Welcome to the Sentinel Blog!
We are proud to feature a carefully curated collection of articles and other content related to the most important technology topics of today and beyond. Our posts are composed and edited by Sentinel’s ALWAYS ENGAGED team of solutions architects, engineers, project managers and other subject matter experts.
Sentinel Helps A Manufacturer Modernize Their Wide Area Network To Support Cloud Services
A manufacturer was looking to modernize their corporate wide area network (WAN) to support cloud services consumption. This included Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) delivered through the cloud. The cloud offers companies the opportunity to innovate, increase agility, as well as leverage new platforms for new services and/or to modernize existing services. In addition, PaaS (platform) and SaaS (software) provide the opportunity to rapidly deploy applications from various providers such as Salesforce, BOX, Microsoft O365 and more. The business innovation and agility provided by these platforms dramatically changes the requirements of network communications and security.
Data centers, formerly the central choke point(s) of an organization, no longer provide most or all critical business services. Instead, public, private, and hybrid clouds host many of the services formerly relegated to centralized data centers. Some platforms also offer the opportunity for vendor independent connectivity and cost savings as well as bandwidth increases.
Organizations previously backhauled traffic to data center(s) where a majority of IT services were delivered. This resulted in centralized security controls and simplified the security infrastructure to some degree. Cloud services distribute the data center to many locations optimally consumed over public and private internet connections. These multi-routed traffic patterns create new challenges when it comes to distributed security requirements. Security policies and governance become even more critical because the business is consuming services from a variety of providers. Modern SD-WAN (software defined WAN) solutions solve these challenges by providing centralized control and orchestration, making every network edge a highly secure next generation firewall capable of enterprise-class security functions.
Strategy / Approach
A 2018 study by Gartner showed how SD-WAN offers benefits over traditional WAN services:
+ Emergence of public cloud computing and SaaS has rendered traditional enterprise WAN architectures suboptimal from both a price and performance perspective
+ SD-WAN is a mainstream product category that provides branch office connectivity in a simplified and cost-effective manner compared to traditional routers
+ SD-WAN adoption is growing rapidly. Many network service providers and non-MSPs now offer managed SD-WAN services.
+ Independent MSPs also offer flexible services more customized to an organization’s needs, as well as advanced security monitoring and response options for organizations that transcend traditional router management of availability and capacity.
Sentinel and Gartner both recommend that organizations currently using or developing applications through the hybrid cloud migrate to an SD-WAN architecture. It creates multiple paths to connectivity and provides users with a more direct route to important Microsoft Office 365 applications. Connectivity via the internet is likely the best option, assuming it is reliable. If your service provider has a direct connection to one of the Oracle cloud points of presence, your network must adapt to use both services while maintaining the most expedient path to Office 365. Office 365 also requires a number of ports and protocols to be open on the network, which marks another benefit of SD-WAN solutions with SaaS awareness. While Office 365 has been the focus of this summary, the guidance here applies to most SaaS providers and ensures enough flexibility will remain in your environment to easily manage future deployments.
Sentinel advises that any SD-WAN architecture should support advanced security services, including: next generation firewall capabilities, URL & content filtering, centralized policy management, monitoring and log capabilities, and anti-malware services. In addition, a proper SD-WAN solution should provide visibility into cloud services in order to treat traffic appropriately, plus the ability to support internal data center services on an ongoing basis.
For these reasons, Sentinel recommended Cisco SD-WAN (based on Viptela technology) for the manufacturing customer. This solution leveraged existing investments in Cisco ISR routers by adding intelligent software on top of the ISR hardware platform. It allowed the manufacturer to extend their SD-WAN services to IaaS providers, Sentinel CloudSelect (voice and collaboration), as well as Oracle Cloud (IaaS). Cisco’s SD-WAN solution also supports a plethora of SaaS and PaaS providers, including but not limited to Office 365, which the manufacturer is planning to deploy in the near future. This platform will provide a wide area network that is adaptable, multi-cloud ready, and has distributed next generation security – all controlled via centralized management and orchestration.
Resolution / Remediation
The original scope of work requested both a legacy dynamic multipoint virtual private network (DMVPN) solution with centralized hub sites as well as a software-defined WAN solution. Sentinel recommended that the customer skip the DMVPN and focus on a cloud-ready architecture based on SD-WAN instead. DMVPN was an efficient solution for creating a private meshed network over the internet, but it has become a bit outdated in the modern world of cloud-ready architectures and distributed security needs. DMVPN does not satisfy the distributed security requirements, nor does it add the intelligence and centralized configuration needed for modern cloud consumption models. SD-WAN features all of those capabilities and more, which is why Sentinel encouraged the manufacturer to consider shifting their approach.
Sentinel optimized the architecture to support internet only, internet plus secondary internet, and internet plus private (MPLS) services. The technology makes intelligent decisions on the best paths for specific services, and by defining policy within the central manager, can continue to adapt to the enterprise needs. It’s no longer necessary for highly skilled individuals to manually define, distribute, and deploy configuration changes. In an effort to streamline operations, Sentinel ensured the central manager had the capability to control the entire network fabric, including application optimization, cloud services, intelligent routing, and security services.
