SAP had two priorities when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011: Contact its 1,000 employees there and ascertain their needs.
Given the sheer scope of the devastation, and the subsequent nuclear crisis, the task would seem herculean. But SAP leaders quickly connected with their Japan-based workers, most of whom had mobile devices, either company-issued or their own.
The next step, says SAP executive vice president and CIO Oliver Bussmann, was getting back to work, even though the company had to temporarily close its Tokyo office. With redundant systems and its global reach, SAP was able to shift some workload out of Japan while its employees there were able to use their smartphones, tablets and laptops to access corporate assets.
From there, he says CIOs are determining which employees can use their mobile devices for work during an incident and how that will happen. Porier says IT leaders need to have security measures in place, whether that's mobile device management software to secure, monitor, manage and support the devices or some other process that protects corporate data. And they need to determine whether to allow employees to download data to their devices or require them to access it through secure channels, such as a VPN.
Ray Thomas, a senior associate who oversees business assurance at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, says he and his colleagues have been weighing such issues in recent years as the firm has endeavored to make its workforce more mobile. "We've been building mobility into how people work on a day-to-day basis, and that same flexibility works to our advantage during a disaster. As long as there's connectivity, our employees can continue to be productive," Thomas says.
Booz Allen has a notification system that uses email, voice and text messaging to push out messages that workers can access via smartphones or tablets. Employees can also access the corporate network with smartphones, tablets, laptops and personal desktop PCs.
Moreover, Bailey and others say, workers have to be accustomed to using smartphones and tablets for daily tasks before a disaster strikes. Executives shouldn't assume that workers will be able to easily switch from their regular desktop habits to working on their handhelds. Nor should they expect workers to learn on the fly how to use a VPN to access corporate systems from their home computers. And even if they could, let's face it: Working on a smartphone or tablet doesn't match the ease of working with a desktop's full-size keyboard and screen.
Of course, all this talk presupposes that corporate systems will remain up and running during a disaster. If they don't, that's a whole other ballgame.
"If you have a data center that gets wiped out, it doesn't matter if you have mobile devices," Bailey says.