Tech managers at Edgewater started asking questions a long time ago. Employees of the Wakefield, Mass.-based IT consultancy have a history of enduring tough conditions on the road. In the mid-1990s, for example, some Edgewater workers were in Sri Lanka when the country was in the midst of a brutal civil war.
Telephone wires there were often stolen for their copper, and other key components of the telecommunications infrastructure often had been blown up or were just plain nonexistent in rough jungle terrain. So the company outfitted its employees with cellphones, a technology that was just beginning to gain wide use.
The firm continues to send people all over the world -- to remote areas of the United States and parts of Africa, Europe and Asia, says Dave Clancey, the company's CTO.
Clancey says Edgewater, with its global reach, has always recognized the need to deliver reliable tools to its traveling workforce -- to keep people connected so they can do their jobs, but also to keep them in touch with support personnel back at the U.S. offices.
And that can be a moving target, since mobile technology changes almost as fast as the geological, meteorological and political conditions worldwide. "You have to stay on top of it, stay up to date," he says. "The last thing you want is people not being able to contact you or you not being able to contact them."
Of VPNs and VoIP
As the world becomes more connected, it might be hard to imagine not being able to contact others no matter where you happen to be, but the reality is there are still large swaths of the globe where avenues of communication are limited -- where clouds are just clouds, Wi-Fi isn't available, even for a fee, and access to basic voice and data lines is a luxury.
Moreover, recent events have shown that, even in developed regions, seemingly robust communications and technology infrastructures can be incapacitated in the wake of natural disasters and political upheaval.
As the former director of IT at Boston-based Vantage Deluxe World Travel, Peter Groustra knows what it takes to equip workers to handle unexpected situations.
To support Vantage's employees, whose jobs include leading overseas tours in places like Egypt, Groustra deployed a Cisco Unified Communications platform, a VoIP system and a virtual private network (VPN) that allows workers to use their laptops to place secure calls into the main office using the same number from any Internet connection -- either hardwired or wireless -- regardless of their location. He says workers use their smartphones, too -- the travel company generally signs up for service with local providers in the regions where it offers tours.