Disaster recovery: Don't forget mobile

As the mobile workforce continues to grow, IT execs must remember an important new piece of their disaster recovery plans: mobile devices.

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.

"There's much more potential out there from a disaster-recovery perspective," Bussmann says, noting that SAP in the past two years has more deeply incorporated mobile devices into its disaster-recovery and business continuity plans.

CIOs like Bussmann are increasingly considering how mobile capabilities can help their companies get through catastrophes. In the 2012 AT&T Business Continuity Study, 67% of the 504 U.S.-based IT executives surveyed said that they include wireless network capabilities in their business continuity plans.

Despite that high percentage, though, the effectiveness of those plans varies widely, IT leaders and consultants say. Organizations using mobile devices for everyday tasks are more likely to have plans to use them in disasters, while those that don't are less able to rely on them in crisis situations.

However, as more people use smartphones and tablets to do their jobs, CIOs will have no choice but to figure out how to effectively fit mobile into their disaster-recovery plans. To do that, they must consider what data -- if any -- is stored on the devices, how workers access corporate systems on a regular basis as well as during a crisis, and what barriers they would encounter during any sort of incident.

That, in short, means analyzing the opportunities and challenges related to such a strategy.

"The more mobile you can make your workforce, the better off you'll be, so it's certainly a tool CIOs need to think about from a business continuity perspective," says Michael Porier, the Houston-based managing director of consulting firm Protiviti.

Companies are incorporating mobility into their emergency plans in part so they'll be able to send out blast messages via email, text and voice -- an approach that increases the odds that at least one type of message will get through, Porier says. Companies often use such blasts to check on workers who are in harm's way and to provide information on safety programs and work processes.

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