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'This is the first type of scenario we have faced like this': Broncos' IT exec details how the team is adapting to COVID-19 precautions

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Thursday, the Broncos joined multiple NFL teams in forming a plan to deal with the evolving COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation for their employees. After an executive meeting that included President and CEO Joe Ellis and President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway, the organization announced to employees that those who are able to work from home have the option to do so. Russ Trainor, the Broncos' Senior Vice President of Information Technology, was also part of the meeting and provided key counsel representing a department that would be heavily relied upon for support for staff members working remotely. 

A day after the organization's announcement, Trainor spoke with us about how his staff has responded to the challenge and how they're helping employees — including coaches and front-office personnel — continue their usual work in an unusual situation.

Ben Swanson: How much can the technology available to the organization help the team as COVID-19 precautions limit person-to-person contact?

Russ Trainor:"Our No. 1 goal is to keep our employees safe, of course. But with that said, we want to be able to provide the best experience we can for folks that choose to work from home and to keep their connections and data secure. We just upgraded our firewalls, of course not knowing that COVID-19 was coming, but we now have the capacity to handle more folks connecting via secure VPN [virtual private network], which is fantastic. We are providing various hardware setups to work from home such as laptops and ultra-compact desktops. Some of our collaboration technology linked to our telephone system works great from home as well."

BS: How has your staff been tasked with helping ensure coaches and front-office/scouting staff members can do their work?

RT: "We are working with the video department now in preparing for coaches to work from home if they'd like that option. For coaches, it's all about the video, and getting them that large repository of video is key. [Video Director] Steve Boxer's video team has already started to prepare in that regard. The road scouts already have their secured system running, which [Director of Football Information Systems] Tony Lazzaro and his team have developed over the past few years — it's an amazing system — and combining that with our PlayerLync Tablet application, they are already set. In fact, the road scouts, since they are always on the road, are a bit ahead of the game since they are already 'mobile-ready.' We have been working with the coaches and scouts directly over this past week or so making sure they have what they need and will have what they need if they decide to work from home."

BS: What are the challenges for getting this ready in such short order?

RT: "You are correct — this is happening so fast and really this week has sped this entire process up for everyone around the league. We just rolled out our new multi-factor authentication tool on Wednesday, not knowing we were going to swing our VPN authentication to this new system last night — it is moving that fast. It's the right thing to do and the COVID-19 issue just caused us to move forward with this rollout quicker than we had planned. But, really, kudos go out to the organization, as everyone was all on board and we were able to get all of our users for the most part onto the new multi-factor system very quickly. My team has done a nice job relaying information to the organization on how some of the tech works from home and also providing that one-on-one time when needed to ensure everything works as expected."

BS: What was your role during the executive meeting on Thursday when the organization decided its response to COVID-19 concerns?

RT: "My immediate concern was and still is having enough remote hardware for everyone. Just behind that issue was getting switched over to this new multi-factor authentication software and tied into our remote VPN system. Our team stays in constant contact with each other so when or if an issue arises, we can deal with it immediately. We have a good amount of folks working from home today and I expect that number to go up next week as well, but we are in a good position to provide them with a robust and secure experience from home. Of course nothing beats your security and performance when working on-site directly on our high-speed network — but we are working hard to give each employee who chooses to work from home a decent experience. We will continue to monitor our systems live and ensure we are providing the best experience possible.

"I've been working in the IT field now for more than 30 years, and this is the first type of scenario I have faced like this. We have snowstorms and weather events where folks will be out of work for a day or two, or if we have malfunctioning server or networking gear just like everyone else, and we go into full on 'DR' [disaster recovery] mode to get back and running. But having the option for everyone in the organization to work from home, that's a bit of a different scenario. Really, we enact pieces of our Business Continuity Plan to ensure critical roles and functions are operational and take care of those users immediately. It's different than a Disaster Recovery-type scenario where we lose critical systems. Are systems are in place and working? This is more of a "safety of our employees" type of scenario, so that's a bit different.

"Lastly, I'll give kudos to our tech teams — the Video Department, Football IS [information systems] Team, IT Team – they have done a great job and are really the drivers to making that user home experience the best it can be for all users across the organization."

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