Keeping mobile workers connected overseas

In these anxious times, IT managers back home are taking steps to ensure employees traveling abroad can stay in touch electronically.

It's been a rough time of late for global business travelers who need to stay in touch.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods and wildfires have disrupted communications across large geographic regions, while political turmoil -- and government responses to that unrest -- have thrown normal communications routines into disarray.

Mobile workers need protection abroad

What's notable is how quickly and unexpectedly events can unfold. One day, a country can be wired and connected. But the next day, cellphone service is out and Internet connections are down. Travelers without a backup plan can be left stranded and scrambling.

It doesn't have to be that way. Well-prepared employees who have been outfitted and updated before heading abroad have a much better chance of staying connected and safe during a disruption, says Jerry Luftman, executive director and distinguished professor at the School of Technology Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

In troubled times like these, IT departments should adopt holistic "we've got you ready to go" policies, rather than leaving traveling workers to figure out ways to stay connected on their own, says Phil Cox, director of security and compliance at SystemExperts Corp., a network security consultancy in Sudbury, Mass.

Security experts agree with Luftman's and Cox's observations. With companies of all sizes doing business in remote or volatile regions of the world these days, the time is right for organizations to develop plans that take into account workers' destinations and what they're likely to encounter there.

But "not enough" employers are doing that, says Greg Bell, principal and global services leader for information protection at business advisory firm KPMG. "There are a larger number of firms today that are thinking through this than there were a few months ago," he says, "but mostly these are larger multinational companies that have learned from what's happened around them."

"The bigger risk is to the smaller and midsize firms who are starting their global expansion but don't have enough people looking at risk or aren't asking questions at all," says Bell.

Road warriors in tough conditions

Tech managers at Edgewater started asking questions a long time ago. Employees of the Wakefield, Mass.-based IT consultancy have a history of enduring tough conditions on the road. In the mid-1990s, for example, some Edgewater workers were in Sri Lanka when the country was in the midst of a brutal civil war.

Telephone wires there were often stolen for their copper, and other key components of the telecommunications infrastructure often had been blown up or were just plain nonexistent in rough jungle terrain. So the company outfitted its employees with cellphones, a technology that was just beginning to gain wide use.

The firm continues to send people all over the world -- to remote areas of the United States and parts of Africa, Europe and Asia, says Dave Clancey, the company's CTO.

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