Abacus Strategy in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

Last updated:
Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 3:00pm ET

We send our greatest sympathy to those families, businesses and communities who have had their health affected by the global spread of COVID-19. We hope that each of you is navigating the current environment safely and effectively. The following is an update with respect to Abacus Group addressing current concerns around COVID-19. We are committed to doing our very best to continue to provide the highest levels of service possible to our clients during this difficult time. Our Abacus Pandemic Committee, which is comprised of the most senior individuals at Abacus, has been meeting on a regular basis to address the evolving information on COVID-19, and plan accordingly.

We recognize this is a challenging time with respect to addressing the risks and concerns around COVID-19, and we are very much prioritizing the safety and health of all Abacus employees, as well as the health of the employees of our clients. We are asking our clients to communicate with Abacus not only around any risks that may exist within your firm, but also with respect to any technology needs that you may have. If you have any questions at all, please reach out to your account manager and we will work to get you the information you need.

IMPORTANT: If you are an Abacus client, please contact the Abacus helpdesk IMMEDIATELY if you or anyone in your firm has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

 

Status on Returning to Office Sites:

As of Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 3:00pm ET:

To protect the health and safety of our employees and clients, until further notice, due to the Delta variant, we are restricting access to all Abacus physical offices in both the US and the UK to only those Abacus employees who need to be in-office for an essential job function, with masks required when around others. We are continuing to be extremely vigilant with precautions in place and masking required for any Abacus employee who needs to visit a client on-site.

Earlier in the summer, a good portion of our clients informed us through our ongoing BCP client surveys that they were planning to return to offices after Labor Day. But, due to the Delta variant, almost half of our clients have now informed us via our latest BCP survey that they plan to continue with remote work through the end of the year and/or indefinitely. We are prepared to continue to assist our clients with their IT needs whether their teams will be in-office, in a hybrid, and/or working from home. And we will continue to periodically survey our clients to keep apprised as situations evolve.

Latest BCP Survey results (130+ respondents) - as of August 23, 2021:

8-23-21 BCP survey KEY

8-23-21 BCP survey ALL LOCATIONS Graph

8-23-21 BCP survey US-EAST Graph8-23-21 BCP survey US-WEST Graph8-23-21 BCP survey UK EUROPE Graph

 


 

Relevant Covid-19 content from our Industry Insights blog:


 

How is Abacus prepared for a pandemic?

We regularly maintain and update our Business Continuity Plan, located on the Abacus Portal (https://portal.accessabacus.com/apps/documents/view/). Our BCP document defines geographically dispersed and relevant stakeholders who can initiate business continuity processes. Our personnel are trained on remote access technologies and disaster recovery preparedness. We routinely test our internal systems, including our emergency notification and remote access capabilities.

To further validate our past tests, we performed rolling department-level BCP tests starting in early March to ensure that our teams could operate in a purely remote fashion.

 

What additional technical actions has Abacus taken to prepare for COVID-19?

We have designed our environment to handle and scale to increased workloads, and with several layers of redundancy and growth on a day to day basis. However, we have taken specific steps to ensure that our platform operates as expected during this period:

  • We are consistently monitoring all bandwidth usage and requirements across all data centers. We have also increased our ability to burst over our allotted amounts should the need arise.
  • We have overprovisioned our Citrix XenApp remote access licenses to handle a 100% client and Abacus remote workforce.
  • We have overprovisioned our VPN appliances to handle any increase in user access.
  • We moved up our purchasing cycle to add hardware capacity within the datacenter, as well as stocked up on replacement items ahead of our need and schedule to minimize any performance issues and to insulate ourselves from any supply chain issues from our distributors.

 

What additional service actions has Abacus taken to prepare for COVID-19?