While the customer initially requested the identification and placement of WAN services at edges and hub locations, Sentinel advised that any hub sites be replaced with a fully meshed solution featuring strong cybersecurity. Hub locations can still be used to deliver high speed or peering services if desired, however the intelligent and automatically distributed design presented by Sentinel gave the manufacturer greater adaptability and scalability to handle any current and future needs. New voice and collaboration services were deployed into the customer's environment via Sentinel CloudSelect data centers in Illinois and Arizona. The Sentinel team also coordinated with Oracle to establish IaaS, production, and disaster recovery services through their cloud data centers in Virginia and Arizona.
Oracle also offers direct connectivity to various carriers, including the customer's current service provider AT&T as well as CenturyLink, which the customer plans to use for private services in the future. If the manufacturer wants to deploy cloud-to-cloud services such as Azure ExpressRoute within their environment at some point, Oracle can easily provide any Microsoft and Azure connectivity.
The Sentinel team deployed the SD-WAN solution into the manufacturer’s environment, which significantly increased their cloud capabilities and provided a centralized control for simplified management of services, applications, and security. This streamlined approach improved efficiency and made it easier than ever for the customer to scale out as they continued to grow.
Sentinel Develops An Omnichannel Solution for a Credit Union
A Chicago area credit union sought to improve their operational efficiency and service levels across all communication channels. This was in response to its members, who advocated for more personalized, omnichannel assistance as they worked to achieve financial goals. In order to make this a reality, contact center agents required easier access to customer information and more descriptive context while interacting with multiple applications, including core banking, online banking, and authentication systems.
The credit union wanted to leverage and extend the value of its existing Cisco Communication and Collaboration systems, while simultaneously establishing a strong platform for future growth. They also aimed to provide additional survivability, redundancy, and resiliency for its data and communications environment, as well as improve secure remote worker capabilities to better address the new pandemic requirements of their employees.
The credit union chose to work with Sentinel Technologies because of its extensive expertise in Unified Communication, Collaboration, and Customer Service Centers. The Sentinel team took time to learn about the specific project requirements and began to outline possible solutions. Sentinel quickly determined that an omnichannel solution to complement the credit union’s existing environment was the best course of action.
The omnichannel solution seamlessly integrated with all existing applications, and gave agents instant visibility into critical information with application pop, click-to-dial, data exchange, and more. Credit union members received more personalized, consistent service as a result. The organization improved customer service levels and streamlined processes more efficiently than ever before, all while extending the value of their legacy investments and positioning the credit union for future growth.
Sentinel worked closely with the credit union to develop a secured access environment for remote knowledge workers and agents. Sentinel also migrated their critical data and voice applications to a strategically located secondary data center, which resulted in redundant survivable connectivity and routing.
Once their project with Sentinel had been completed and deployed, the credit union was able to deliver:
+ Personalized member experience
+ Improved service levels
+ Greater agent efficiency
+ Application redundancy/survivability
+ Secure remote worker capability
Small Businesses and Servers
The number of people working remotely was already growing before the pandemic, but COVID-19 sent the entire concept into overdrive as organizations sought to maintain productivity while keeping employees safe. There has been a 9x increase in work from home situations since 2019, as around 62% of Americans currently have the capability to perform essential job functions outside of a traditional office or place of business.
While many organizations have fully adjusted to this new remote work standard, some have struggled to achieve a healthy balance of resources, security, and productivity in the face of an unprecedented situation. If you weren’t already prepared to have all employees work from home, chances are you spent a good portion of the spring and summer trying to catch up and make sure everyone’s needs were met. Some businesses, particularly smaller ones, might still be having trouble maintaining day to day operations.
As a result, many employees have resorted to finding alternate ways of getting things done. It’s estimated that more than half of the remote workforce has used personal cloud apps or email to share documents, files, or data with co-workers. This includes documents with confidential or sensitive information. Around 41% of workers say they have actively ignored or purposely found ways around certain security safeguards during the pandemic so they can get work done.
These sorts of behaviors create additional risk for your organization. Cyber criminals know this, and have been taking advantage every chance they get. According to a recent study by Dell Technologies, there has been a 75% overall rise in cybercrime since the start of the pandemic, with a 50% increase in attacks compared to this time last year. Ransomware is by far the most popular type of attack, up more than 109% from 2019. That’s not even taking into account the recently reported breaches of several U.S. government agencies and major corporations by Russian hackers.
A few weeks ago, we provided a few tips on how small businesses can stay secure while working remotely during the pandemic. Beyond focusing on your endpoints and network when reinforcing security measures, your organization should also consider additional protection by ensuring there’s a next-generation server in your environment. Recent improvements in efficiency and affordability have made it easier than ever for small businesses to adopt and deploy a server to improve overall data access and management during a time when it’s more essential than ever.
Servers are easy to set up and use, are no longer expensive (a quality server can cost as little as $500), and create an additional layer of security for your data. They enable you to monitor all incoming email to better detect and destroy any malicious files or links, which is a common point of attack. Backups and document version control are simplified when everyone is working off a single server. Since each machine or endpoint that contains copies of sensitive data increases the likelihood of it being stolen or encrypted in a breach, keeping everything localized on a server that’s more secure than a laptop or phone is a smart way to stay protected.
