in the breakneck speed of technology change in 2019. Check.

Most of what was promised tech-wise is still on the horizon. There weren’t a lot of leaps this past year and certainly no groundbreaking innovations, just refinement and cosmetic changes to most technologies.

Data security will continue to dog all industries and all types of tech. Check, check and double-check.

Recently, two separate news stories regaled tales of creeps hacking into Ring brand surveillance equipment and not only watching but interacting with those on camera. Quit using the same usernames and passwords for multiple websites and accounts. Ring wasn’t hacked, but rather the individual accounts were. IoT, the Internet of Things, will have to address the build-first, secure-later mentality which exists before it has any realistic chance of mainstream acceptance beyond select things like video doorbells and smart speakers.

Looking into 2020, besides it being a leap year, I doubt that there will be any quantum leaps in consumer electronics or technology in general. As happened in 2019, we are in the lull before things jump forward again. An exception is the new “space race” when the likes of Space X, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Orbital are all starting to make commercial spaceflight look like the sci-fi movies all told us it would be. Once these companies truly make a trip into orbit an easy journey, the next step will be manufacturing in the weightlessness of space. Things will then get interesting quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see breakthroughs in materials, pharmaceuticals and processes change our lives in meaningful ways.

On a final note, this is my final regular column for St. Louis CNR. Like technology, things change in publishing and this page space has become too valuable for just the musings of a geek. It is my sincere hope that you’ve enjoyed the information and insights I’ve tried to bring to you over the years in an entertaining way. You can keep up with technology news by following me at Facebook.com/SoftwareToGo or on Twitter @softtogo

May we all SEE a bright future in 2020.

Joe Balsarotti is President of Software To Go and is a 40-year veteran of the computer industry, reaching back to the days of the Apple II. Keep up with tech by following him at Facebook.com/SoftwareToGo or on Twitter @softtogo.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

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