News Flash

Wright County News

Posted on: April 2, 2020

Decision to Switch to VPN Has Helped County Get Through First Wave of COVID-19


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 forward with.” 

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.”

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