Project Summary and Client Background
The Emerald Coast Regional Council (ECRC) is a multi-purpose entity recognized by the state of Florida. The ECRC supports northwest Florida by planning for and coordinating intergovernmental solutions for growth-related problems, providing technical assistance to local governments, and meeting the needs of the municipalities in a seven-county region: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Washington, and Holmes. The ECRC has locations in Pensacola and Destin, Florida.
Unexpectedly, the full-time IT Engineer employed by ECRC left the company. Unfortunately, the HR and Administrative Manager became the new owner of all technical questions and concerns; this became a constant interruption to her daily operations. ECRC initially wanted to fill the open IT position with a new internal employee, but after speaking with Bit-Wizards, they began to realize their potential need for a Managed IT Services solution.
After the unexpected loss of their full-time IT Engineer, ECRC encountered many IT issues and learned that they needed more help than they initially thought.
The HR and Administrative Manager spent countless hours during the day working with staff to try and troubleshoot their technology problems. She also had to manage the ECRC Microsoft Office 365 licenses and all software associated with day-to-day operations. With her access to Office 365, she also inherited the responsibility of managing OneDrive for Business as well as SharePoint. The SharePoint portal was set up by the former IT Engineer, and unfortunately, none of the ECRC employees were trained to use the tool correctly. ECRC uses SharePoint as an internal intranet as well as a file share. At this point, the staff had many problems with saving and backing-up documents and using the collaboration features available to them in Office 365.
ECRC initially wanted to fill the open IT position with a new hire, but after speaking with Bit-Wizards ECRC began to realize their need for Managed IT Services instead of an internal IT hire.
During the initial consultation with the ECRC, Bit-Wizards Managed IT Services Solution Consultant, and Director of IT gathered details about the client’s frustration around their lack of control and knowledge of their information systems. Bit-Wizards also learned about their technology goals as well as the current systems and software that were in place but unmanaged. WFRPC’s goal was to find someone to “handle it all” so they could focus on doing their jobs. ECRC’s other goal was to educate their staff about their IT systems while building a working relationship with their IT Engineers.
A project kick-off meeting initiates all onboarding of new clients to the Managed IT Service at Bit-Wizards. During this meeting the Bit-Wizards team walks the customer through the onboarding process, answers questions and gathers contact information for the new client.
Also during the onboarding process, the Bit-Wizards Infrastructure Engineers learned about ECRC’s systems and network environment. They also began to build relationships with the employees of ECRC. Since the goals of ECRC center on both understanding their IT systems and also creating a trusted advisor relationship with their IT partner, the Bit-Wizards team visited the client’s Pensacola office on two occasions during ECRC’s onboarding to facilitate the success of their goals.
These visits provided the opportunity to deliver two Lunch and Learn Training events. During the first visit, the Bit-Wizards team provided insight into how their team members would work with ECRC. They also detailed the technical support that their team would experience and access while working with Bit-Wizards Friendly IT Help Desk. The other training session focused on teaching ECRC about IT best practices and helpful tips regarding the use of Windows 10 Pro in their daily operations.
Server, Network, & Services Management
Working closely with ECRC’s previous managed service provider the Bit-Wizards team transfers documentation and domain knowledge seamlessly into their system, this mitigates the risk of service disruption for ECRC’s employees during the transition. Bit-Wizards seamlessly replaces existing network monitoring tools and anti-virus carefully allowing for zero downtime for the client’s employees. A project management system is also implemented to serve ECRC’s specific project needs.
Next, the Bit-Wizards team deploys a custom comprehensive monitoring solution to all servers and workstations and customizing it for each of ECRC’s physical locations.
Bit-Wizards maintains its hardware on premises for 24/7 continuous monitoring across all ECRC’s logical network. Bit-Wizards use a “headless” mini PC to access the network so that ECRC employees are not disrupted during the workday when troubleshooting or maintenance is necessary.
Bit-Wizards proactively monitors all servers and workstations for ECRC logging system events, hardware failures and unexpected BSOD’s.
The domain for ECRC was originally configured with out-of-the-box settings that were never optimized or set for security. Bit-Wizards implemented best-practices and reconfigured the domain to allow remote access over the VPN. They also organized Active Directory by creating OUs for Servers and Workstations to troubleshoot errors when running remote group policy updates. They created group policy objects to build and enable Windows Firewall rules and created a scheduled task to silently install Ninja via script they also tested script and wrote logs to a hidden file share for troubleshooting if needed.
Bit-Wizards took extra care to map and document all devices on the network and log user events and login information to ensure that all machines are fully managed in their custom monitoring system.
Bit-Wizards worked with ECRC’s operation team to facilitate proper licensing structures for company-owned software, and to establish a security baseline for business continuity and data loss prevention by performing twice-daily backups of all workstations to the cloud and cloud failover solutions for the servers.
Workstations, Cloud Productivity, and Security
Upgrades are made to the ECRC mail and storage solution. Bit-Wizards moved them to Microsoft’s enterprise-grade cloud option and configured Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Azure Active Directory for industry standard security and best practices.
Due to ECRC’s specific security needs, Bit-Wizard’s monitoring tools were deployed using a custom solution to push the agent on the domain controllers without requiring elevated privileges on each workstation.
Because security should be a priority in every organization, Bit-Wizards deployed and configured Microsoft’s Advanced Threat Protection layer of security utilizing machine-learning to mitigate ransomware and malware attacks. Enterprise-grade firewalls are deployed for all ECRC locations using next generation unified threat management. All devices are kept up-to-date through remote cloud management and a custom VPN tunnel. Bit-Wizards smoothly converted all settings and configurations on the existing commercial-grade router with minimal downtime.
Using best practices Bit-Wizards switched DNS server from a former vendor to an DNS account wholly owned by ECRC. They also worked directly with the former vendor to transition and point the domain to the new DNS. Then Bit-Wizards verified the website URLs were intact after the transfer.
Malicious Code Inspection and Resolution
The original outdated analog/digital hybrid PBX phone system set-up in Pensacola was part of a “barely dial-up” internet connection that Cox put in place to allow ECRC to access their equipment and run updates remotely. All phone traffic was routing through that connection. The hardware in place was legacy. First, Bit-Wizards patched the system to maintain network connectivity until a suitable VOIP replacement could be deployed. Then they consulted with the HR and Admin Manager as well as the Executive Director to develop a plan that would meet their phone system objectives. The Bit-Wizards team also assisted in moving the project forward and while offering guidance and support during the installation of the new phone system.
It would cost the ECRC roughly $65,000-$85,000 per year (not including employment benefits) to hire an IT Engineer with the qualifications necessary to effectively manage all their IT systems and meet all their IT needs. This engineer would need to have the combined knowledge of Office 365, network administration, server management, cybersecurity, and the ability to provide timely, friendly customer service to his company. The cost of the Bit-Wizards Managed IT Services (MITS) is a fraction of that. ECRC is saving thousands of dollars, and their team is more productive than ever!