Another benefit of a server is that it enables you to control who has access to what data. Placing restrictions on certain files and knowing who is accessing them at any given time can prevent people from unknowingly sharing sensitive data, thereby helping to reduce breaches. Many cloud services have also become a point of attack for cyber criminals, particularly those that only require a username and password to gain access. A dedicated server with built-in security is an improvement for businesses that have relied on the cloud for storage and software solutions.
There are a number of security features you should look for when purchasing a server. Make sure it has a lockdown mode, so if an intrusion is detected hackers will be unable to make any changes. Prevent cyber criminals from adding malicious code or backdoors into your server by maintaining secure firmware upgrades. When you purchase a new server, it’s incredibly important that the server is shipped directly from the factory to your business to ensure the chain of security remains intact and nobody has the opportunity to tamper with your loaded hardware, software, and firmware. Lastly, select a server capable of securely wiping all data. If your server ends up redeployed, taken out of service, or suspected of compromise, you’ll need to thoroughly clear it of any data so no bad actors have the opportunity to access or recover it.
An investment in a server is an investment in security and future growth. While now might not seem like the best time for any business to add or upgrade a server, it can improve efficiency and provide greater assistance to those working remotely. That can make a big difference in these challenging times. Plus, servers are designed to be scalable so they can grow with your business. You can add storage capacity to a server, pair it with other servers, or deploy productivity applications to support collaboration, mail, messaging, and other shared services.
As you can see, there are many benefits when small businesses choose to deploy a server in their environment. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Sentinel for additional information.
Sentinel's 2020 Holiday Gift Guide
It’s been…a different kind of year, to put it mildly. While life has fundamentally changed for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still a fair amount of normalcy to our days that helps make things just a little bit easier. For example, you might not be going into the office for the time being, but hopefully you’re able to do the same work from home as needed. You might not be able to go see a movie or enjoy a meal at a restaurant (depending on where you live), but streaming services and delivery drivers can bring those things straight to your couch. It might not be as fun or as social, but it beats not having those things at all.
On the upside, the inability to travel or purchase tickets to events hopefully means you haven’t spent as much money this year. There’s so much you can do with a little extra cash in your pocket! Donate more than usual to your favorite charity or causes! Pick up an extra gift for a special someone in your life, or even yourself because you’ve earned it! Speaking of which, with the holidays once again upon us, we wanted to share a few technology-focused items that caught our eye this past year. These would make for some great holiday gifts, if you were so inclined to pick any of them up. Consider this year’s list particularly helpful for those of us stuck at home during this pandemic. As usual, there’s a relatively wide range of prices on these, depending on how much you’re looking to spend.
PhoneSoap 3 [$80 on Amazon]
Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes have been pretty hard to find these last several months, and while people are doing their best to keep their bodies and surfaces clean, we sometimes forget about how many things we touch on a daily basis. Research indicates that most smartphones have about 10x more bacteria and germs than your average toilet seat, which means if you’re not cleaning it every day there’s a high potential it could end up as a reason why you get sick. PhoneSoap 3 makes it super easy to keep your phone clean. It’s both a sanitizer and a charger, using UV-C lights to kill 99.99% of all bacteria and germs on your phone. Not only that, but it’ll clean any other object that fits inside the case, including keys, credit cards, jewelry, and earbuds.
August Wi-Fi Smart Lock [$218 on Amazon]
Whether or not you’re spending most of your time at home these days, it’s still important to keep your house, apartment, or condo secure. Most entry doors have deadbolt locks on them, and while they are an important safety device, it’s also a minor hassle to dig through your pocket or set of keys when you have to lock or unlock one. August’s Wi-Fi Smart Lock aims to make that whole process even easier. It can be installed on top of any single cylinder deadbolt lock and uses your smartphone or smartwatch to function. Not only will the door unlock when you approach it, but this device also provides remote access when guests or family members are locked out and you’re away from home. There’s an auto-lock function that activates after 30 minutes, and it tracks the status of your door so you know when people are coming and going. If you’re concerned about thieves hacking your smart lock, there are multiple encryption elements and multi-factor authentication included. And if your phone is lost or stolen, you can easily deactivate the smart lock so nobody else can get access. As an added bonus, you can also connect your smart lock to your home voice assistant (Alexa, Siri, Google, etc.) and ask about your door status or command it to lock/unlock from your couch.
LARQ Self-Cleaning Water Bottle [$95-$118 on Amazon]
Are you drinking enough water? Your doctor probably doesn’t think so. It helps if you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day as a reminder to stay hydrated. Disposable plastic bottles may be convenient to use, but they’re not the most environmentally friendly option and can get expensive when you drink a lot of water every day. A reusable water bottle is a far better option, but then there’s the hassle of having to frequently clean it. LARQ’s self-cleaning water bottle simplifies everything. Similar to the PhoneSoap 3, it uses UV-C LED technology to eliminate 99.99% of bacteria and germs that may accumulate inside of your water bottle. You can activate it with the touch of a button, but it also automatically activates every two hours to ensure everything stays clean. It’s vacuum insulated to keep beverages either cool or hot for up to 12 hours, and holds a charge for up to a month. There are few things that make it easier to stay hydrated.
