Order of Operations: Moving and Upgrading the Local 562 Union Network

“It was meant to be.”

This is how Megan Branham, Executive Assistant at Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 562, describes the Union’s partnership with Anderson Technologies. The organization was in the process of planning a company-wide move to upgraded facilities and wanted to upgrade their IT at the same time.

Local 562 is split into two distinct halves: Union and Welfare Educational Fund (WEF). Branham’s focus was on the Union side of the organization, but the technology on the WEF side needed to improve as well. The two halves work hand-in-hand, so upgrading technology on both sides was a must. And since Local 562 is growing, they needed more than the one-man IT team that previously managed its systems.

“I knew from the beginning it was an enormous job,” Branham says. “We needed something different, and we needed someone to understand the situation they were walking into.”

Finding the Right Fit

An organization as large as Local 562 requires substantial deliberation when choosing a new vendor to partner with. They gathered quotes from many different managed services providers before making a decision. Many IT vendors had been recommended to various high-level employees, and narrowing down candidates wasn’t an easy process.

Branham knew from her experience troubleshooting Local 562’s day-to-day IT problems that they were looking for a partner that could tackle both the network overhaul required by the move and the everyday “What is XYZ?” questions.

One of the biggest factors was how the new IT vendor would mesh with her team. “You could say we have a lot of strong personalities,” Branham says with a laugh. Many organizations, both large and small, encounter resistance to change at some level; Local 562 was no different.

“From the time we met Mark [Anderson], he was just very calm,” she recalls. “He really understood where I was coming from.” Not all vendors Branham considered had the same presence of mind. “I didn’t get that same feeling from the other companies,” she says. “It felt more like they would have come in, done things the way they thought it should be done, and we’d have to figure it out from there. This is a big deal when you’ve got so many people who are used to doing everything a certain way.”

Anderson Technologies focuses on making its clients an active part of the planning and implementation process, especially during a project when a new partner could easily take control from Local 562’s employees. “Mark [Anderson] also knew that it was important that we were an intricate part of designing how it was going to be, not to change everything we already had,” Branham says. “I felt like every single one of the staff at Anderson [Technologies] was very responsive to that.”

I felt like every single one of the staff at Anderson [Technologies]
was very responsive.”

Managing Expectations

Once the partnership with Anderson Technologies was approved, planning for the move could proceed. The opportunity to take a fresh look at Local 562’s current technological status couldn’t be missed. Anderson Technologies and Local 562 together examined what could be improved – or completely restructured.
“I knew our security was not up to par,” Branham says. With emerging cyber security threats came the importance of an outside team to monitor Local 562’s safety. “I felt it was important to have that third party doing all that for us too; not that it’s all them, but they’re helping us find the right ways to do things.”

A study of Local 562’s dynamics helped Anderson Technologies determine the organization’s greatest needs, even when they were difficult to quantify. While each half of the Union performs some functions in conjunction, separate responsibilities needed to be divided. Branham describes it as “spreading everything apart but still making it easy to work together.” Previous IT solutions had muddled that line. Local 562’s sole business manager delegates operations to directors in the two departments. All of Local 562’s digital infrastructure was housed on one network.

The “separate-but-together” end goal split Union and WEF into their own individual server environments but consolidated all employees under one email domain—uniting the two departments. “I knew that there was a way for us to streamline all these things,” Branham says.

Moving the Operation

The physical move itself was a source of colossal stress for every employee of Local 562. “The Anderson [Technologies] team was very calm, and that’s really what we needed ,” Branham says, “because there was a lot of anxiety on the side of everyone here.” During the week-long move from a property in North St. Louis County to one that’s twenty miles west, Anderson Technologies was on-site through the weekend to create new separate domains, install new firewalls, configure the new servers, migrate user profiles, transfer server data, and put out any fires that happened to arise.

Branham describes how the Anderson Technologies team took every little problem in stride: they “kept it smooth and comfortable, and it was a good process and good flow the way everything worked. [The team was] extremely flexible and that made a big difference in the way that people accepted the change, too.”

The Anderson [Technologies] team was very calm,
and that’s really what we needed.”

