Many business and IT leaders view headlines regarding worries of a bird flu or other outbreak as just that: headlines.
However, despite their wide-open opportunity to actually become prepared for such an outbreak or pandemic which, if it were to happen, could significantly stifle workers and productivity, technology companies are likely to be vastly unprepared for such an event, according to research from Basex, which finds 80 percent of companies worldwide are ill-prepared.
The worries are well beyond speculation in places such as Asia and Europe, where there have already been confirmed human cases of bird flu, prompting risk management consultant Aon to warn last year the effects could be immense. However, little is being done to prepare in most firms.
“It’s folly to put your head in the sand and say we won’t have a catastrophe,” Basex CEO and Chief Analyst Jonathan Spira told TechNewsWorld. “Most calamities are not planned.”
Unaware and Unready
The world got a lesson on just how devastating a surprise disaster can be last year when the U.S. Gulf Coast was battered by hurricanes, completely disrupting daily life and business across the southern U.S., commented Spira.
He likened pandemic preparedness to the Y2K issue, which turned out to be overhyped, but nonetheless served as a good opportunity for companies to review policy, preparedness, backup and recovery. Unlike the challenge in 2000, though, an avian flu or other pandemic is not marked on the calendar, and there will be no warning, Spira said.
The Basex report, which outlines the preparedness issues and offers guidance on formulating contingency plans, is available via the research firm’s Web site.
Corporations and smaller companies, like individuals, tend not to invest time or money in preparedness until a crisis or event has occurred, Challenger Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger told TechNewsWorld.
“I don’t think many companies are prepared,” he said. “Especially today, they are focused on the short term. They may have done some thinking [about preparedness], but in terms of investing dollars, I don’t think much has happened.”
Challenger agreed it would be foolish to put off disaster planning simply because a pandemic — which could disrupt workers, partners, supply chains, travel, and more — is unlikely.
There may be increased pressure on telecommunications companies to build and support more robust telecommuting technology which could be used in the event of a pandemic, however, and that’s a good thing.
Such systems could help to change the workplace significantly in the future, Challenger said.
Using the Tech Edge
Basex’s Spira indicated that technology companies and knowledge workers in particular have an opportunity to prepare for disruption at the same time they promote worker productivity by building collaborative support and response systems.
Knowledge-based businesses have an advantage over hardware firms such as, for example, automobile manufacturing facilities, he said, which would be hit hard by a worker outage.
IBM, for instance, already has a plan in place to take advantage of telecommuting in the event of a pandemic.
“Most people at IBM could work from home and the company would not suffer,” said IBM Vice President of Strategic Communications Mike Wing.
Extending the Agony
While businesses do deal with temporary work stoppages because of natural events, transit strikes or other causes, they must consider what would happen if those outages were extended from days to weeks, or from weeks to months, as would be the case in a pandemic, according to Spira.
“If it continues, the prospects become grim,” he said.
Spira also stressed there are many “non-apparent dependencies and co-dependencies” organizations must consider in their preparations, including suppliers and customers.
Although the majority of companies may not be prepared to shift to a home-based work force or collaborative infrastructure, those that are may have a significant edge over rivals in the event of a pandemic, Challenger said.
“If a pandemic hits and it’s devastating, those companies will probably gain some advantage over their competitors,” he said.