Eero Mesh Smart Router [$175 on Amazon]
If you’re stuck working from home every day, you’ve probably learned about the importance of having a strong and fast Wi-Fi setup. Video conference calls can get pretty frustrating when your signal is weak and you’re stuck with choppy audio and video. Even the strongest wireless setups can end up a bit strained if your kids are eating up bandwidth watching TV on a streaming service while you’re trying to get things done in your home office. Eero’s Mesh Smart Router is a Wi-Fi system that comes with three pods that can be placed at different spots in your house to ensure a strong wireless signal in those areas. It works with any ISP and connects to your digital assistant (Alexa, Google, etc.) so you can manage or change network settings with simple voice commands. If you’re having bandwidth issues, the system can re-route traffic to the area or device that needs it most. For example, if you want to disconnect all smartphones on the network to improve the signal on your laptop, it’s easy to do. These routers also automatically update with bug fixes and security patches to help keep your network safe.
Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light [$170 at Amazon]
If you’ve been struggling with a good night’s sleep for much of this year because of everything going on in the world, there’s a good chance that tiredness is affecting your mood and productivity on a daily basis. There are a number of products and over the counter medicines available to help you get a restful and deep sleep, and the Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is one of the few that uses technology to ease you into and out of slumber. The first thing it does is measure the temperature, noise, light, and humidity levels in your bedroom and recommends adjustments you can make to help you fall asleep faster. You can connect the device to a smartphone app that allows you to set alarms with up to 20 different sounds, lights, and intensity levels. It has the capability to simulate sunrise and sunset, mixed with ambient noises such as rain or ocean waves. There are light-guided breathing exercises that can help calm your mind and relax you for sleep, along with a soft light function in case you wake up in the middle of the night so you can see some of the room around you without jarring the senses. Of course it also has the traditional alarm clock functions (with snooze), for those that enjoy loud buzzers or listening to the radio first thing in the morning. This device is essentially a next generation alarm clock, so if you’re adamant about improving the quality of your sleep, this might be worth checking out.
Awair Element [$148 on Amazon]
Indoor air quality has become exceptionally important in 2020, as many retail, restaurant, and entertainment businesses have invested in high quality air filters and purifiers to help keep an airborne illness from spreading to customers. Of course air quality affects more than just the spread of viruses. It can impact your productivity, sleep quality, immune system strength, and general concentration. That’s not even taking into account those with asthma and other breathing challenges. While the Awair Element can’t actively change the air quality at your home or office, it will provide important information about how your indoor activities are impacting your air quality and the way you feel. It tracks five key elements: temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (found in things like building materials and cleaning products), and PM2.5 (microscopic particulates from vehicle exhaust, wildfires, cooking, etc.). You’ll be able to see how your actions impact the health of your space and receive tips on ways to improve indoor air quality. The device can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and even send notifications when your air quality reaches unsafe levels.
Happy Holidays from your friends at Sentinel! Wishing you a safe and healthy rest of 2020!
Sentinel Is Grateful For 2020
Thanksgiving is traditionally the time of year to take stock of the past and place special emphasis on the many great things that have happened in your life. It’s something that’s particularly important in 2020, when a pandemic rapidly spread across the globe resulting in challenges from both a health and economic perspective. Many have considered this year to be a nightmare so far, and it’s understandable if you simply want to wipe the slate clean and forget everything that has happened. Another way to look at it is that all of the darkness made it that much easier to see the bright spots in our lives. We may have gained a new appreciation and respect for family, friends, and our communities. Things like eating at restaurants and going on vacations to other countries may have felt trivial at the time, but upon further reflection were deep sources of joy and excitement in our lives.
Instead of constantly thinking about everything we’ve lost in 2020, let’s spend this Thanksgiving expressing gratitude for everything we still have, along with hope for a better future ahead. For example, if you’re reading this, it means you’re still alive! It also means you have an internet connection and the ability to read. Your health is also exceptionally important, and you should consider yourself lucky if you’ve managed to avoid any serious illnesses so far this year. If you have children it may have become a bit frustrating if schools in your area have remained closed, but hopefully this has also been a great opportunity to get in some genuine, quality family time. The same goes for those maintaining a job, particularly if you can work remotely. Above all else, please remember that you’re doing your best given the circumstances, and there’s so much to look forward to in the coming months.
At Sentinel, we remain grateful for so much, including our customers, our partners, and our employees. Our mission is to help ensure your organization has all of the technology required to stay connected, secure, and fully operational in both good and bad times. We’re here to serve you in any way possible, so let us know what we can do to make your day-to-day easier. As part of our Thanksgiving tradition, we asked some of our employees to share some of the things they’re most grateful for in 2020. Here are a few of our favorites. You can see more on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Let us know what you’re #GratefulFor on our social media channels!
