How Sumner, Washington Kept Employees & Citizens Connected by Pivoting to Remote Access

Nov 4, 2020, 00:00 AM by Chris Banks
Learn how the City of Sumner, WA stayed connected through the transition to remote work.

For small towns and cities across the country, civic engagement is often an in-person exercise.

Whether it’s attending a city council meeting, stopping by city hall to apply for a permit, or dropping off a check at the finance department, municipal buildings serve as the nerve center for communities, and face-to-face interaction has always been a hallmark of that experience.

Then, this spring, municipalities, just like small and large businesses across the country, had to navigate a whip-fast pivot to remote work. Meetings migrated to video conferencing, service windows became virtual portals, and wide swaths of employees who had worked in-person to serve as the face of their towns and cities found themselves fulfilling that role from behind a computer at home.

In Sumner, Washington, a city of just under 10,000 people outside Tacoma, the IT department, headed up by IT Manager Brian Cunningham, was able to get its newly remote workforce up and running in short order. The city already had VPN deployed for a number of employees who occasionally had to log in from outside of the office but had to stand up VPN clients on remaining city devices within a few days.

Within a couple days, each employee that was going to be working from home was equipped to do so. Cunningham soon saw, however, the extent to which the bandwidth demands of a secure, remote infrastructure can be greater than those of a traditional, on-premise environment.

“One of my biggest concerns was looking at the traffic – the connection we had could handle most of the traffic because it wasn’t extremely intensive, but when we started using video conferencing tools, that made things a bit more challenging,” says Cunningham. “All of a sudden, it was spiking our overall bandwidth.”

Cunningham says the city’s 150 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds were fine when everyone is in the office, but when workers are remote and traffic is encrypted over the VPN connection back and forth between remote and central locations, more data-intensive applications like video conferencing began to test upload bandwidth in particular.

Cunningham says the usage never topped out, but he wanted to pre-empt any potential issues – so he gave Comcast Business a ring.

Within a few days of Cunningham flagging the issue, Comcast Business upgraded Sumner’s business internet bandwidth and connection speeds to 600/35 Mbps. The upgrade gave the city the capacity to support employees navigating remote work and ensure that city resources remained available to residents.

Cunningham says the results of the shift have been overwhelmingly positive: city boards and committees can safely meet remotely while satisfying open meeting requirements. Residents can avail themselves of city services without having to come into City Hall, instead using web-based forms and resources. For residents who would still rather conduct business in person, the city has stood up an appointment-scheduling function so visits can be coordinated to limit interactions.

Cunningham, who’s big on proving ROI, says the return on improved speeds and bandwidth can be difficult to quantify exactly, but the benefits from where he sits have been obvious: They’ve helped maintain a stable environment that has allowed the city to enact new processes to keep city government open, accessible, efficient, and safe for residents as well as employees.

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