Archive for June, 2020

Meraki Announces Virtual Hackathon Winners

In these turbulent times, it has never been more important to help our customers provide simple, secure, and reliable internet access from anywhere. As working conditions have changed for many organizations, new solutions are needed to help our customers adapt and optimize their services. 

This May, Meraki launched a Virtual Hackathon as a forum for partners to proactively address these challenges with custom solutions, enabled by our suite of API services 

In this two-day event, participants reviewed sample use cases in retail and hospitality, smart spaces, healthcare and manufacturing, and IT operations. Participants then submitted an app, API integration, or tool to help address these challenges. We were thrilled to see a variety of creative solutions across these industries and use cases!

This hackathon further demonstrates our platform strategy at Meraki: providing open and extensible API services that enable custom solutions and integrations to be built on top of Meraki technologies. From the developers using these services to build, to the customers adopting open source and turnkey solutions, we are thrilled to see the pace of innovation on the Meraki portfolio! 

The Meraki platform is agile and can be integrated into solutions much quicker and offers better insights than other networking providers in this space. The design and API access is accessible for networking novices, or even non-network people such as software developers.” – Insight                       

We’d like to congratulate the following winners across six unique categories:

Over Hackathon Winner: Quick Pick-up from NTT

This solution enabled contactless order pick up for restaurant patrons. Using the Meraki MV API and Purple Wi-Fi login screen (to capture personal details from drivers), the team built a dashboard that shows snapshots of vehicles in parking spaces and easily allows restaurant admins to assign orders to appropriate drivers. The solution also integrates with Webex Teams to provide notifications when parking spots are occupied, drivers are waiting, and when those spaces are then vacated (order was completed). 

Public Vote Winner: Filter Point from Impact 

In the era of COVID-19, Impact has rolled out more Umbrella+Meraki networks than ever before to keep clients safe while working on their home networks (outside of the office firewall). Their submission to this hackathon was focused on answering the simple question, “Can I push our existing Cisco Meraki configuration (for blacklists, whitelists, filtered categories) to Cisco Umbrella?”

Using the Meraki API and Umbrella API, the team at Impact developed a solution to sync configurations between different Meraki networks in one organization, between different Meraki organizations, and between Meraki and Umbrella organizations. 

Retail/Hospitality: RAPID (Retail Android Pandemic Incident Disrupter) from NTT

COVID-19 has changed the retail space drastically, prompting the need to ensure the safety of employees and customers by tracking occupancy. A second team at NTT built this solution to allow clients to keep an accurate count of people entering and exiting their store/location and feed that information into a web UI. This UI shows the store’s capacity, current count of people, and customers waiting in line for service. 

The solution also ties in with Webex Teams to notify employees as they approach, meet, or exceed capacity. On top of that, the team also developed a feature to allow customers to scan a QR code to put themselves into a queue if they prefer not to wait outside in a line.  

Manufacturing/Healthcare: Citizen Care Pod from Insight

The team at Insight focused on a problem that impacts every industry – how to safely reopen businesses. Their solution addresses what they see as the first step to reopening: providing screening and detection solutions for staff and guests. To meet this need, the team focused on hacking a solution for their Citizen Care Pods, which are portable virus testing centers to aid in detection and screening wherever you have a large group of people (ie: construction sites, retail, or entertainment venues).

The Citizen Care Pod is outfitted with a variety of Cisco Meraki technologies, including MV Cameras for people counting, networking gear to stay connected, and Webex Teams for private conversations about results. All of this technology is tracked through the Insight Connected Platform for easy management of the pod. Through this solution, admins can receive alerts if people are gathering at pod locations and easily communicate with onsite and relevant stakeholders to address the situation. 

Operations: NORRIS from WWT

Malware and ransomware are becoming all too common. Left unchecked, these threats can devastate corporate networks. The team at WWT built this solution to easily integrate Cisco Stealthwatch for Meraki networks. This integration allows admins to identify where clients are, how badly they are infected, and quickly isolate them with Meraki MX or MR firewall rules. This powerful, “single button quarantine” of malicious clients automates the changing of VLANS and firewall rules to isolate infected devices from the rest of the network until a technician can be dispatched to resolve the situation.