Small Business Tips For Staying Secure While Working From Home
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, back in March most organizations were forced to quickly adapt to conducting their business and working with others in a remote capacity. While a majority of large enterprise organizations were reasonably well equipped to handle such a sudden shift, some rushed to expand their networks and capabilities to meet the demands of employees. This often meant making compromises for the sake of expediency, and setting themselves up for a number of challenges months later.
Small businesses faced even greater difficulties, as some didn’t have the tools and bandwidth readily available for such an emergency, nor did they have enough flexible capital to buy it in a timely fashion. Yet several months later, everyone continues to try their best, and has (for the most part) adjusted to the day-to-day new normal of working from home. The problem is that while organizations of all types have been busy fundamentally changing how they operate, cyber criminals have been busier than ever attempting to breach weakened defenses and take advantage of new security gaps accidentally created during the shift to remote work.
There was a 33% increase in malware attacks during the first few months of 2020, and that percentage has only gotten higher since then. Late spring and early summer saw a 600% increase in phishing attempts, while there’s also been a 630% increase in threats targeting cloud services. These numbers are worrisome, and a big reason why IT administrators and security professionals need to redouble their protection efforts.
Given that a security breach almost always results in lost/stolen data, disruption of business, heavy financial costs, and damage to your reputation, it remains essential to keep your network, systems and employees safe. This is especially true for small businesses. So here are a few relatively easy and somewhat inexpensive ways to help strengthen the security of small businesses throughout these uncertain times as everyone continues to work from home.
Use a VPN
Establishing your own Virtual Private Network (VPN) enables users to securely connect with the network, servers, and cloud services back at the office. This creates an added layer of protection for your endpoints, particularly in situations where employees are using personal devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) to conduct company business while at home. A VPN also makes it that much easier to access critical files and applications, share documents, and collaborate with co-workers.
Change Cloud Passwords Regularly
As mentioned earlier, there has been a 630% increase in attacks on cloud services over the last few months, and that’s largely because so many organizations rely on the cloud to store critical data and applications. While most cloud providers have their own security that is generally strong, attackers have found the most success breaching with a stolen or hacked user password. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s important to require users to change their passwords on a relatively frequent basis. Even more important is imposing strict guidelines to ensure strong passwords. This includes a combination of upper and lower case letters, along with numbers and symbols. Also make sure all passwords are 14 characters at a minimum. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack, and the less frequently you’ll need to change it.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication
In addition to a strong and regularly changed password, enabling multi-factor authentication into your security infrastructure makes it that much harder for cyber criminals to breach your remote environments. When attempting to access a VPN, cloud, or application, users will first be asked to enter their password, and then be required to do one of the following:
+ Approve a push notification to their personal device (smartphone, etc.)
+ Enter a limited time code via a token or smartcard they are carrying
+ Submit some type of biometric identification (fingerprint, retina scan)
This ensures that even if a password has been stolen or hacked, an attacker will not be able to gain access to sensitive areas or materials without additional approval methods. Many multi-factor authentication solutions are easy to use and relatively inexpensive for those operating with a very limited budget.
Keep Your Security Up To Date
While rushing to get every employee set up with all of the essential equipment and applications required to work from home, a few things might have fallen through the cracks. One of them could be regular updates to your security solutions. If you miss an update, you could also be missing bug and security flaw fixes that cyber criminals could use to their advantage. Staying on top of those things pays dividends in the long run, and will continue to ensure your critical assets have optimal protection for the future.
Secure All Devices and Endpoints
Yes, a VPN will give your users an extra layer of protection when they access the company network, servers, and cloud services, but there are still other back door entrances attackers can use to try and breach your systems. If remote employees are using personal devices for company business, that doesn’t prevent a malware intrusion or phishing attempt from finding its way onto that device and exploiting it to gain entry to your network. The employee may visit a malicious site by accident during their off-work hours and might not even realize it, leading to problems when they log in to work at home the next day. In lieu of providing every user with a designated work laptop and/or phone that has a whole host of security features already installed, you should require all employees to download and install strong security solutions on any personal devices that will be used to access corporate assets. This will harden your overall security posture and significantly reduce the risk of a breach through an unprotected endpoint.
These are five relatively easy and inexpensive ways to help keep your organization secure while everyone continues to work from home. Even small businesses should be able to adopt them without much difficulty. If you need to set up a VPN, deploy multi-factor authentication, and/or find security solutions for your remote workforce, please don’t hesitate to contact Sentinel for more information. Our experts can provide guidance, and we even offer workshops to help uncover any weaknesses or gaps in your remote security infrastructure.
The Demon of Disaster - A Halloween Tale of Terror
It’s Halloween week again, which is traditionally the time of year when we lean into everything scary and terrifying. Of course in 2020, it’s basically been ten full months of scary and terrifying moments. While the horrors of Halloween may ultimately pale in comparison to the horrors of day-to-day life, at least this holiday at least allows us to have a little fun with the things that give us nightmares. That said, Sentinel is pleased to share yet another spooky installment of our yearly traditional tales of technology terror, where the worst fears of IT administrators come to life! Take a quick moment to turn out the lights and grab a snack to anxiously munch on, because this one will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Drew was the IT Director at an insurance company. His primary responsibilities included making sure the organization’s technology environment remained fully operational and user friendly. If employees had trouble accessing their systems or forgot their passwords, he would step in and help them out. As the company wasn’t particularly large and only had a couple hundred staff spread across three floors of a large office building, they felt an IT department comprised of two people was enough to keep things running smoothly. While Drew and his fellow team member did their best to maintain the systems, network, and applications, they frequently found themselves in high demand and sometimes struggled to find the time for regular updates or lower priority tasks.
