COVID-19 Preparedness for Information Technology

technology design
 

Risk Management for COVID-19

CISA Insights - Risk Management for Novel Coronavirus (PDF|422.32KB) This information sheet provides insights for the physical, supply chain, and cybersecurity issues that may arise from the spread of Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, provided by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

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Cooperative Contracts for Remote Access and Remote Learning Tools, Products and Services

DIR leverages the state's purchasing power to negotiate competitive discounts on information and communications technology products and services. DIR's streamlined cooperative purchasing program allows Texas public entities to purchase through pre-negotiated contracts that meet stringent state procurement requirements.  DIR provides the following information for teleconferencing, videoconferencing, meeting tools,and learning and training services to support remote access.  This list will be regularly updated.

Cooperative Contracts for Remote Access (XLSX|25.53KB)- Last Updated: 4/1/2020

DIR Exemption Announcement (PDF|61.15KB)  Agencies may use the Emergency Procurement Blanket Exemption throughout the duration of the declared disaster to purchase IT commodities that may otherwise be purchased through the DIR Cooperative Contract Program if using the DIR Cooperative Contracts Program would impede any state agency's emergency response that is necessary to cope with this declared disaster.

Tips for Conducting Open Meetings Remotely (PDF|244.32KB) DIR's how-to guide for governing bodies convening in a virtual forum (e.g. webinar, teleconference).

Best Practices for Virtual Engagements- from the Texas State Agency Coordinating Committee- Training and Development (SACC T&D) Subcommittee, this report displays entries collected from members of Texas government informally sharing reference sources for more effective virtual meetings, webinars, remote training, and telework.

DIR Remote Access Offerings Webinar 3-23-20 (PDF|1.79MB) - Presentation regarding teleconference and videoconference meeting tools and learning and training services available through DIR contracts. A recording of this webinar is also available.

Bulk Purchase Initiatives

DIR also coordinates bulk purchase of information technology (IT) at additional discounts for agencies needing to procure IT.

Free Trial Considerations

There are a number of vendors offering free trials during this time of disaster.  Please be diligent in your review and acceptance of terms, including those related to trial period, security, accessibility, transition support, and price. At some point the trial period will end, and without the appropriate review prior to accepting the terms, the entity may find itself liable for additional products or services beyond the trial period. Consider alternatively, issuing a purchase order, perhaps under a DIR contract, to include an initial term at no cost, with optional renewals based on established pricing. This provides for continuity of services – without additional procurements – and the ability for the procuring entity to terminate the agreement by not exercising the renewal.  

Please direct any questions to AskDIR@dir.Texas.gov.

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Best Practices for Remote Work

Due to the increasing concerns about the COVID-19 virus, Texas agencies should consider teleworking capabilities for continuity of operations. DIR provides the following information technology IT guidance for agency telework environments. Telework is a work arrangement that allows an employee to work during any part of regularly paid hours at an approved alternative worksite (e.g., home, telework center).

  • Identify critical staff that must work to maintain all services. Ensure they have remote work technology such as laptops, softphones, tested remote connection credentials, local print capability, local internet access sufficient to access needed systems and access to critical phone numbers for assistance and support.
  • Consider short term leases if your critical staff is not already equipped with Laptops. Some providers are offering 6-month leases now as a result of the COVID-19 situation. DIR can provide additional guidance for these purchases.
  • Review your business continuity plans for a virus-based event and make sure you have a plan for full system availability and full staff telework. Most continuity plans assume some degradation or unavailability of core systems that may lead to manual processes and that may not be necessary for a virus-based event.
  • Establish capability for remote video and audio-conferencing for team meetings using conferencing products. If you have this capability, ensure your license volume is assigned to those that need this capability to complete their daily work.
  • Continue to manage staff  and ensure they have training on how to measure remote worker productivity, tasking and assignments, and access to timesheets for reporting time. Field workers could be overlooked, but if they need to return to an office to upload or print or document cases, consider performing these functions from a telework location.
  • Ensure scalability of IT Help Desk to support the whole agency working remotely and calling the help desk for connection assistance and other technical help.
  • Inform staff on use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) and communicate to users when they can access services via their own internet and when they should access information through VPN.
  • Work with your technology vendors about offering temporary license or service expansions as a result of this event. Call your technology providers and ask if they can provide temporary assistance for your chosen technology.
  • Consider electronic document signature (e-Signature) products or services for ensuring you can execute needed governmental documents, contracts and similar. 

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Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPN extends an agency private network through an internet service provider. This allows users to securely send and receive data across a public internet service provider as if their computer is directly connected to the agency's private network. Like a tunnel between an offsite computer and the agency's private network, VPN allows users to securely send and receive data should agency staff need to work remotely. 

DIR advises against accessing unsecured or public WiFi access points. Consider using mobile hotspots, smart phone tethering, or a private network. Always connect through VPN on an unsecured or public WiFi access points.

Network and system administrators may prepare to manage the increased load caused by additional teleworkers by implementing strategies to handle additional traffic, such as split tunneling. In a security event, disconnect from WiFi immediately and contact your administrator.

Enterprise VPN Security- As organizations elect to implement telework, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) encourages organizations to adopt a heightened state of cybersecurity.

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Accessibility

As many Texas state agencies are considering enhanced telework policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is vitally important that agency IT applications and tools comply with Texas Administrative Codes §206 and §213 on Electronic and Information Resources (EIR) Accessibility.  This will ensure that our digital work environments are inclusive and accessible for individuals with disabilities within in our diverse workforce. We encourage all agencies to review their IT compliance with the Administrative Code as quickly as possible to ensure productivity across the enterprise can be maintained.

Captioning of video, live or recorded, is vitally important to our deaf and hard of hearing employees.  The use of accessibility-compliant productivity and collaboration tools is also central to addressing the needs of blind, vision impaired, or other employees with disabilities that rely on assistive technologies to perform IT related work. 

Other information and additional resources on EIR Accessibility can be found in the EIR Accessibility section.

Public Information Requests and the Texas Open Data Portal

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas agencies may face difficulty responding to Public Information Requests (PIRs) in a timely manner.

Senate Bill 79, passed by the 85th Legislature and signed by the Governor in 2017, authorized state agencies to direct PIRs to an Internet address where requested information may already exist. The Texas Open Data Portal, as the official open data Internet website for the State of Texas, serves this purpose.  Agencies are encouraged to post their data sets to the Texas Open Data Portal to allow constituents to find the information they need and self-serve their public information requests. By directing PIRs to the Texas Open Data Portal, agencies can redirect the time and resources that would otherwise be used fulfilling those requests, particularly while working remotely, and constituents can be assured they are receiving official data from the State of Texas.

To get started and leverage the Texas Open Data Portal contact: txopendataportal@dir.texas.gov.

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Resources

Agencies

Publications

 

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