--> Gill Blog: Bird Flu Prompts IT to Rethink Continuity Planning

Gill Blog

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bird Flu Prompts IT to Rethink Continuity Planning

As a new day begins and the sun rises to the east, we often find ourselves falling into the same old daily routines, that seemingly repeat themselves in a perpetual loop (hey, sounds like a good premise for a movie). It appears, however, that our pre-programmed patterns of behavior will have to change, simply because of the pending arrival of some unwanted guests who will be winging their way toward us from that same eastern sky.

The potential impact of avian flu is gradually becoming the topic, and in the last few months we have seen a pronounced shift in the tone of the discussion. What was once being discussed solely in terms of public safety of people, has now caught the attention of businesses, specifically what the impact of this pandemic will be on national economies and the day to day operations of business. I came across the following article from Computerworld that more than anything, demonstrates the degree to which all of us like to compartmentalize fears especially pertaining to things that haven't happened yet - as the saying goes: "Out of sight, out of mind.":
...although the threat of a major outbreak is raising alarms among governments, it doesn't appear to be doing so for many IT managers.

Stephen Pickett, CIO at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Penske Corp. and president-elect of the Chicago-based Society for Information Management, attended a conference in Detroit last week with about 280 other IT executives. No one at the conference mentioned the bird flu threat, according to Pickett.

"The subject never came up, even though we were discussing various elements of disaster recovery," Pickett said. That may be because companies think their disaster recovery plans, in the aftermath of 9/11, already cover the possibility of significant employee losses and an inability to communicate, he noted.

In an ever-changing risk environment, risk managers can ill afford to become static in their tactical strategies simply because the dynamics of each event can be very different:
A pandemic could leave IT operations short of staff, especially if schools are closed or the federal government imposes quarantines. If a company is running multiple shifts and an IT worker on one becomes infected, "you could lose an entire shift," (Roberta) Witty (an analyst at Gartner Inc.) noted.

Computerworld reached a half-dozen CIOs last week to ask if they're concerned about the possible impact of the avian flu on operations both overseas and in the U.S. Some declined to discuss the issue.

But others took both sides. "We should be thinking about this, and I will be talking to my [disaster recovery] people this week," the CIO of a large university wrote via e-mail.

"It is not on our radar," said an IT executive at a building products firm, also via e-mail. "All of our operations and employees are U.S.-based, and we haven't discussed it in our company -- yet."

The time for businesses to take a new view on preparedness in anticipation of an event we have never seen before is now.