Define Your Own Challenge: Automated Network Deployment & Support Healthcare App from CAE Technology Services

Deploying sites rapidly and securely is a challenge for healthcare organizations. To address this, the team at CAE used the Meraki Dashboard API to create a single step deployment tool to set up an entire suite of Meraki solutions.

To kick off a Meraki deployment, the admin simply enters the hospital ID number and serial numbers of the Meraki devices into the app. From there, all of the configuration is completed automatically, including configuration of hostnames, network tags, IP schemas, VLAN assignment, switchport assignment, and more. This will save hours of configuration time and money!

Furthermore, this application integrates into the Webex Teams API to automatically create a new Space for the new Meraki network and adds in the on-demand CAE NOC (Network Operations Centre) support group. This will get new healthcare sites set up, running, and supported quicker than ever.

Congratulations to all of the winners above, and thank you to all participants for being a part of this special event. We were so encouraged by the rapid development, creativity, and positivity shown by all teams throughout this process. We can’t wait to see what our partners and customers come up with next! 

If your team is working on an API-related project that you’d love to share with our team, please reach out to us here!

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Video Exports, Better Together

Unfortunately, bad things happen – whether it’s theft, vandalism, a workplace accident, or something else. In these cases, security cameras can help create a timeline of events and provide evidence. MV smart cameras make it easy to isolate footage and export video, but the more cameras you have and the more video you need to export, the more challenging managing those exports can become. 

All your exports, in one place

 

Previously, a user would need to go to each individual camera to view and manage exported video from that camera. With the new Exports page, MV smart camera customers can see recent exports from all cameras in a network in one centralized place. This means users no longer have to remember if they exported video from Entrance Camera 1 or Entrance Camera 2. Simply navigate to the Exports page to see the status of all recent exports, download video footage, or share download links. 

Video exports table showing all exports from your network

The Exports page on the dashboard shows you all video exports in one place

All your exports, in one file

 

And if, by chance, you exported video from both Entrance Camera 1 and 2, video files can be merged into one using the new combine export tool. This can be very helpful in a retail environment, as you may need to capture footage of a suspect taking merchandise, as well as showing them leaving the store without paying. To combine files, simply select the clips that you would like to combine. The files can be arranged in the desired order, and you can specify a name for the new file. Once completed, the merged file will appear in the Video exports table. A title card will appear before the individual clips — indicating the name of the camera and the date and the time of the video — for seamless playback of the entire event without losing important context. Like all MV export files, it can be easily downloaded to an .MP4 file, or shared via a link. 

Combining exports from multiple cameras into a single file

 

Let us know what you think

 

The new Exports page is available now. For more information on how it works, check out the documentation. Or, head on over to the Meraki Community to join the discussion. We’d love to hear what you think!

Three Tips to Set up Remote Work Teams for Success

Are you managing your team, a contact center, or office clients remotely? You’re not alone. Thousands of IT teams around the world deployed, shipped, and installed networks overnight, enabling hundreds to thousands of remote workers to work from home. Meraki has been working from home since March, including our customer support team. That is three months of 24/7 technical customer service for over 2.6 million active networks, supported completely from the homes of remote work employees. Ben Cho, Manager of the EMEA Support Center, knows how to manage a remote contact center and has talked to many IT teams worldwide in the past weeks. In this post, Ben shares his personal experience and biggest learnings from other companies.

When Ben first heard about the plan for Meraki to move the entire team to remote work in the beginning of March 2020, he didn’t know that three months later, his team would still not be back in the office. Ben manages a team of 75 support engineers at Meraki in London. Worldwide, 450 people work on this team and take care of Meraki 24/7 customer support in San Francisco, London, Sydney, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Different sub-departments correspond with customers via phone or email. The team is supported by a network of operations, internal software teams, and product specialists who work very closely with engineering. On a normal day, customer requests can vary from maintenance questions to project deployments or help with troubleshooting across all Meraki product lines. 

