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10 tips for swine flu planning

How CIOs can get their staffs, systems ready to respond to a possible pandemic

By , Network World
April 29, 2009 12:29 PM ET

Network World - As the swine flu outbreak spreads, CIOs and other IT executives are dusting off their pandemic plans and preparing for the possibility of high levels of employee absenteeism and extended telework scenarios. 

The swine flu threat comes at a time when IT shops are already stretched thin as a result of layoffs and other cutbacks because of the ongoing recession. We talked to several experts in the business continuity and IT operations, and here's the advice they are offering CIOs:

1. Stay calm. Model the behavior you want to see from your employees. This includes continuing to be productive but also shoring up your supplies of hand sanitizer and bottled water. "What CIOs and other managers of a company have to do is say this is business as usual, but practice better personal hygiene," says Richard De Lotto, principal analyst in Gartner's Banking and Investment Industries Advisory Services Group. "Other people will pick up on the examples set by executives."

2. Involve the entire executive team in business-continuity planning. Planning for a pandemic is not an IT issue; it's a business issue. "IT doesn't need to be driving this because it's more than just data backup," says David Potterton, vice president of global research at IDC Financial Insights. "It needs to be driven by senior business leaders…You have to understand what are your core systems and that's a business decision, not an IT decision."

3. Update and test your calling tree. Many companies have had layoffs in the last six months, and they may not have up-to-date lists of employees and multiple methods for reaching them, including current home and cell phone numbers. Update your list and conduct a test of your emergency calling system to make sure it works. "You need a reliable channel of communications known to everybody," De Lotto says. "It's either a number to call to check if you need to come in. Or a lot of companies have outbound calling systems with robotic voice notifications."

4. Check access to your data center facilities. Call the building owners of your data center facilities around the globe and make sure you will have full access to them in the event of a local flu outbreak. You may need to establish a remote hot site or to shift work from one data center to another. If you outsource data center operations, include vendors in your business continuity plans. "One center might need to pick up additional work, or you may need to fly employees out of an area," Potterton says. "There are lots of scenarios that need planning."

5. Test your telework plans and systems. Many companies will rely on employees working from home in the event of a flu outbreak. However, their remote access systems may not be ready for so many employees using them at the same time. Experts recommend a trial run, where you allow a significant number of your staff to work from home for a day and then see how well your systems and applications function. You may need to buy more ports or cards for your remote access systems. "Make sure you have high availability for your remote access systems," says Phil Hochmuth, senior analyst with Yankee Group. "Make sure you have failover to secondary remote access technologies. You want to provide as many external portals into the enterprise as you can."

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