One of the best parts about working for an insurance company is that they’re prepared to handle just about any situation. They’ve seen it all, and know how to manage risk. So when some faulty wiring started a massive fire that destroyed their office building, nobody was too worried. Everyone had gotten out safely, and all the furniture and equipment could easily be replaced thanks to a settlement check. As they began the search for a new permanent home, the bosses wanted to get all the employees back to work as soon as possible. They quickly rented a temporary office space, and asked Drew to restore the IT infrastructure so agents and other staff could access essential programs and client information.
Drew cracked open the company’s disaster recovery plan and soon realized something was wrong. There were references to systems and applications that had been phased out of the environment a while back. Certain employees listed as part of the disaster recovery team no longer worked at the company. It dawned on him that the plan itself hadn’t been updated in nearly two years, one of the “lower priority” tasks that kept getting pushed aside while tending to maintenance requests and password resets.
The dread slowly creeping in, Drew broke out in a cold sweat as he feared he would have to orchestrate a full disaster recovery without an accurate or up-to-date plan to guide him along the way. The first step was to check the backups and start working to restore the organization’s most essential systems and applications. This tragedy became a nightmare upon the discovery that all backups had been set at one week intervals, a recent move made by the other member of his team in an effort to free up more storage space. Drew recalled approving the decision as a temporary measure while they were waiting to secure funding to purchase additional storage. The most recent backup available was six days ago. Key data, including hundreds of contracts and claims, were either partly or completely lost.
Then there was the matter of the client database. While the application the company used to manage all of their client accounts could be easily restored through the cloud, all of the names, addresses, and other pieces of personal information were stored on a separate server that proved to be exceptionally difficult to restore and reconnect with the app. As a result, agents and other employees were unable to access client details for nearly a week. That entire time, claims went unprocessed and dozens of customers called in to express anger and frustration. Some even decided to drop the insurance company and their business elsewhere.
Needless to say, the bosses were furious as well. It’s one thing to have a major accident that takes the company offline for a couple of days. It’s another to exponentially worsen the situation with additional delays and only a partial recovery. Not only did they lose time, money, and productivity, but it permanently damaged their reputation as an insurance agency able to help clients bounce back from some of the worst moments of their lives. How are they supposed to help others recover when they can’t recover their own business?
While Drew did the best he could to help his company get back to a mostly functional state in the days following the fire, he was fired from his job soon after for failing to have proper backups and an up-to-date disaster recovery plan in place. Even though the trauma has passed, he still wakes up on occasion in the middle of the night, shaking in terror and worried he’s not ready for what comes next.
Don’t be like Drew. Make sure you have strong backups and a disaster recovery plan that’s tested and updated at least once a year. Sentinel offers a number of backup and DR solutions to help ensure your organization can get back to work quickly following all types of incidents. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.
How Sentinel Designed a New Way to Show Employee Appreciation
By Kelly Duff, Sentinel Employee Experience Manager
If there has ever been a year for Sentinel to show its employees just how much they’re appreciated, it’s 2020.
Over the past several years, September has served as a time to celebrate the myriad of ways employees contribute to Sentinel. Wellness fairs, BBQs, happy hours, and baseball games were just a few of the events held at our offices over the course of Employee Appreciation month. They enabled everyone to spend some quality time and have fun with their co-workers outside of standard day-to-day business.
Sadly, COVID-19 impacted our ability to host those traditional events this year. But since we’re always evolving at Sentinel, we decided to get creative and take our efforts virtual for 2020.
We partnered with the American Cancer Society to hold a three-part virtual wellness fair that focused on colorectal cancer, vaping, and sun safety. After the sessions, employees had the opportunity to fill out a survey for a chance to win a $50 gift card.
As part of our fundraising efforts, employees had a great time “competing” in a silent auction for prizes that included laptops, an assortment of Sentinel swag, spa gifts, a Fire TV cube, along with movie and game night themed baskets. We gave out a discount to our online company store in exchange for charity donations, providing employees with added incentives to purchase some highly coveted Sentinel-branded merchandise.
Our fundraiser resulted in a $21,000 donation to the American Cancer Society, which doubled last year’s amount.
We also assembled a care package for every employee that included a custom Sentinel mask, water bottle, and tote as a thank you for all their hard work over the past year – particularly during this challenging time.
Lastly, we launched a new recognition platform where employees can actively show their appreciation for one another. This system will enable employees to qualify for company-sponsored quarterly and annual awards, such as “Innovator of the Year” and “Sentinel Superstar”.
