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Senior Editor

Q&A: Priceline exec shares flu prep plan

Mar 14, 20064 mins
Data CenterDisaster Recovery

In the face of a pandemic, Priceline CIO Ron Rose says his company is prepared.

In the face of customer demand and possible technical problems, online travel-booking site depends upon an elaborate Web infrastructure to keep the site running smoothly. The Norwalk, Conn., company also puts plans in place to thwart the threat of natural disasters – such as a potential outbreak of the avian flu. Priceline CIO Ron Rose recently answered questions for Network World Senior Editor Denise Dubie on the topic and revealed that consistent planning for disasters will help IT departments better equip their companies to face a pandemic.

What measures are you taking to prepare for an outbreak of the avian flu?

Priceline has a long history of enabling its workers to work in a mobile manner. We are finding that discussions around avian flu are just confirming that our ongoing approach of enabling people to work remotely has benefits both in terms of business continuity and in terms of added productivity of a more empowered workforce.

Do you feel you are susceptible to this type of outbreak? And how important is it for you to keep operations running in a  business as usual manner?

If there were a true pandemic, it would be hard to imagine any kind of company that wouldn’t be susceptible. We regard this as another form of business continuity planning that most companies should at least discuss among management. Just the discussion can be very healthy in terms of examining alternatives and enhancing existing plans.

How do you currently support remote or teleworkers? What are you doing to augment that set up?

We enable people using strong authentication techniques and VPNs. Our current standards are appropriate for an avian flu situation. The discussions have reinforced our belief that this approach is a good one.

Is there anything you are telling your employees in terms of the avian flu?

We have a small task force of people who are working on business continuity issues, as we have for years. We’ve always worked on such things, even long before [Sept. 11, 2001] brought such work to the foreground of everyone’s awareness.

Are there measures you think companies can take in advance in terms of technology to lessen an outbreak?

One thing we have focused on lately in our business continuity planning is how we could we increase the effectiveness of communication most quickly in the case of a problem. I’d suggest that companies do the following regardless of their avian flu planning:

1. Investigate how much it would cost to provide effective authentication techniques for groups of employees.

2. Investigate how long it would take to provision an outside accessible version of the company intranet that could serve as an effective communications medium for employees.

3. Collect up the contact information for all managers to help spread communication.

4. Have a plan to inform your employee’s about how to communicate effectively with one another in the case of a crisis.

5. Investigate your communications and VPN throughput capacity so that you know if you can carry the added traffic of a larger proportion of your employee base working remotely.

6. Investigate if you should add more remote VoIP capabilities, such as soft phones, and particularly how long it would take to support the corporate phone infrastructure were you to have reduced access to your normal infrastructure and buildings.

Do you think companies will be starting from scratch when prepping for a flu outbreak?

As companies look through their business continuity response capabilities they’ll probably find a lot of things that overlap between an avian flu response and their own business continuity programs. We have found that the avian flu threat is just verifying basic business continuity planning and some business continuity work that we knew we should be investigating, and potentially progressing over time.