Coping with the technical logistics of the move was an anticipated challenge. Branham and the rest of Local 562’s employees expected to be unable to use their computers for an extended period of time during the ten-day move. Operations were planned to resume fully the following week. “I expected we would be back up running on Monday [a week into the move] for sure, hopefully it would get done over the weekend,” Branham recalls, “and I was using my computer on Friday morning. . . . I was floored.” Reducing Local 562’s planned downtime by several days allowed them to adjust to the move and return to work faster than expected.

Anderson Technologies’ partnership with Local 562 continues with dedicated ongoing managed services. “Everything has been very strategically done in a way that I know that it was the right choice for us,” Branham says of Local’s 562’s teaming up with Anderson Technologies for the big move and beyond. “Just the other day, one of our guys was saying to one of the gentlemen from Anderson [Technologies] about how “he never remembers his passwords, etc.” so Eric gave me the name of the program to look into. Just little things like that . . . to make our lives easier.”

If your business is ready to move from outdated headquarters, technology, or methodology, contact Anderson Technologies today for a free consultation.

St. Louis: A Great Home for Small Businesses, Including This IT Company!

St. Louis, known as the Gateway to the West, may have a “flyover” connotation in other parts of the country, but did you know St. Louis is one of the best places for start-ups, affordable housing, and award-winning free attractions?

St. Louis is 19th on the 30 Hottest Cities for New Business, and 23rd (out of 182) in 2018’s Best Large Cities to Start a Business.

As a small business and IT company in St. Louis, Anderson Technologies is thrilled to be a part of this thriving community!

If you’re a small business owner in St. Louis, what’s not to love about this city?

Sitting on the great Mississippi River is the Gateway Arch—the tallest man-made monument in the United States. The architecture and construction make the Arch unique, and St. Louisans are proud of it. If you’re looking for a beautiful view of this river city, take a tram to the top!

Forest Park is probably the second most well-known location in St. Louis. This backbone of city life is home to many of St. Louis’ free attractions and claims 500 more acres than New York City’s Central Park. There you’ll find the History Museum, Art Museum, The Muny outdoor theater, and the renowned St. Louis Zoo, which continues to hold its place in the top 10 zoos in the United States.

The elegant Powell Hall, where music lovers from all over the Midwest come to enjoy concerts, is home to the award-winning St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The Fabulous Fox Theater, exquisite and not far from the Hall, hosts Broadway shows and concerts.

Sports lovers are all over St. Louis. The Cardinals baseball team is held in high regard. The St. Louis Cardinals have been in the World Series four times in the last 13 years, and only the Yankees have won more World Series than they have. The St. Louis Blues hockey team also has a broad base of loyal supporters. Red and blue t-shirts and jerseys, depending on the season, are seen all over the city.

The St. Louis Science Center is another major attraction. The Science Center itself is free, but it also hosts amazing exhibits from the Smithsonian and other organizations. There’s currently a “Destination Moon” exhibit through September 3, 2018. From the dizzying OMNIMAX theater to agricultural experiences like the “Let It Grow” exhibit, the Science Center provides creative learning experiences that almost every local child has grown up visiting on school field trips or on a day of educational family fun.

Jefferson Barracks is a little south of St. Louis. It is an active military installation and has a civil war museum and national cemetery where veterans from every American war are buried. Cahokia Mounds, in Illinois, is just across the river. Cahokia is the Midwest’s native ancient civilization site that was larger than present-day London during its peak.

St. Louis is also home to quirkier attractions like Laumeier Sculpture Park, Turtle Playground, and the City Museum, where kids (and adults) can jungle gym through a 600,000 square foot building, go down a 10 story slide, and absorb interesting aspects of the city’s culture.

The sidewalks that line St. Louis’ small businesses bustle with friendly Midwestern faces. Most St. Louisans will look a stranger in the eye as they pass on the street and ask them “How’s it goin’?” and comment on the weather. St. Louis has a diverse population, so you’ll also find many different types of great food. Toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake are St. Louis specialty treats, and we like to claim the invention of the waffle cone at the 1904 World’s Fair. We also enjoy internationally-acclaimed barbecue and tender pork steaks as we watch thunderstorms roll in over the horizon.