We are so grateful for our team here at Sentinel. While we couldn’t all get together to celebrate Employee Appreciation month in person this year, it was still great to be able to celebrate virtually as one team. Sentinel is always looking for talented people who are passionate about technology. If you’d like to join our team, make sure to check out our job openings!
Sentinel Migrates a Community Bank to Unified Communications and Omnichannel Contact Center
A medium-sized suburban community bank was evolving its digital bank presence to maintain parity with the large commercial banks. It is essential that community banks evolve to meet customer needs by providing resources such as online banking, mobile applications, and digital customer service while continuing to deliver personalized services the customer expects from its community bank. They were experiencing growth due to customer dissatisfaction with the impersonal service offered by the large commercial banks in the area.
Sometimes the use of technology depersonalizes the customer experience. However, today’s tech-savvy customers want to choose the time and medium to collaborate with their banking partner, just as others continue to enjoy old-fashioned human interaction.
Sentinel provided the community bank with transformational services and a Cisco-powered collaboration solution that met the business goals of embracing modern tools that enhanced the bank’s personalized service. This enabled them to maintain customer interactions with the bank through good old human conversation, while also delivering digital customer services the tech-savvy customer demands. The solution included the use of the Cisco Unified Communication Platform, Omnichannel Contact Center through Cisco Contact Center Express, and WebEx Cloud Services. The solution enables the community bank to achieve technology parity with the mega banks while providing the personalized customer experience many of their account holders demand.
The bank was trying to enhance the customer service experience for its account holders by adding digital media channels to their customer services organization. They started by accepting emails to customer service agents, who were also handling inbound voice calls. Their unified communications platform was unable to handle omnichannel interactions, so emails would often go unanswered or receive a slow response. There was no accountability and insights into measurable performance indicators. Customer interactions (voice & email) were not evenly distributed across available agents, nor were their performances held accountable, rewarded, or coached up. Furthermore, it was nearly impossible to escalate situations to appropriate subject matter experts as the agents were unsure of the status and availability of those experts.
The decision to introduce web chat to their online banking portfolio forced customer service agents to juggle three completely separate communication channels at once. The bank also had no way to measure the overall performance of the customer service center, so they were unaware of how the customer experience improved or declined with the addition of these new features. Their unified communications platform was more than eight years old and would require expensive upgrades and enhancements to properly deliver a modern customer experience with collaboration tools.
The bank decided it was time to pursue an omnichannel customer service solution that would provide support to its agents and supervisors for voice, email, and web chat. The solution needed to manage the distribution of media channels to the best available agent. The solution also need to provide traceability, accountability, and performance management. Most importantly, the solution needed to provide the tools to evaluate and coach their agents so they can maintain and enhance the personalized service that community banks use to attract customers.
Improving collaboration with the bank and its customers was also a major goal. Part of that involved enhancing the ability of agents to escalate a case to a subject matter expert (SME). The bank was not using a unified communications platform that could provide presence, instant messaging, collaboration workspaces, and screen sharing. While video collaboration was not an immediate need, the bank still planned to deploy video teller machines to enhance its service reach and hours. All these solutions needed to be integrated into the customer support center.
The bank operated approximately 40 branches, mostly in a suburban environment where its customers and employees were based. Their old system supported these locations by providing VoIP services and phones. As the workforce became increasingly mobile, the solution needed to accommodate work from home employees and agents, transient workers, and disaster recovery options. The older system could not meet those needs.
The bank released an RFP soliciting proposals from on premise and cloud providers for an omnichannel customer support solution that included the following key features:
Cisco engaged Sentinel Technologies to respond to the bank’s RFP because of its extensive expertise in Unified Collaboration and Customer Service Centers. The Sentinel team collaborated with the bank on its requirements and outlined possible solutions. Sentinel quickly determined that replacing the “contact center only” solution was problematic due to the following issues:
+It created solution islands. The goal of collaboration between the contact center, SME, and customer would be compromised due to the integration issues between legacy equipment and the new solution.
+Implementation of the base unified communication platform features along with the customer contact center solution drove the price per unit too high. The solution had a high per-agent cost, which was not competitive with cloud solutions.
+The customer was not fully sold on pure cloud services for its banking operations.
+There were feature discrepancies between cloud and on premise solutions.
Sentinel provided the bank with an alternative proposal for the total replacement of their legacy unified communications system with Cisco Unified Communication Platform, Cisco Contact Center Express, Calabrio ONE, and WebEx Cloud Services. The proposed solution, when incorporating the customer service center and corporate users at over 40 branches, exceeded their initial requirements with a price per a unit lower than the cloud providers over a five year total cost of ownership. The solution consisted of the following elements:
+Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan – The solution included a five year enterprise agreement for on premises calling and Cisco Contact Center Premium Agents.
