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5/8/2018

Remote IT Management with Alexander Bøegh of BIG

Editor's note:

Alexander Bøegh, IT Manager at renowned architecture studio BIG maintains 3 locations in Copenhagen, London and New York City with over 500 people working there delivering deadlines for some of the largest architectural projects including Google or the new Freedom Tower in NYC.

Thanks Alexander for sharing your insights on IT Manager Checklist alongside the fact that you have a preference for hoverboards (more below!).

Btw, BIG is hiring, head over for more about IT jobs!

IT starts with culture

From the beginning I pushed for IT being an important part of the company, as opposed to being the guys in the corner. In our case, as an architecture company with most of the 14 partners who are architects, it is a bit different than technology companies who will always have a CTO at the table.

I started off socializing during happy hours so everyone would know me and and vice versa. When they know that I am working to increase their productivity, they know that there’s no reason to be angry with me because we all have the same goal which is a successful BIG. They will also then understand that their problem is important to me and I will try my best to solve it.

Our remote setup

Just before we expanded to our second office, we made the decision to move everything to the cloud (AWS) which is very unusual for a large architecture office like ourselves dealing with a lot of data volumes. This was only possible leveraging a hybrid cloud NAS like Panzura Cloud acceleration control which reduces the load time on the cloud.

panzura freedom NAS
Panzura Freedom NAS

To enable the workforce we have a typical setup with Office 365 including Skype for Business. Because we have around 50 local servers in the New York City office, I have a Open Manage Server Health client running who gives me insight into the uptime there.

How we run IT support -- onsite and remote

The interesting thing is that we don’t use a ticketing solution for internal employee support. To keep it personal, we keep a group email for IT and answer requests directly from our inbox.

For more urgent ones, a project leader will call us. When that happens, I always try to give them an expectation of how complicated it is to fix. For example if it is going to take 15 minutes, I’ll always tell them to go grab a snack or coffee. And hopefully it is fixed by then! People are fine when they know what to anticipate and know that you are working on it. So this the most important thing to communicate to them.

My most used and favorite office tool is actually a hoverboard I use to jump on when someone in the office has a problem. I simply hover over to their desk! Since it has been such a big success, we’ve been having different departments having different types of scooters: Hoverboards for IT, and eScooters for Office Management and Front Desk.

Bjarke Ingels Group office
Snapshot of BIG's office

If we have to get on a remote support call, we will then ping the colleague on skype and then set up a GoToMeeting for screen share. In more extreme cases, we use FaceTime to see what is going on in real time, e.g. if a printer is clogged.

We don’t have much for remote onboarding, usually it is to remotely deploy a machine required by the user and send them the user credentials. The local office manager then does all the hands-on walk through.

Pros and Cons of Multi Location IT Management

Of course everyone being at one office would be so much cheaper from an IT perspective, but we take advantage of it too: Wherever possible, we use shared license servers because of the time difference. The Europe offices and NYC office will be taking turns to use the servers.

Another great thing about having offices in different time zones is that we can cover almost 24 hours of support time. I often go to bed at at 11pm and my colleague in Copenhagen who is 6 hours ahead wakes up early in the morning because of his kids.

The ultimate goal

In our environment, systems can’t go down. My ultimate goal in IT is to eliminate, if not reduce fail possibilities. Nothing would be worse than total data loss for example. To give an example, we have two different fiber lines coming in New York and New Jersey for our internet.

What’s on the horizon for us

One thing I have been wanting to try is to simulate a full data recovery without disrupting our workflow. I haven’t found a way to do this yet, so I’d be curious to hear from the community if there are any interesting approaches.

We certainly hire a lot of great people and our focus has always been to recruit the best talent. Now it’s time to put more tools in place to support this growth so we are actually actively hiring in IT :)

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