Kathleen Sibley wrote an article for itbusiness.ca (Canadian Technology News) talking about rational and forward-thinking IT planning for a large scale pandemic. A recent Gartner webinar on the topic presented an opinion that typical business continuity plans geared towards a catastrophic event in a limited area will not be adequate or appropriate for a pandemic situation.
The section of the article that I found interesting stated:
[Ken McGee, vice president of research at Gartner] recommends that organizations negotiate preferential terms with video-, audio- and Web conferencing providers — now, not after a pandemic is declared.
“The point is to do it now to create the terms and conditions and come to closure on those conditions,” he says. “In the event a pandemic takes place you will be able to invoke these rights to a vendor to whom you have already paid insurance-like premiums. The pandemic will take about 21 days and you’re just not going to have enough time to make those arrangements.” As well, he adds, if you’re going to use conferencing as an alternative means of communication, have dry runs now and work with your clients and customers so you’re not struggling to become familiar with it after the fact. “And get satellite phones for executives – they have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the business.”
The idea of setting up special preferential arrangements with web conferencing vendors in the face of emergency usage increases is a fascinating thought. I wonder if any of the vendors have put together back room deals of this type for their clients. I haven't heard of it, and if any of my vendors reading the blog have something to say about it, I would welcome the comments.
There are a few web conferencing vendors that require you to go through their production staff for assistance in setting up events or uploading and converting presentations and other documents. Normally I simply view this as an inconvenience, but in the face of a pandemic affecting their own productivity and employee availability, this kind of limitation would prove disastrous for their clients. It's worth thinking about as you consider your vendor selection criteria. Can you continue to operate in a self-service mode even if the vendor's staff is unavailable?
Many health organizations advise that the world is ripe for a global pandemic. Asian bird flu is getting the popular press, and it might eventually mutate to allow human transmission vectors or not. But the massive increase in fast travel and crowded public areas over the last fifty years makes the threat of a nasty worldwide outbreak increasingly likely at some point. A sober examination of how your company would continue its daily operations with reduced employee office availability is a good idea. It's also a good question for your web conferencing vendor... How much on-site staff attention is necessary on their end in order to keep the software and communication channels up and running? Do they maintain their own bridges and networks that require physical maintenance? Could they keep your communications channels open if their own employees had to stay at home and work remotely?
Scary stuff, but a lot better thought out ahead of time than dealt with in a panic situation while everyone else is scrambling.