In the early weeks of this year, that ‘normal’ IT world changed within a few days. Companies around the globe shut down on-site operations and services, and apart from essential workers, transitioned their entire workforce to working remotely. Ben’s team experienced a 200-300% increase in support inquiries regarding the Meraki teleworker solution, the Meraki Z3, and security-related questions. Some companies had not used teleworker solutions in such high volumes before and were new to setting up clients for secure networking. Oftentimes, they simply didn’t have a plan for a scenario like this. Many companies needed guidance to set up VPN or client VPN access. 

“Some companies didn’t use VPN or client VPN connections that much in ‘normal times,’ therefore, many companies were not prepared for this scenario, didn’t have much experience with setting up VPNs, or hadn’t used it at all and gave us a call,” observed Ben.

At the same time, questions about optimizing security configurations moved to the top of companies’ priorities, regardless of how big their network was. Most of the cases could be solved in no time, thanks to the Meraki cloud solution, which is designed from the ground up for remote management. However, some long-term projects were paused and parked, as companies and organizations shifted their attention to fixing gaps in their IT infrastructure. 

So, what was the experience of the Meraki support team, delivering customer service from home? When talking to Ben about his team and remote work, he exudes confidence, like a pilot who just navigated his airplane safely through a thunderstorm. Surprisingly, remote work caused no major disruptions to his team. Ben embraced the situation and saw the positive in it:

 

“Not everyone dislikes working from home, especially in IT. I’m an introvert at heart, so when someone tells me to sit behind the computer all day, the first thing I think is: that’s great,” says a smiling Ben.

There’s more to it, of course. The trick is, you need to have a plan, provide the right tools, and make sure everyone is on board. While more and more organizations look into expanding their remote work situation to a permanent policy, it’s important to get it right with a bit more planning time.

 

1. Make a plan

Ben’s team usually provides customer service from our office, in the heart of London. The global pandemic forced the team to work from home, but it’s not the first time: power outages, bush fires, or office building renovation work have required Meraki teams to work from home in the past. Cases like that are pretty rare, but they require disaster recovery plans that enable the team to flow into remote work easily and quickly. Meraki provides 24/7 customer support and needs to guarantee that teams are connected at all times. Our disaster recovery plan covers the most important elements and the steps each team should follow. In the world of technical support, that can start with regulations that require each team member to take their laptop home after work each day. It defines which IT equipment each team member needs in order to do their job properly. It doesn’t matter if your business wants to be prepared for uncertainty or starts to play with the idea of permanent remote work—a good plan is needed. Many companies didn’t have that plan at the start of the pandemic, but can learn from the past few months and get prepared with guidelines that cover many different unforeseeable scenarios.

 

2. The right tools for less disruption and better customer service 

True customer service can be one of the most important experience points customers have with your brand or product, and should, therefore, always be a high priority. Especially in times of uncertainty, customers may need more or different support from a contact center. It is important to ensure your team is sensitive to these realities and equipped with the right tools. It’s best to avoid unnecessary disruption for your team where possible. A poor connection, background noise, or a delayed answer can damage your customer experience. Therefore:

  • The best remote work solution provides an in-office experience: provide noise cancelling earphones and standard IT equipment, like keyboards or another monitor. 
  • Ensure your company has a good VPN infrastructure so your staff can access all company resources or sensitive data securely remotely. That may mean a hardware VPN for certain professionals that requires added security and functional benefits over software VPNs.
  • If the team you manage needs telephony access, consider software-based telephony. “All calls are routed via VPN so you don’t need to worry about ISPs or landlines,” says Ben.
  • In the IT world, many teams work with physical labs so they can simulate their customers’ scenarios in real time. “We made sure to set up our lab to be accessible remotely and equipped our team with test devices to use at home to play around with for different scenarios,” shares Ben. Providing these tools protects you from having to troubleshoot the troubleshooting.
  • Do you have a team that works with company-owned devices? Make sure that hardware is updated and ready to use. Ideally, you use mobile device management software to identify what it’s running or access the device by remote desktop  to troubleshoot remotely.
  • Sometimes troubleshooting goes beyond the access to physical hardware or management tools. Your team may want to reach out to a colleague to get advice or simply get a second opinion on a case. In the office, your subject matter expert or manager may sit just a few steps away. Working remotely, conversations like that still need to be enabled in real-time by chat applications. Don’t forget to train your team on a communication policy and provide collaboration tools that allow them to engage and communicate, even when the customer is on the line.