Individual teams have tested their ability to work remotely to ensure that in the event we do have to close any of our office locations that we can continue to operate normally. For employees who typically directly engage with clients, we have taken the following action:

  • Equipped all of our client-facing employees with Abacus Cisco phones, to be deployed in their homes.
  • Provisioned all of our client-facing employees with laptops and peripheral equipment that allows them to work from anywhere.
  • Acquired additional remote assistance licenses for both desktop and mobile access so that all of our engineers will be able to access client workstations remotely as needed.

 

How can you work with Abacus to prepare your users?

Establish an appropriate work-from-home policy so staff feel empowered to do the right thing. Familiarize your staff with Abacus remote access technologies (https://www.abacusgroupllc.com/login) to minimize disruptions when the need to work-from-home arises. Submit tickets for non-urgent requests instead of calling into the helpdesk. When submitting urgent tickets, please be patient with us as we are experiencing extremely high call volumes. Ensure that your employees are familiar with the Abacus helpdesk contact information:
helpdesk@abacusgroupllc.com | US: 866-997-3999 | UK: +44 (0) 207-936-1799

 

From a cyber security perspective how can I prepare for COVID-19?

Encourage your users to remain vigilant and take precautions specifically linked to Coronavirus phishing scams. Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments. Use trusted sources, such as legitimate  government websites (https://www.cisa.gov/insights) for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. Lastly, adopt two-factor authentication, VPNs and other security measures to protect remote workers’ connections.

 

How is communication playing a vital role?

If you are an Abacus client, please be sure to read and respond to emails sent from notifications@abacusgroupllc.com. Abacus utilizes this account to quickly distribute important notifications. Ensure that decision makers are opted-in to receive notifications on the Abacus Portal (https://portal.accessabacus.com/apps/contacts/contacts). Feel free to distribute messages to your users as you deem necessary. Call us if the matter is urgent and your email has not received a timely response. Internally, the Abacus Pandemic Committee is meeting daily to address the situation. In addition to client notices, we’re working to educate and protect Abacus employees.

 

Client Service Tickets: How are we handling an increase in volume?

By the end of the day on Thursday, March 12, 2020, we experienced an all-time high of new service tickets created in one day. We anticipated this significant increase in ticket volume as clients started planning to move their employees to work from home.

We added 4x more support shifts than usual, as well as more escalation resources, for over the weekend to be ready for even more clients to start exercising BCP protocols to have their employees ready for work from home starting the morning of Monday, March 16. The number of service tickets increased by more than 2-fold than usual over the weekend.

The resolve and closure rate of our tickets remains inline with new ticket creation despite high volumes.

The graph below shows the trend in our NEW SERVICE TICKET VOLUME over the first 5 weeks of stay-at-home orders:

As of Friday, March 27, 2020 at 5:00pm ET:

03 23 20 Service

 

Infrastructure: How are we handling an increase in remote users?

As expected, the number of our client users who have shifted to working remotely has increased dramatically. We can see this by several data points within our infrastructure workload usage.

As of Friday, March 27, 2020 at 5:00pm ET:

  • Citrix XenApp is at triple the usual number of users, but has now leveled off.
  • Meraki endpoint utilization is about 20% higher than usual, but only about 40% of capacity.
  • VPN usage has leveled off, but is still 7x normal levels. The VPN endpoints in our East Coast data center are currently below 50% utilization of their processing engine. We have already upgraded the backup appliance for 4x the capacity.
  • Bandwidth in our data centers is down by about 30%, which is expected as less clients are in their offices.
  • Data center firewall CPU usage has dropped comparatively (due to lower bandwidth utilization).
  • Storage latency is still low.
  • CPU and memory usage in all of our data centers are well below thresholds.

The graph below shows the trend in VPN usage over the first 5 weeks of stay-at-home orders in February and March of 2020, with significant increase in VPN usage starting the week of March 9th:

03 23 20 NetScaler

 

 

Resources regarding COVID-19:

World Health Organization

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Johns Hopkins University - Coronavirus Resource Center

 

Remote access resources:

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