Swine Flu makes business continuity planning critical

It is not just electronic viruses that can generate catastrophes within businesses. The pandemic spread of swine flu has had a global impact and, as Autumn approaches, a secondary wave of illness may be on the cards. Experts predict that in the event of a swine flu reflux, an estimated 20% of working adults may contract the disease. As a result, businesses are finding that continuity planning including assessing the risk and impact of widespread absenteeism is of paramount importance.

Most have taken a regimented, academic approach to the potential issues. Businesses have had to consider how important human input is to the running of their IT departments. If manual backup and server maintenance is necessary then any high levels of employee absence could result in costly downtime.

The main piece of advice for businesses facing the inevitable outbreak of a flu pandemic is to prepare not just in theory but with real life drills. At the most radical yet effective level, a drill might include randomly selecting 40% of your staff and then attempting to run the business without their input for a short time. Each business will need to analyse its own needs and adjust business continuity plans accordingly.

For some, the automation of backup and archiving could lessen the impact of a pandemic. However, continuity planning should also include measures allowing for remote access to IT resources. This would enable IT specialists quarantined at home to remedy issues without the risk of spreading further infection. This scenario is preferable to giving non-IT staff potentially damaging access to core business systems. There are many contingencies which businesses will have to consider when planning for a remote working scenario. These must not only ensure the security of sensitive data and the continued operation of the business, but must allow for monitoring of employees working remotely for motivational and managerial purposes. With all of the variables involved and worst case scenarios to take into account, business continuity planning is now riding high on the agendas of many boards.

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