3. Everybody in

Only happy teams that are fully brought into their team’s vision can function well in unusual work environments. Ben has worked with his team on plans that allow them to swap shifts flexibly when needed. “Sometimes your team needs flexibility. Unexpected issues can come up.” Personal relationships and trust in each other plays a big role. Ben made some changes to accommodate personal challenges for parents or tricky apartment share environments, and staffed around that. The team continues to communicate often to be flexible in emergencies and cover for each other.

All in all, remote work comes with many benefits, including more flexibility and less commute and transport time for employees. At the same time, it allows companies to source from a broader and more diverse workforce, without geographic boundaries.

“This experience has definitely opened my eyes to the viability of a permanent remote workforce; some people do want this as part of their work-life balance,” says Ben.

Having a plan, the right tools, and enabling a motivated team can help you navigate towards a permanent remote work policy. However, it is important to find the right balance and ensure there are still opportunities to maintain team spirit and company culture, especially for people who didn’t have the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues in real life.

 

 

Listen to the complete interview in our Podcast

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Understanding the Evolving Security Threats to a Remote Workforce

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations around the globe rapidly took health and safety precautions by supporting a remote workforce. Over the last several months, the conversation around moving towards a remote workforce more permanently, beyond COVID-19, has been considered by some organizations. Gartner’s recent CFO study revealed that 74% of those surveyed will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19 [1]. While it is imperative to adapt to these current trends of remote work, protecting against cyberattacks is more important than ever. Here are three security trends IT teams should be aware of when it comes to security threats in a remote workforce. 

Connecting the workforce securely

Being able to stay connected at all times from anywhere in the world is a necessity now that organizations operate with and support a remote workforce. Organizations don’t always have a way to gather live reporting on security events or have solutions that can aid in active management and protection of their users, devices, and applications. With the use of a VPN, employees can securely connect to their office’s network regardless of where they’re located. However, VPNs are highly vulnerable to cyber threats. In an evaluation of VPNs, Forbes concluded that “18% of the VPNs tested contained potential malware or viruses, 85% featured excessive permission or functions that could put a user’s privacy at risk, and 25% exposed a user’s traffic to leaks” [2]. It is essential that IT teams have a way to monitor all security events while also having remediation processes in place if a threat does occur. 

 

Protecting against increased security vulnerabilities

With a physically scattered workforce, online attackers have more opportunities to invade and harm an organization’s users and internal network. Cyber attackers are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and have found new ways of infiltrating an entity’s infrastructure. As a result of the remote workforce, there has been an increase in email and voice traffic. According to Netscout, there was an instant 25% to 35% increase in internet traffic since the start of COVID-19 [3]. With this in mind, cyber attackers are using creatively titled COVID-19 emails that seem to be coming from legitimate health sources or pandemic reports. Similarly, voice and SMS phishing attacks are also on the rise as remote workers use personal devices to hold conference calls or confirm multifactor authentication. It is a natural tendency for users to open an email or accept a call or text that seems harmless because indications of dangerous content are not obvious. Additionally, some IT teams may not have the resources or established processes to combat these challenges at the scale currently seen. 

 

Safeguarding business applications and sensitive data

Currently, there is an increase in dependency on remote work applications and services. Traffic from communication and collaboration applications like Office 365, WebEx, Zoom, and Slack (just to name a few) has skyrocketed. This leaves an organization’s assets to be more vulnerable. This also means there are more ways for cybercriminals to attack and jeopardize sensitive data, such as credit card data for financial institutions or patient information for healthcare entities. As evidence, T-Mobile took the action of moving 12,000 call-center employees to a remote work set-up. Employers like T-Mobile worked hard to ensure their call-center workers were provided with the relevant tools to provide their customers with the same level of service while working remotely. Many organizations’ trustworthiness and success rely on being compliant with standard regulations like HIPAA or PCI, and so it is no surprise that security is in need of immediate attention. It is therefore imperative that organizations implement more security solutions to protect all applications used to process customer transactions, such as billing and returns, which now happens in the homes of remote employees. 

