IT managers prepared for the pandemic

* Swine flu scare reminds IT pros why telework must be a part of business continuity plans

When it comes to being prepared for a disaster or other unplanned event that could hinder business as usual, enterprise IT managers realize establishing a solid business continuity plan - which includes a detailed telework program - is critical.

Podcast: Swine flu scare shines spotlight on telework

According to data from Forrester Research, 82% of about 260 global business continuity decision-makers provision employees with remote access technologies and another 72% use another internal site as an alternate site for a work area. That’s why when recent talk of a potential epidemic such as the H1N1 Influenza A virus, more commonly known as swine flu, doesn’t rattle IT executives such as Jake Seitz, enterprise architect at The First American Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif.

“We don’t have a policy explicitly for the potential spread of illness, but the infrastructure is there if people need to work remotely,” Seitz says. “If business stops for any reason, then that is a problem. The technology is there to keep business moving at expected levels regardless of the conditions.”

Seitz did note that while his company can enable remote desktops to access applications as though they were in the office, sometimes the local broadband provider could impede the end-user experience. He says while his group was able to extend enterprise instant messaging to the desktop and video conferencing tools, the problem of performance crops up depending on Internet provider.

“That has been the single biggest pain point for us,” Seitz says. He shipped out cellular data cards to help gain more control over the long-haul environment, but “successful telework programs sometimes come down to what employees are using in their local communities, which we have no control over so it posed an issue for us.”

For Koie Smith, this week’s news reinforced his plans to establish a formal business continuity plan. Smith, IT administrator at Jackson, Tenn., law firm Rainey, Kizer, Reviere & Bell, says employees are equipped to work remotely in the face of an emergency.

“We don’t have a hard policy set in place if something like this were to occur. We do have the technology to support everyone working remotely however and I think we’d just make that call if we felt it was necessary,” Smith says. “We use tools like Remote Desktop Connection, VNC, and VPN to access the network when away from the office. We would still be able to support a majority of the problems faced by users remotely with these tools. We will be finalizing a policy this year to further define our reaction and plan to an epidemic like those in the recent news.”

And James Kritcher, vice president of IT at White Electronic Designs in Phoenix, says with a confirmed case of the swine flu in his team they will turn to the policy in place if need be. Like Seitz the plan is not in place specifically for illness, but the program would apply to such scenarios.

“The key item is to provide VPN connectivity along with [network] access,” he says. “If a staff member is at home with access to high-speed Internet, they use that.”

As for IT staffers, they too can work remotely and assist telecommuting end users.

“We find that many of our normal activities can be performed remotely while maintaining decent efficiency. Some examples include development activities, Web design, infrastructure administration and even end-user support,” Kritcher says.

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