Business interruptus: Prep now to avoid H1N1 flu outages later

Don't be fooled by the mild flu season so far. Even a contained swine flu outbreak could disable IT departments on short notice.

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Just make sure all three aren't in the same department or physical location, notes Cardoza. Because it's so highly contagious, the flu is likely to sicken clusters of employees in specific geographic locations or departments. If your experts are centralized in a single location, they could all wind up ill at the same time.

"That's the kind of thing that really concerns me," Cardoza says. "If there is a cluster, do we have people outside of that cluster who can support the IT infrastructure?"

Prepare for telework

Burton recommends that you move critical people out of crowded buildings as a precaution, setting them up to work from home even before an outbreak occurs. And the "worried well" aren't the only ones who will need to work from home: Schools are considered the biggest breeding grounds for the flu, which means there's a strong chance that employees who are parents or guardians will ask to work from home while they care for sick kids or cope with school closures.

That's why IT needs to beef up its systems to handle a potentially massive increase in telework. Part of your skills assessment should include a determination of which jobs can be performed remotely and which cannot, says McPherson. For those that can't, you should take care to ensure that other employees have been cross-trained to fulfill those job requirements in case of illness.

For those jobs that can be performed remotely, do you know how many of those employees have computers and adequate broadband at their homes? Poll your workers to see what technology they have available. Are you able to loan them laptops to take home? Pay for broadband connections?

Will the home workers need Microsoft Office and other applications, and, if so, do your site licenses permit that arrangement? Are people trained to access the corporate network remotely? Is the corporate network capable of handling the increase in connections and traffic? Also, are corporate applications "webified," meaning are they easy to access and use over the Web?

In short, consider the situation from the perspective of an employee new to telework. "Imagine an employee connecting from home, having to get through remote takeover of a computer or virtual desktop to be able to get to Attachmate in order to get to the mainframe, so they can do their work," McPherson explains. "That could be problematic.

"Ideally, all these steps should've been done three years ago, when bird flu first popped up," McPherson continues. If that never happened, he says, the most that companies can do now is evaluate their current capabilities, determine which jobs are appropriate for telework and find out which employees have broadband and a computer at home.

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