Tools for the crisis

Date of publication

The necessary digital transformation for companies is old hat? All the more astonishing, then, that we keep hearing from conversations with customers, partners and friends that many are unprepared for the sudden conversion of company processes to "digital" (meaning home office). But hurry up now.

Have trust & align workflows

Unproductive work also exists in the workplace. Now is the time to take a big leap of faith in your own employees. Working from home is not yet a matter of course for many. Starting with the "workplace" and the presence of the family. And dust should also be wiped off once in a while. Establish stability and exchange best practices together as a team. Often a sign on the closed door to the study with the words "Mum is at work. Be back for lunch." Then take a break and resume work later.

Be prepared for time-delayed work. Formulate task packages in such a way that there are no time-critical queries. They may come much later, when you have already decided to go home.

Here are a few more sources for remote work. The internet is full of them :)

Free offers from commercial providers

When things need to move quickly, people are increasingly turning to offers from large and small software providers who offer their products as software in the cloud. Before you start, read through which data protection conditions the providers make the basis of the contract. Not all providers can be used for sensitive information. Make sure that you conclude an AVV (order processing agreement) with the chosen providers.

Ask yourself with what intention the offer is currently free. The most common case is new customer acquisition. Quasi an extended test period in the guise of a benefactor. Hand on heart. Once you and your staff have learned to use the software, it is no longer easy to switch. And in many cases, data transferred to the system is no longer portable at a later date (vendor lockin).

Recommendation: At the beginning, take a look at the costs you will incur when the "test period" is over. This can quickly become quite expensive.

Free and open source software

The good news is that there is comparable FOSS (free and open source software) for all offers of the large and small software providers. You can install this software or have it installed in the data centre you trust and can be sure that content communicated there remains internal to the company. The typical OSS licence does not provide for any usage-dependent costs. No matter how much data. No matter how many users. Deciding on the right hardware requirements is more difficult. Here you have to estimate how many users will handle how much data. An appropriately sized backup solution must also be provided. If you cannot make this estimate yourself, ask your trusted service provider.

You will notice: think about it for a moment longer vs. get started quickly. In the end, it's about your attitude to information security and the impact assessment when currently free offers suddenly become chargeable.

Recommendation: Start with the classic MVP approach (minimun viable product) and gain experience. This is usually the right mixture of thinking and being fast.

Tools categories

Putting together the right toolset is not easy. There is a lot of functional overlap between different tools and you will only realise what is good and what is bad about a tool after some time. If quick decisions were not necessary now, my recommendation would be:

  • Formulate requirements
  • Evaluate the different offers along the requirements
  • Test your software candidates with selected colleagues for a few days
  • Decide on a provider/software and make sure that you can also move your data to other tools at a later date

If you use several tools that promise the same functionality, agree in the team which function is mandatory in which tool.

The classic e-mail

You can certainly send and receive mails. E-mail is still a good choice for communication for many purposes. Don't misuse e-mail for exchanging data. That has never worked before and it still doesn't work today. The fine art, of course, is encrypting e-mails. Just give GnuPG a chance again. It's not that difficult.

Enterprise chat

The liquid communication channel for short queries. Chat tools have been around since the early days of the internet. Nowadays, there is a refreshed offer that has been expanded by several functions and can almost always be used via a browser. The commercial providers knit a whole bouquet of other communication tools around the chat and call it Teams, Zoho Bundle Remotely, G-Suite ...

From the area of free and open source software, the following tools should be highlighted:

You can read a short comparison of different FOSS tools here

From the area of commercial providers, we mention the following products here because they are currently being offered free of charge or at significantly reduced prices. The list is more for completeness and should not be understood as a recommendation.

Shared file storage

Meaningful file storage is difficult enough when it happens at the workstation in the office. Concepts for workflows and naming conventions are a dime a dozen. Remotely, it becomes even more difficult. VPN into the company network and then via domain sharing? Works - but is usually slow. Providing file storage in the cloud is the current measure. The commercial dinosaur is Dropbox. But Google has also been offering file storage in the cloud for some time with G-Drive. And the "eierlegende Wollmilchsäue" like Teams, Zoho and Co. have built central storage into their tools.

From the area of free and open source software, the following tools should be highlighted:

Both can be easily installed in a trusted data centre and connected to a central user management system.

Audio / video conference

In almost 80 per cent of all invitations to virtual conferences, we just get the hint that the Zoom app has to be installed. No wonder: the Zoom-Basic product currently includes up to 100 participants and a maximum of 40 minutes per conference for 0 euros. We have a negative attitude towards Zoom because they have not reacted adequately to their own security vulnerability in the past.

We are also no friends of Skype and G Suite - Hangout.

GoToMeeting currently provides Emergency Remote Work Kits to key service providers company-wide for three months at no charge.

UPDATE 07.04.2020:

We have deleted the previous paragraph because we really can't recommend Zoom at the moment. Not even as an alternative. Read the latest developments here, for example. If we show a lot of confidence, we might give Zoom another chance in the distant future. But honestly: the FOSS solutions are already the preferred solution today.

The two top dogs from the FOSS sector are clear:

We have already written about BigBlueButton in recent days, for example here and here.

Collaborative writing

Those were the days when Google entered the internet with Google Docs. In the meantime, Microsoft has also managed to bring its Office 365 to the cloud and enable collaborative writing. If you don't use either, give the following open source software a chance:

  • Etherpad - great for quickly gathering loose ends. Rather not so strong in the area of style sheets :)
  • CodiMD - write Markdown together. It has replaced Etherpad for us.
  • ONLYOFFICE - in conjunction with Nextcloud, a fantastic piece of software.
  • Collabora Office - in conjunction with Nextcloud, an alternative to ONLYOFFICE.

You can read a short comparison of the aforementioned FOSS tools here.

Other worthwhile tools

You want to exchange passwords with colleagues and cannot send encrypted emails? Then Privatebin can become the tool you trust. I have already briefly introduced Privatebin here. We run our own instance at https://einmal.safeserver.de/, which you are welcome to use until you have set up your own instance.

Digital transformation in 1/2 day? No. That doesn't work with Cloudron either. But in 1/2 day, the tools that help you with your digital transformation are identified from over 70. And since you're running it yourself, you'll reclaim your digital sovereignty at the same time. You will also find some of the tools mentioned above in the Cloudron catalogue.

Support

If you need speed and want to make your company fit for the crisis, feel free to call us. We look forward to your questions: +49 - 30 - 280 400.

 

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DeepL is a deep learning company that develops AI systems for languages. The company, based in Cologne, Germany, was founded in 2009 as Linguee, and introduced the first internet search engine for translations. Linguee has answered over 10 billion queries from more than 1 billion users.

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Stephan Luckow

Stephan is an open source evangelist and constantly curious about technologies. Thematically, his blog posts can best be summarised as "curiosity satisfied".