And we can’t forget St. Louis Bread Co.—the original name and home of Panera.

While Missouri tends to be known for its humidity and hot summer temperatures, spring and fall are lovely with wildflowers and changing leaves. The old aphorism “If you don’t like the weather, just sit tight for a minute” rings true here. Missouri’s weather morphs with the winds and sometimes likes to fit all four seasons into a week—or a day! Plus the much-maligned humidity fosters brilliant green landscapes, lush trees, and thick grass.

Winter brings ice skating and sledding down snowy hills in Forest Park. Summer means lazy weekends on the rivers or lakes. With fall comes festivals and hiking or leaf-gazing walks through Tower Grove Park. In spring there are fun outdoor adventures at the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, and Grant’s Farm.

The St. Louis area is a great place to play and stay and a wonderful place to run a small business.

Our St. Louis IT company couldn’t ask for a better home.

Anderson Technologies is a St. Louis IT company but isn’t limited to the St. Louis area. If you would like more information about our IT services, call 314.394.3001 or email us info@andersontech.com.

A Dynamic Network for a Dynamic Place: IT Support for a St. Louis Nonprofit

Every system your business uses needs tweaking over time. Employees come and go, technology advances, and you may find yourself facing unexpected issues as you balance your business’s vision with the changing technological tides.

Such was the case for Crown Center for Senior Living, a residential retirement community in St. Louis and one of our managed services clients since January 2018. From its founding over 50 years ago, Crown Center has grown tremendously from its start as a nonprofit affordable housing community for Jewish residents of University City.

“Our main mission is independent living for seniors,” says Theresa Dattilo, Office Manager at Crown Center. “Over the last couple of years, it’s really evolved to be a community center.” The community is an activity hub for more than just its residents. “People in the community can come here and take an exercise class, eat in the café, or take an art class. There’s always people going on trips, people doing gardening,” she explains. “It’s really a dynamic place to be!”

The influx of activities and participants meant that Crown Center relied more than ever on its online means of communication. Reaching a larger group of people required strong cyber security and reliable hardware and connections. It was time to reevaluate their previous approach to IT.

Choosing an IT Company

Before Crown Center partnered with Anderson Technologies, they’d been with the same company for ten years. “I think our needs evolved over time,” Dattilo says, “and we found they weren’t meeting our needs anymore.”

Crown Center’s server and firewall weren’t being updated, which can create network security holes on top of reducing hardware functionality. Their IT support line offered help when necessary, but Crown Center needed more than just a break/fix approach. They started looking for someone who would take ownership over their infrastructure.

“We took a pretty long time to decide which company to go with,” Dattilo admits. After narrowing the proposals down to six companies (Anderson Technologies included), it was difficult to compare them and decide which would be the best fit for Crown Center. “While I did that, Mark [Anderson] had called me a few times just to check in…. He wasn’t being a pest or anything but wanted to see if we needed any other information. That was helpful.”

But how Anderson Technologies really impressed Crown Center was through proactivity. By offering to conduct a thorough infrastructure audit “Anderson did something that no other company did,” Dattilo says. “It gave us a lot of good information about the status of our security and how our backups are working and the hardware, our remote access.” Offering an infrastructure audit with no strings attached—and making sure Crown Center fully understood their technology needs—made Anderson Technologies the clear choice for IT support.

Bolstering the Firewall

The first project on Crown Center’s to-do list was tackling their outdated firewall. Firewalls are a business’s first line of defense, but many users fail to realize they need to be monitored, maintained, and updated in order to work most effectively. The firewall established by Crown Center’s previous IT support company hadn’t been regularly updated, wasn’t running any type of internet content filtering, and didn’t provide the granular reporting data necessary to quickly detect network activity. This left any machine with internet access more vulnerable to malicious sites and programs.

Also, the team was unfamiliar with the firewall manufacturer. “I was a little concerned because they said they had never heard of it,” Dattilo says. “You know most of the tech people all use the same equipment, or they at least know the name of it.”

Anderson recommended a new Meraki firewall, a trusted name in enterprise-grade security. This cloud-based management system makes maintaining cyber security and providing IT support easier for our managed services team. “Now that we’re getting updates as they’re released by Meraki, we’re not worried about any security issues,” Dattilo says. “We know that they’re watching.”

