HERE ARE TWO computer solutions that can help a contractor maintain smooth sailing. The first protects productivity; the second aims to boost productivity.
Destructive virus attacks either from within a network or from the Web are a serious problem that can lead to computer downtime and lost worker productivity, potentially costing a company thousands of dollars per episode.
Contractors are especially vulnerable to attack from viruses, worms, spyware, spam, e-mail or URLs that propagate any of these attacks because of the prevalence of file sharing and disk swapping among various companies working on the same project. Contractors with service technicians using Internet-enabled PDAs and laptops need to protect against the risk of picking up viruses whenever the technicians are online (especially during off hours, when the portable device might be used to download music and other multimedia files).
One effective method of protecting a business virtual private network is to set up a multilayered system consisting of virus protection software on each computer that works locally and a perimeter system that protects the network (corporate or main office and remote offices) at the edges from all incoming attacks over the Internet or from an infected disk file that is uploaded on any networked computer.
The systems vendor, ServGate Technologies (www.servgate.com, 408/635-8400), offers a variety of protective network systems called EdgeForce. The software is a proprietary Linux-based operating solution that integrates an open standards Intel-based server and McAfee virus and spam software into a single plug-and-play secure platform.
The system, which uses the Internet, deploys multifaceted protection from viruses, worms and break-ins by providing firewall, URL filtering, virus screening, spam filtering and VPN technologies. It protects against complex viruses, also called blended threats, which package several standalone viruses into an extremely elusive attack vehicle.
Most such software performs deep packet inspection, which means it looks at the content of the traffic stream coming into the network. The limit to this method, however, is that it only looks at the surface level of the traffic and might miss complex viruses.
ServGate’s Full Context Inspection technology incorporates all the standard firewall and antivirus advances and extends them to combat today’s sophisticated attacks. It protects a network by screening real-time packet contents in their complete context to block suspicious traffic before any damage can occur.
Because FCI examines the complete context of network traffic, it reduces the risk associated with the most threatening, sophisticated attacks. Performing content security filtering services such as virus scanning (on e-mails and files) and spam filtering at the network edge stops any menacing content before it has an opportunity to touch the corporate network. When the system detects a virus, it may be deleted or quarantined for inspection.
With this type of solution, a business relies on a single, consolidated approach that places a security gateway at key access points throughout a network, rather than relying on individual security solutions distributed throughout a network.
If the company has multiple offices and a virtual private network, it should put a system at each office for point-to-point protection.
VirtualBoss Construction Scheduling Software 3.66 (www.virtualboss.net, 888/827-5397) is a Windows-based job scheduling and task management solution that enables contractors to schedule jobs, manage and track service calls, manage and track punch lists, keep tabs on warranty items, plus other details. It can also track workers’ compensation and liability insurance.
Among its productivity enhancing features, VirtualBoss offers an option that enables linking of selected tasks within a particular job to create a critical path that helps ensure that if one task falls behind, those following in the schedule will automatically be changed according to the delay. A “fast job copy” feature allows users to duplicate a template (with tasks, task description, task notes, order numbers and other repeatable details) to speed the setup of a new schedule. (Numerous updateable templates come preloaded on the software.)
There are several ways to view information, including a calendar view and a Gantt Chart, which can show a graphic representation of all jobs or any single job or group of jobs by various criteria. Options include by location, subdivision names, primary scheduling items, active or pending jobs, completed jobs or other contractor-friendly filters.
The solution also sports contact management capabilities. If the user’s PC is fax and/or Internet enabled, the software provides the ability to fax and/or e-mail work orders to any or all designated recipients. During a project, users can create and fax or print out punch lists for a single worker, the whole project or all workers on all jobs and then follow up any punch list item with a work order.
Because all data in the application is stored in a central location within the program, all technicians or other employees with access to a network computer can view schedules, work orders or contact information at any time. Users can also export task details to Microsoft Excel.
The vendor also offers VirtualBoss for the Pocket PC/Palm, which can be used as a standalone program or for synchronizing all the changes with the office PC.
William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].