The swine flu epidemic that is hitting several places on the globe-from Mexico, where more than 100 people have died-to Queens, NY, where a parochial school closed today because several kids are sick-is a stark reminder that it is a good idea to have disaster recovery and telecommuting policies in place.
Rob Enderle, my fellow blogger here at IT Business Edge, beat me to the punch with salient observations about the situation. Quite naturally, the pandemic is a hot topic today. More good information can be found at RemoteRevolution. The writer offers a common sense take on the recent swine flu news and the bigger telecommuting picture. The reality is that a host of natural and manmade emergencies will force employers, schools and other institutions to make some tough calls about who to call in and who to tell to stay home. Clearly, the companies that set their people up to work remotely will have a significant advantage. The writer makes the obvious but important point that telecommuting programs can't be set up once the snow is falling or the people are coughing. Establishing telecommuting programs that are secure and productive isn't necessarily difficult, but they take time.
Experts have pointed to telecommuting as a means of minimizing emergencies for years. What's relatively new is that Web 2.0 and related tools can be used to mitigate the challenges even further. eWeek provides a good deal of interesting information, including the fact that analyzing search engine query patterns can indicate flu activity as much as two weeks before it would become evident using traditional techniques. The piece links to another eWeek story that looks at the possible negative impact that the easily overheated Web 2.0 environment can have.
There are two interrelated elements to the impact of IT and telecom on pandemics and other emergencies. On one hand, the ability of telecommuters to keep the organizational ship afloat is well known and certainly difficult to argue with. The other element is the ability of traditional mass communications and, more specifically, Web 2.0 platforms to keep people informed about the emergency. But any communication tool has the power to misinform or to strip out necessary content. The eWeek piece says Twitter has been "blazing" with posts. Net Effect's Evgeny Morozv takes a look at why Twitter is not the best place to follow developments:
Thus, Unlike basic internet search -- which has been already been nicely used by Google to track emerging flu epidemics -- Twitter seems to have introduced too much noise into the process: as opposed to search requests which are generally motivated only by a desire to learn more about a given subject, too many Twitter conversations about swine flu seem to be motivated by desires to fit in, do what one's friends do (i.e. tweet about it) or simply gain more popularity.
Randy Littleson, who posted this commentary at IndustryWeek about the susceptibility of the supply chain to a flu pandemic, was eerily prescient. After a general discussion of pandemics and the ways in which to minimize the impact, the writer discusses how to prepare the supply chain. The bottom line is that the problem would not only impact one business, but all of its suppliers and vendors. The writer links to a Department of Homeland Security guide that breaks down the planning, preparedness, response and recovery phases of pandemic preparedness.
IT and telecom will be a great help in keeping some normalcy during an emergency situation, especially for organizations that have been prudent enough to institute programs and get the right equipment. Hopefully, the current swine flu pandemic will not end up being a test of that preparation.