Reconnecting with Wireless

Crown Center officially became an Anderson Technologies client at the beginning of the year, which meant tax season was approaching. This made their connection issues that much more urgent. “Every year,” Dattilo explains, “we have about six to eight people from AARP that come here to do taxes. They do taxes for the community and for our residents. Every year, they have connection issues.” Each AARP representative used their own computers, all with varying operating systems and update schedules.

Anderson sent in reinforcements to help during this time. Joseph Baker, Anderson Technologies’ System Administrator, spent a couple of days at Crown Center providing onsite IT support for the visitors from AARP. Dattilo was grateful to see their connection issues finally resolved: “I had someone who was going to take care of these people instead of them all just looking at me saying ‘I can’t get the internet.’”

Since then, Anderson replaced Crown Center’s Wi-Fi networking equipment with four new wireless access points that provide reliable connections for the entire facility. Crown Center gratefully acknowledged our onsite IT support in their time of need. “It really gave me a sense that these people are being taken care of, we’re being taken care of, and that our partnership with AARP was important, and the community members who signed up to get their taxes done were able to get them done,” says Dattilo.

Sprucing Up Hardware and Software

One technological issue that often catches our clients by surprise is how quickly hardware and software become obsolete. Many organizations budget for equipment upgrades but struggle to know when and where to implement those changes. “Each year we replace about three to five computers,” Dattilo says. Even though she keeps an updated spreadsheet of the staff’s machine specs, it’s not always easy to know which computers take priority.

Taking into account Crown Center’s budget and planning, Anderson Technologies put in place a system to replace a portion of the facility’s computers every year as a part of the managed services contract. “That’s a great feature,” says Dattilo. “That way we have new technology, and nobody’s computer is going to be more than five years old.” She’s currently working with Senior System Administrator Eric Dischert to decide the best placement for Crown Center’s new hardware for this year.

Along with complete IT support, St. Louis’s Anderson Technologies experts are always scouting out current tech news so our clients can benefit from technological advances as soon as possible. Crown Center had always purchased their software licenses from a retailer that offered discounted rates for nonprofit organizations. However, when Crown Center applied to upgrade their computers from Microsoft Office 2010 to Office 2016, Microsoft had changed their volume license qualification criteria and denied their application.

Software licenses are an expensive investment for most organizations. “We worked every angle we thought we could work,” Dattilo recalls. “That’s been a tricky thing to navigate.” To provide the staff with up-to-date software on a reasonable budget, Dischert worked to acquire five licenses and found an alternate solution.

The Best IT Support St. Louis Has to Offer

Anderson Technologies remains committed to Crown Center’s mission and priorities as it continues to cross projects off Crown Center’s checklist. Crown Center’s approach to IT called for a managed services provider that would hold themselves accountable for balancing innovation with functionality and budget. “We’re never going to be the first organization to try a new technology, but we don’t want to be the last one either,” reflects Dattilo. “I’d say we’d like to see what the early adopters discover, let the bugs get ironed out, and then we would jump in and start to have one or two people try something new.”

Recognizing this, Anderson Technologies’ focus has been and continues to be engaged, proactive service. Projects like hosting Crown Center’s website allow staff to focus on the community instead of worrying about what happens if their online communication becomes unreachable.

Dattilo has always been the go-to staff member for issues like these, so the convenience of both on-site and remote IT support alleviates her role as the tech support middleman. “Before if people contacted me I would be the contact with our old IT company because we had so many hours a month that we were charged for,” she explains. “I wanted to make sure that we were [only] charged for important issues. Now if there’s an issue I have them call you guys because there’s a record of it, and I don’t have to be the contact anymore. It’s very helpful.”

Not only does Crown Center’s nonprofit mission enrich the lives of the 300+ families they serve—it satisfies a need for engagement in St. Louis’s community. Anderson Technologies is proud to play a part in this organization’s important service. “You guys have brought some good technology to the table,” Dattilo says, “and we’re glad to be one of your clients.”

For more information about how Anderson Technologies can revolutionize your organization’s IT infrastructure, sign up for a free consultation or call us at 314.394.3001.