Local Alaska IT
Solutions for Alaska businesses of any industry or size
It’s not at all controversial to say that technology is an integral part of doing business, no matter a company’s size, industry, or location; however, for any Alaska business, there is an appropriate IT solution.
Arctic Information Technology
Meara Boling, general manager, Platform & Infrastructure for Arctic Information Technology, says the bulk of the work the company performs in Alaska is their Managed Services offering, a flat-rate IT service for businesses typically ranging from ten to seventy-five employees. “They get access to a team of IT professionals: unlimited help desk five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., anti-virus and anti-malware, remote monitoring and maintenance, system patching, those types of things, as well as strategic consulting and guidance about their IT needs and options,” Boling says.
Some small and medium businesses may hesitate to contract with an outside IT provider: “The shortfall of businesses that have their own ‘IT guy’ is that guy or gal implements or prescribes only what they know,” says Arctic Information Technology President Steve Dike. “We can’t tell you how many times we’ve been called in and the client says their IT guy has their server in his house; businesses can get held hostage.” Senior Account Executive Mark Mathis adds, “It could [also] be something as simple as ‘Our IT person has gone on vacation for three weeks and we can’t get in touch with them.’”
“It’s wonderful to work in the last frontier, but there are a number of challenges,” Boling says. As with most business in Alaska, access can be a problem, whether it’s physically bringing equipment and appliances to remote locations or having access to affordable, high speed Internet. “Internet bandwidth and cost continue to be an inhibiting factor in some cases, or certainly a challenge at the minimum,” she says.
She says the company schedules regular onsite visits with their clients, but most of their maintenance work is done remotely. In fact, Mathis says one of their largest managed services clients is in Cordova. “We’re using best-in-class tools to manage our client environments, and we do as much as we can, within reason, remotely across the network connection, collecting telemetry and system log data to be as proactive as we can.”
Mathis, Boling, and Dike all credit their ability to work with clients, particularly in remote or rural locations, to adamantly maintaining a client-first mentality. “In terms of working in communities outside of Anchorage or Mat-Su, part of our success really is in those relationships,” Mathis says. He continues, “Our primary driver is relationships, followed by process, followed by flexibility.”
Dike says their process is powered by “some of the most advanced toolsets” available. “It’s basically an agent that goes on a computer and sends us system information; it tells us what’s happening so we know problems often before they occur,” he says. When a problem does occur, Arctic Information Technology can sometimes diagnose it before the client even realizes that something is wrong, significantly reducing any company down-time.
When non-IT personal in remote locations are aiding Arctic Information Technology with diagnosing a problem, it can take a bit of creativity to communicate accurately. “People take pictures of their screens with their phones—that’s the new screenshot,” Dike says.
Dike says that, after managed services, the largest portion of their work currently is migrating businesses to cloud services. Mathis says that, depending on the customer’s needs, Arctic Information Technology also provides cloud management services after the migration has taken place. He says Arctic Information Technology has “done some fairly sizable migrations for large organizations that wouldn’t typically look to someone like us to help run it, but just to get them from where they are to where they need to be.”
Resource Data, Inc.
While many large businesses opt to manage their IT in-house, Resource Data, Inc. (RDI) has carved out a place for itself in Alaska working for larger Alaska businesses. “Because we specialize in solving complex IT problems, we mainly work for organizations with complex IT systems, which tend to be larger organizations, both government and private,” according to RDI Business Development and Marketing Manager Howard Earl.
Some of the problems that RDI solves for its clients include fixing poorly performing and/or overly costly IT systems; deciding capital investments to maximize return, minimize risk, and meet other business objectives; assuring IT projects are well conceived and managed; and eliminating inefficiencies caused by multiple systems that don’t share data.
