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04 15 2020

COVID-19 and teleworking: NATO's tech Agency responds

As national governments throughout the world implement measures to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, NATO has increased teleworking in order to protect its workforce, while maintaining its significant commitments across the globe. 

And the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency is doing its part to assist the Alliance in its efforts. Every part of the Agency is involved in responding to NATO staff's needs in a proactive manner, maintaining critical operational services and helping personnel across NATO get the technology they need to telework. This is work in progress, but has included already rolling out extra laptops and equipment, and increasing access to mobile video teleconference (VTC) and meeting support..

COVID-19 and teleworking: NATOtmpAmps tech Agency responds

The NCI Agency was asked to urgently source and coordinate the shipping of laptops, servers, monitors, keyboards, mobile phones, video teleconference equipment and thousands of other items for delivery to more than 15 countries to enable teleworking.

This included in particular the shipment of laptops from Mons, Belgium, to Norfolk, Virginia, in the United States, to support Allied Command Transformation. That task was executed in parallel with the shipment of other essential CIS items to six of the Agency's CIS Support Units, in various countries, at extremely short notice. This equipment was urgently required to enable business continuity of multiple NATO entities.

In addition, the Agency facilitated business continuity for Allied Command Operations by executing an urgent shuttle run across several national borders to deliver laptops required to support essential staff in Mons, Belgium. Relying upon standard commercial delivery would have taken more than two weeks to complete what the Agency achieved in a few days.

Gathering the hardware, either from repurposing unused laptops or getting new ones from the Agency's Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Sustainment Support Centre, was one piece of the puzzle. Agency staff from Core Enterprise Services, Network Services and IT Infrastructure, the NATO Cyber Security Centre and the Agency's CIS Support Units then set up the laptops and network connectivity to ensure they were ready for the users on arrival.

"Mobility for NATO's workforce isn't just about the equipment itself," said Pierre Pradier, Core Enterprise Services Chief at the NCI Agency. "This effort also includes ensuring NATO staff is connected properly, and their communications are secure."

And work doesn't cease when NATO staff receive a laptop or phone.

"The Agency's Operations Centre is the front door to all NATO users who require support 24/7 for their teleworking needs during this COVID-19 crisis," said MAJ Karim Bensaada, Acting Senior Operations Centre Officer.

The Agency has implemented robust business continuity measures to protect its staff, including implementing remote support where possible and rotating shift teams where necessary to minimize exposure.

"The sudden spike in demand for remote working capability required additional support requirements and social distancing methods to be implemented," said James Burley of the Operations Centre.

The Agency has seen no reductions in service availability or quality due to the COVID-19 crisis response.

"The Agency is in daily contact with NATO staff across the Alliance to better understand their needs," said David Bizley, of the NCI Agency's Chief Operating Office. "We remain committed to working to ensure NATO can continue its mission during COVID-19 and beyond. NATO has already made strategic planning and investment decisions to increase the mobility of its staff, and this situation highlights the importance of seeing through these efforts. Following COVID-19, we look forward to a strategic discussion on how to make resilience the centre of NATO's digital endeavour."

Ensuring communications across the Alliance does not only entail providing laptops and phones. Engineering and maintenance of key systems is also incredibly important, and that work has not stopped during the COVID-19 crisis.

"This maintenance work is crucial to supporting NATO's continuing commitment in operations such as NATO's Resolute Support Mission, NATO's Mission in Kosovo, NATO Mission Iraq and the NATO Response Force," said COL Egbert Teeuw, the Commander of the CIS Sustainment Support Centre in Brunssum, Netherlands.

In just one example, CIS Sustainment Support Centre personnel recently rewired an autonomous system capable of providing multiple satellite links. These satellite links can connect any deployed CIS system to the static NATO network via the satellite ground terminals located in several NATO countries. This capability is crucial to ensuring continuity of communications across the Alliance.

"As the operational environment and priorities continue to change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency stands ready to continue its work to support the Alliance," COL Teeuw said.