IT faces possible pandemic amid budget cutbacks

Analysts suggest that managers update IT call lists and telecommuting plans.

Many IT executives could be facing an uphill battle in moving to deal with a possible swine flu pandemic as they cope with a flagging economy that has caused layoffs and budget cutbacks in a number of companies.

Jim Grogan, vice president of consulting product development at SunGard Availability Services LP in Wayne, Pa., recommended last week that IT managers immediately review call lists and decision-making chains that may include victims of downsizing or other cost-cutting measures.

"There could be a weakness in plans because of organizational restructuring that people need to very quickly take a look at," he said.

Grogan also suggested that organizations that can't create a specific pandemic plan turn to any procedure created to deal with a "significant absence" of employees. The standard model used in pandemic planning is to consider what would happen to a business if 40% of the workforce was absent for an extended period of time, he noted.

The World Health Organization (WHO) late last week raised the swine flu alert level to Phase 6 on a scale of 1 to 6, indicating a "widespread human infection."

By last Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta had reported one death in Texas among 91 cases of swine flu in the U.S., including 50 in New York, 26 in Texas, 14 in California and 10 in South Carolina. In a statement on its Web site, the CDC added that "more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks." At the same time, the WHO reported 8 deaths among 257 cases of swine flu worldwide.

In a Computerworld blog post early last week, Scott McPherson, CIO of the Florida House of Representatives, advised data center executives to begin "reviewing your pandemic plans now, and familiarizing yourself with them again immediately. It is probably too late to buy anything, or to buy anything more. So all we can do is educate our people (quickly!), plan, and watch."

"I think we are well prepared -- I think a lot of sectors are better prepared than they were a few years ago," said Shawn Johnson, a senior managing director at State Street Global Advisors Inc. in Boston. Johnson is also chairman of the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security, a security trade group formed in 2002.

Gartner Inc. analyst Rick DeLotto said he is advising clients to check their telecommuting capabilities and make sure assistant managers can take over if necessary. If absenteeism rises because the flu spreads, "there are going to be a lot of very rapidly promoted assistant managers who have to have the right permissions and provisioning," he said.

In addition to letting employees know that they are responding to this threat, companies need to urge workers to wash their hands, as well as make face masks available for them, DeLotto said.

After the WHO raised the threat level last week, Gartner analyst Ken McGee issued an advisory calling on companies to begin preparing workers for widespread telecommuting and videoconferencing, and setting up options for dealing with network outages, among other things.

Meanwhile, several Japan-based electronics companies had halted business trips to Mexico by early last week.

Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp., both based in Osaka, halted all business trips to Mexico City, while Tokyo-based Sony Corp. asked employees to avoid travel to the Mexican capital.

Martyn Williams of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

This is the print version of a story that originally ran on

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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