It appears that the threat of an H1N1 outbreak has not prompted enterprises to re-evaluate their disaster recovery plans or better enable a mobile workforce, according to a new Cisco Systems Inc. study.


The networking giant found that only 22 per cent of survey respondents consider their remote-access infrastructure to be disaster-ready. The survey polled 500 IT security decision-makers at U.S. health-care, financial, retail and public sector organizations last month


In addition, the reported indicated that 21 per cent of respondents admitted to having no employees enabled to work remotely and 53 per cent said that less than half of their employees are capable of working from home.


Fred Kost, director of security solutions marketing at Cisco, said many of these organizations will be the hardest hit in the event of a flu pandemic. But even less extreme circumstances, such as a major road closure or a winter storm, would probably have a noticeable impact on the business as well.


“Here in the Bay area, the Bay Bridge had planned and scheduled a shutdown for a day,” Kost said. “But then we saw an additional and unexpected six-day shutdown.”


Ensuring that all essential workers are enabled with remote-access capabilities is crucial, he added, to operating business as usual during unexpected events.


Providing remote VPN connectivity back into the office might be enough for a mobile worker that just requires e-mail or a select few applications, but for employees who require real-time communication and full telephony capabilities, some investments should be made, Kost said.


Justin Folkerts, security analyst at Fusepoint Managed Services Inc., said that if he was asked to step into the shoes of an IT security leader at any of the 21 per cent of companies that don’t enable any of their employees to work remotely, the first issues he would address would be technology-related.


“Do we have the tools and technologies in place for employees to be working remotely?” he said. “Do we have the bandwidth? Do we have the storage capability within our phone systems and e-mail servers to be able to queue two or more weeks of data from more than 40 per cent of your missing staff?”


He added that making sure that every mobile worker would have access to reliable, high-speed bandwidth at their home is also a must.


In addition to getting the technology in place, Folkerts said working with the human resources department is also critical.


“You need to find out if you have policies in place that are designed in such a way as to not penalize the employees who aren’t coming into work and trying to prevent themselves from spreading the flu,” he said.


Folkerts said that while it might be difficult for IT to convince business leaders to invest in all of these disaster-ready precautions, using the H1N1 outbreak could be a good jumping off point. H1N1 might even provide a reason for emergency response employees to dust off their disaster recovery plan and actually see how it might handle this topical scenario.


“It’s a wake-up call,” he said. “Especially in the event 40 per cent of staff isn’t coming in and they won’t be for a couple of weeks.”

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