RDI was founded in 1986 by Daryl Scherkenbach to provide database and mapping services related to natural resources for mining companies, and Alaska Native corporations. Over time the company evolved, and now its “portfolio of services includes custom software design and development, mobile development, enterprise resource planning, technology upgrade/migration and transformation, technology assessments and planning, business analysis, project management, and IT services,” according to the company. One thing that sets RDI apart from other IT options in Alaska is their history and expertise in geographic information systems, or GIS. “We are the leader in Alaska in developing large GIS solutions, especially around spatial and environmental data management to support exploration and permitting of large resource development projects,” says Earl.
RDI provides services to a wide range of industries and is able to support companies statewide. “We do work all over the state from the North Slope to Ketchikan—a few of our employees were even lucky enough to work for a client on environmental studies vessels in the Chukchi Sea,” he says. In 2015 RDI had 210 employees, including 21 employee owners, of which approximately 130 are located in Alaska, qualifying RDI as a large business itself. “Having a large presence in Alaska, we do work for oil and gas companies, the State of Alaska, utilities, Alaska Native corporations and the federal government. Beyond that we work for a wide range of clients,” according to Earl.
RDI started offering IT system services to their clients six years ago, services that include “optimizing their infrastructure—the hardware, software, and network comprising their enterprise IT environment—and resolving their IT system problems.” Earl says that their clients have been a part of the cloud movement, “increasingly requesting virtualization and cloud services, desiring convenient, on-demand access to their applications and databases from anywhere with an internet connection.”
One recent project RDI completed was designing a virtual platform large enough to run the entire computing load for a State of Alaska agency. “For another client, we developed a process to consolidate VMware virtual machines from multiple physical locations to a single, modern virtualized datacenter in Anchorage,” Earl says.
According to Earl, “Two characteristics distinguish our IT support services: First, we never charge a flat rate, monthly fee, or minimum charge; we only charge for hours worked. If our clients don’t need us around for a while, we don’t show up—and neither does an invoice. … Second, we augment existing IT staff with more than just extra hands: our professionals have the skills to provide business analysis, system design, custom programming, and complete implementation of IT systems.”
RDI has grown significantly in the last thirty years, but just getting larger wasn’t, and isn’t, the company’s goal: RDI President Jim Rogers says, “We don’t look at growth as a mandate, but rather as a positive consequence of our good work. Consequently, we don’t have a large team of aggressive sales people but rather primarily rely on referrals and expanding our business with existing clients.”
Northrim Bank’s Ransomware and Cybersecurity Best Practices
Northrim Bank Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Ben Craig says, “As a financial institution we are exposed to literally hundreds of thousands of [cyber] threats in a given year.” In the last eighteen to twenty-four months he says the bank has seen about a ten times increase in cyber-attacks.
He says there’s been a significant uptick of a particular cyber threat in Alaska: ransomware. “Ransomware is basically like any other virus except that … it encrypts any file that you have access to, whether that’s locally on your computer or across a network, and then displays a message that says if you’d like to access these files you have to pay a ransom in order to do so.”
Craig says that the single best thing to have in place to combat ransomware is a data restoration strategy. “The dark humor in this is they use really good encryption,” he explains, saying that breaking the encryption would require a NSA super computer. Further, the FBI recommends not paying the ransom, as there’s no guarantee that files will be restored and businesses that do pay may inadvertently be funding illegal or terrorist organizations and activities.
“I say data restoration because everybody says, ‘I’ve got a backup strategy,’ but in reality if you don’t test it and make sure it works, you don’t have a strategy at all,” Craig says. He further recommends that any backup solution be asynchronous, which can help prevent ransomware from also infecting back up files.
“That’s the number one step. The rest just fall into general good best practices,” such as avoid unfamiliar websites; don’t open emails from untrusted sources; don’t follow untrusted links; keep operating systems, programs, and applications up to date; install and maintain anti-virus and anti-malware software; and use strong, unique passwords.
One more tip? Turn off any option to preview emails: “Every time you display a preview, it’s going out and pulling that information down, so you’ve essentially opened the email at that point,” Craig says.
Tasha Anderson is an Associate Editor for Alaska Business Monthly.
This article first appeared in the July 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.