With remote work, employees are now working from anywhere in the world, and IT teams face a greater security challenge to protect and keep their users, infrastructure, and customer data safe from malicious threats. Everyone expects to stay connected at all times, and have secure access to services and tools in order to be productive and successful while working remotely. Behind the scenes, IT teams have the challenge of ensuring security at every point in the network and with every customer interaction. Being cognizant of where potential threats could be coming from is the first step to a more secure remote work environment. 

To learn more about how you can manage security vulnerabilities and explore solutions, visit our remote work page for additional resources.

 

Sources:

[1] Gartner 2020 CFO Remote Work Post-COVID Survey 

[2] Too Many VPNs Put Our Privacy and Security at Risk 

[3] Network Traffic in the Age of COVID

[4] How T-Mobile Transitioned over 12,000 Care Experts out of Call Centers and into Their Homes in Less Than a Month

 

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Why Remote Work is Not the Same as Work from Home

In 2001, I started a job as a systems engineer at a small technology startup based in Santa Barbara, CA. It was the first time in my relatively young career that I would be expected to travel regularly, and work—when not traveling—from a small home office in Denver, CO. Little did I know that this would mark the beginning of a 19-year journey that would put me in a position to fully appreciate the differences between remote work and work from home.  

As we all know, there are countless benefits to working in a centralized office environment.  Over the years, me and many of my ‘work-from-home’ colleagues would regularly drop in at corporate offices to maintain relationships, tap into office culture, and engage in necessary company activities. But the recent global pandemic has vividly illustrated that working from home is not the same thing as remote work.  

Yes, it’s a nuance that requires a bit of explanation. As I’ve shared, working from home is something I’ve been doing for 19 years, but it was only recently, in the last three years, that I’ve begun a transition to remote work. My transition started with the personal preference of working on Apple products, and my employer providing security for devices like personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It is this focus on device security from IT leaders that shows the gaps in typical work-from-home situations.    

The home is assumed to be a predictable environment that is free from typical issues found in open, shared environments like airports, retail shops, and office environments. Homes often have relatively small numbers of devices attached to wired and wireless networks competing for bandwidth on a consumer-grade, best-effort connection. In fact, home Wi-Fi devices are typically designed for rapid set-up, enabling consumers to easily connect devices and stream content, like Netflix eliminating the complex configuration of device or network security to protect against cyber criminals. What might be most unique about home environments is that it’s typically assumed those devices and content are to be trusted. Evidence? When was the last time you updated your home Wi-Fi password or malware protection application? Enterprises run regular updates—sometimes daily—to security and management policies. 

The traditional enterprise office is much more complex, with literally hundreds or thousands of employees, devices, and shared productivity tools (printers, IP phones, etc.) competing for airtime. But what truly makes the two environments different is the IT decision maker’s focus on security, application-level performance, and predictable connectivity.  

To give you a sense of what motivates an IT planner’s thinking, consider the following in reference to small- and medium-sized businesses. According to Safety Detectives, over 60% of cyber attacks target small businesses (<1,000 employees), and when they do get attacked, 61% are out of business within six months. How’s that for motivation? Before the global pandemic, <5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home regularly. Arguably, one of the many reasons is because CIOs and IT managers believe they can administer and enforce device and network security policies easier in a traditional office environment. 

Conventional wisdom says it is easier to manage one environment of 1,000 employees, their devices, security, and performance needs than it is to manage 1,000 remote work environments. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, cloud IT technologies and the Meraki way of simplifying connectivity, security, device, and application performance management, makes scaling remote work possible for any number of work environments, irrespective of whether employees are in conventional offices or remote locations, even if that happens to be someone’s home.  

Browse the Meraki Remote Work web page and you’ll learn why remote work solutions provide greater business application performance, enterprise class security, mobility, device management, and reliable, assured connectivity that is not possible in typical work-from-home environments.