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.

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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.

Meanwhile, Thomas says employees routinely download work files onto their laptops, and they're reminded to plan to take work home on their devices in advance of expected events, such as Hurricane Sandy, so they can work even if connections with the corporate network are sketchy.

But that approach underscores the limits of a policy that relies on mobile devices during disasters: Power, connectivity and access to corporate networks are no guarantee. "There are weak links all over," says Gregg "Skip" Bailey, director of technology, strategy and architecture at Deloitte Consulting.

He points out that when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit the Washington, D.C., area in 2011, cellular networks were overloaded, and many people couldn't make or receive calls, although some texts were able to slowly make it through. And Hurricane Sandy took out some cell services completely and left many areas without the power needed to recharge devices.

Companies with workers accessing the corporate network from handheld devices also need to consider whether they can accommodate added network traffic during an emergency, says Joe Nocera, principal in PwC's Advisory Technology Consulting practice. He says a typical VPN might be used by 20% to 25% of a company's employees on a daily basis, but usage can spike to more than 80% during a disaster.

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