+Cisco Business Edition 6000 High and Medium Density Servers – VMware hosts for supporting all the unified communication and contact center virtual machines
+Cisco Unified Communication Applications
+Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) – Call Control, Registration and Management (Voice and Video)
+Unity Connection – Voicemail (Voice and Video)
+Instant Messaging and Presence
+Cisco Emergency Responder
+Virtual Cisco Unified Border Element – SIP Carrier Services
+Cisco Expressway – Mobile Remote Access, B2B Video, IM Federation
+Cisco Jabber – Desktop and Mobile App
+Cisco Contact Center Express – Inbound, Outbound, Email and Web Chat Channels
+Cisco IP Phones
+WebEx Cloud Services
+Hybrid Services with on premise solution
Sentinel provided professional services for the conversion and transformation of the bank to a modern collaboration platform. These services included the following:
+Program Management – Sentinel professional project managers helped the organization to manage various aspects of the project including delivery of product, carrier management, coordination of resources for the customer, Sentinel, and vendor, as well as project tracking.
+Design Services – Sentinel architects and engineers designed the base infrastructure and call flows for each location to migrate to the new platform while providing interoperability and dial plan consistency with the legacy system. This service was a collaboration with the bank.
+Implementation Service – Sentinel provided engineers and analysts to build the solution and migrate from the legacy system to the new platform. This included the integration with Webex cloud services. Our analysts worked with the individual and/or department stakeholders to develop call flows, phone cut sheets, and personalized settings.
+Training – Sentinel used its professional trainers (not engineers) to educate and increase the productivity of end users. We offered training for all the features of the solution to support basic users, agents, and supervisors.
+Developers – Sentinel utilized its professional software developers, who are specialists in UC and the contact center application UCCX, to develop many functionalities such as IVR scripts, Finesse customizations, email integration, web chat, and bots.
The bank was looking to enhance its digital presence and customer experience for its account holders. This objective was to stay current with the latest digital communication features offered by the mega banks while keeping true to their core principals of personalized caring customer service. Sentinel became a true solution provider for the bank by taking the time to understand their core business goals, current problems, and future vision. By listening to the customer and understanding their vision, Sentinel was able to develop a solution that was price conscious, customized to their needs, future-proof, and delivered on time.
Sentinel stands alone in the industry with the years and depth of Cisco collaboration resources available to our customers. Sentinel has been awarded regional and worldwide recognition by Cisco for our excellence and expertise as a vendor and comprehensive services provider. If you are interested in learning more about Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions, please contact us for additional information.
Sentinel Helps A Resort Group Manage Their Costs With Cisco Webex Calling
Sentinel worked with a resort management company to replace their Cisco Unified Management system with a cloud-based platform to improve capabilities and lower costs. The project migrated the phones from a Cisco Unified Communication Manager to Cisco WebEx calling for their employees.
The Cisco on premise system had unreliable PRIs (primary rate interfaces), so those services were moved to WebEx Teams in order to allow the customer to move from PRI to SIP (session initiation protocol) through these services.
The customer had a Cisco on premise system that was unable to provide the flexibility needed to maintain the independence of each resort. The customer also wanted to manage multiple resorts via a single site while maintaining their investment in Cisco phones. Beyond that, the customer desired a single source for troubleshooting each resort location instead of dealing with a separate interface per site. Since the sites are paid for per location, WebEx Calling allowed for a fixed monthly cost without the overhead of upgrading to security and feature additions for on premise environments.
As the company moved forward, they aimed to develop an agile system that supported both their current and future needs, whatever they might be. They were interested in improving the accessibility and management of their current environment while making it easier to add new users to any location from a single interface.
Sentinel’s solution was a full Cisco WebEx Cloud PBX deployment for each location. WebEx calling is a complete enterprise-grade calling and team collaboration solution offered through a flexible subscription model.
+ Investment protection: Almost all companies have invested in some kind of on premise solution, and most are not ready to retire their existing platforms yet. Finding a way to gracefully migrate from the old to the new while maintaining the investment is important to most CIOs.
+ Innovation without chaos: Shifting from an older legacy platform to a new cloud service brings many new capabilities, but can also create a headache for IT management. It is essential to try and keep policies and features consistent between the old and new systems.
+ Workforce disruption: To properly compete in the digital era it is important to transform the way people work. However new tools and capabilities can be disruptive, as users are forced to change the way they work. It’s critical that any tools brought in have a minimal impact on the workforce.
+ Complexity of existing collaboration tools: Most businesses have multiple collaboration tools to provide calling, meetings, video, team messaging and other functions. Trying to tie all of these systems together at a management layer is difficult, if not impossible—particularly if they come from different vendors. Sentinel works with our customers to simplify collaboration and make it easier to manage the tools within their environment.
The Sentinel team deployed the new solution, which enabled the customer to be more agile and support its resorts with the most efficient information. It also resulted in a streamlined support structure for their solutions.
About Sentinel Collaboration
Sentinel’s Collaboration offerings are designed to handle today’s complex business and IT landscape, closely engaging with your organization to develop and implement a comprehensive voice strategy suited to your company’s unique needs. Our collaborations portfolio includes:
+ Unified Communications
+ Unified Contact Center
+ Mobility Solutions
+ Conferencing Solutions
+ Video Collaboration
+ Managed Services 24x7x365 Monitoring
+ Application Security
+ Identity Access & Endpoint Security
+ Network & Perimeter Security
+ Physical Security
If you are interested in learning more about Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions, please contact Sentinel for additional information.