Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pointers for IT Business Continuity & Pandemics

One topic close to my heart is the concept "working anywhere." Not just telecommuting, but literally working within a distributed workforce.

While the chatter in the market is all about connectivity, I'll point out that a laptop and a VPN aren't sufficient -- there are managerial and organizational issues to take notice of.

Now, some jobs don't need you to "be in the office" and in fact, sometimes being in the office is plain wrong. For example, if you're a salesperson, you're probably in an office 10% of your time, if that much -- so why do companies pay for that permanent office space? The other example of when going to the office is wrong is during a potential Pandemic... As we've seen this week in Mexico, the government has already taken steps to reduce congregating individuals by closing-down the schools. This could easily escalate into voluntary (or mandatory) steps whereby adults need to stay home from the office.

But how would this affect business operations? Most business continuity / continuity of operations (BC/COOP) focus on keeping the IT portion of the business running... but what if there aren't any people to run them?

Lots of content is now being written by industry analysts; In a recent Forrester Research Blog, Stephanie Balaouras writes "Swine Flu? What It Means For IT Professionals"; they cite a recent joint Forrester and Disaster Recovery Journal survey regarding BC strategies.

Gartner Research has also put out a press release "Swine Flu Is a Reason to Act, Not Panic," and Networkworld has a pretty insightful "10 Tips for swine flu planning."

But let me share one aspect that these high-level recommendations don't touch-on as they should: Managing the organization when it's distributed and/or remote.

Getting all of the VPN and laptop technology into the hands of workers is one thing; keeping them functioning as a cohesive group with management oversight and direction is another. If people end up working remotely for 2+ weeks, this becomes a critical issue.

I've spent some serious professional time examining this, particularly with one of the leaders in the field, Sun Microsystems... where a significant fraction of employees are remote/virtual workers. Sun has a mature approach to implementing this, called Sun OpenWork. Check out a very excellent whitepaper on "Managing in a virtual organization"

You should also check out TeleTrips, who specialize in consulting for distributed/virtual organizations, telecommuting programs, scenario planning, and online tools. Whether your enterprise wants to invoke a mobile work program, or just have a BC/COOP plan in place should a disaster occur, these folks help examine work and management practices, facility locations and technology infrastructure, and then put in place the appropriate programs & training.

It's all very different from a laptop and a modem. And should a natural disaster strike (esp. here in sunny CA) people might not be able to, or might be told not to, come to the office. Be prepared.

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