When Mark Kellogg was hired by Wright County as an
Information Technology (IT) Technical Services Manager in July, 2019, one of
his first assignments was to assist a county department in equipping its
employees with the ability to work remotely outside of the office.
What he quickly discovered was that the county was
using a teleworking software system that wasn’t a good fit. He made the case to
use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) system because the current system wasn’t
effective – either in application or cost.
“When I first started with the county nine months ago,
there were some initiatives that were wanted by Health & Human Services,”
Kellogg said. “They were wanting to utilize teleworkers – people who work from
home. When I looked at the current infrastructure we had, it was a remote
access software that was fairly cumbersome and very expensive. From my
experiences with other organizations, VPN was the clear-cut answer for having
people work remotely and securely.”
That decision made last summer turned out to be critical
to Wright County being able to function during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Kellogg worked with Cisco to get the system up and running by the end of 2019.
He was testing the system for potential glitches before he rolled out the program
for HHS as the COVID-19 storm clouds began to gather.
When COVID-19 struck, the timetable went from “soon”
to “immediately”. Had the pandemic hit months earlier, it might have been a
different scenario that played out, but VPN was waiting and ready to be
deployed when the order came to send many employees home.
“We were actually in a fairly good position,” Kellogg
said. “Internally, we were very confident that this would be a good solution
for us. Many other organizations have used this successfully, but we didn’t
know what some of the potential hang-ups were going to be – what pieces might
not work. There was a little bit of panic to try to make sure we were
delivering VPN for all county staff, not just HHS. There was a planned rollout
with HHS being first and determining which department would be next. COVID-19
ended all that. It became something we had to roll out in a hurry. Where we were
at, the timing couldn’t have been better because we had the system ready to go.”
When the decision was made that Wright County was
going to be requiring many employees to work from home, all IT staff
coordinated their efforts to enabling computers and work phones to the Cisco
VPN system. Within a matter of days, more than 300 employees had their
computers hooked into VPN, making it possible to work remotely when and if the
order came to send non-essential workers home.
Switching over to VPN turned out to be the right solution
in more ways than one. Had the IT Department not been given approval when
Kellogg suggested switching to VPN, under the old access system the county was using,
there would have been only 50 licenses for teleworking software and there would
not have been the ability to accommodate the number of employees that needed
access. It would have required many more employees to stay in their offices to accomplish
their work and increase the potential for community spread of the virus.
“Had that system remained intact, we would have been
in world of hurt I would think,” Kellogg said. “This took a group effort to get
the hardware and the software up and running and get it installed. I was the
person who had the idea to get the piece in place, but there were a ton of
people that helped from the beginning. When it was all hands on deck, just
about everybody in IT was working hard to get everybody up and running.”
There were some concerns about how so many employees
working off-site would work. But, Kellogg said his experience with VPN over the
years made him confident that it would be successful, even if there might be a
glitch or two remaining in the system – it turned out there wasn’t.
“Internally, I knew this was going to work,” Kellogg
said. “This technology has been around for 20 years and has been used by a lot
of organizations. I was very confident that this was the right decision to move
As COVID-19 continues to dominate our daily lives and
change it in significant and dramatic ways, Wright County is able to function
at full production thanks in part to a new employee who had an idea last
summer. Back then, it couldn’t have been predicted that the world would change
so profoundly, but Kellogg credits the work of many people with a common goal
to make the VPN option work for Wright County.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted three or
four months ago that we would be in the position we are now with COVID-19 and
how it has impacted so many people,” Kellogg said. “We were fortunate that we
had VPN in place when we did and I think the staff in IT did an outstanding job
of rolling it out and making it possible for Wright County to continue
functioning as we have through this unprecedented event.”