False Sense of Confidence Pervades IT Business Continuity Planning, Survey Finds

By Matthew Harwood

A new survey reports that IT decision makers in both the public and private sectors have a false sense of confidence when it comes to their business continuity plans as the traditional flu season approaches.

According to the survey conducted by the Telework Exchange and underwritten by Intel, 81 percent of IT decision makers they interviewed reported their organizations have a written business continuity plan.

But the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership that promotes telecommuting, says most IT decision makers are wearing rose-tinted glasses. Of the 71 percent of organizations that have tested their business continuity plan, almost half say they experienced either technical, equipment, logistical, or management problems during the exercise.

The survey also discovered many organizations have not provided their employees with the ability to work remotely during a crisis. When asked what percentage of their employees could not work remotely if their workplace closed tomorrow, IT decision makers gave a grim prognosis, according to the Telework Exchange.

In the public sector, 60 percent of workers could not work remotely if their office shutdown. The results were better in the private sector, where IT decision makers reported only 45 percent could not work remotely.

The Telework Exchange survey confirms an earlier survey commissioned by Cisco on telecommuting during a business interruption. That survey found that approximately three out of four IT professionals reported that half of their employees could not work remotely if they had to.

These surveys come amid fears that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the workforce will stay home during this flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is no longer a question of if, but when organizations will need to utilize their business continuity plans,” said Nigel Ballard, Director of Federal Marketing for Intel.

The Telework Exchange says government agencies and private businesses can mobilize against pandemics by taking five steps to prepare their managers and employees to work remotely during business interruptions.

The first step for any organization is to educate managers on the benefits of telework while encouraging them to telework themselves. The survey found that managers that have telecommuted in the past have more favorable attitudes toward the concept.

The second step is to ensure all public- and private-sector employees have remote access to their organization's computer network. The private sector outperformed the public sector in this area, with 22 percent of employees not having remote access, compared with 44 percent in the public sector.

A third way to encourage telework is to provide employees with mobile equipment, such as laptops. Nearly half of government employees do not have mobile equipment, while just under a third of private-sector employees do not. The Telework Exchange, however, found that when government agencies and businesses are planning for a more mobile future. When they do purchase laptops for employees, they tend to buy business-class laptops that have built-in security features and allow remote diagnosis and upgrade capabilities.

The Telework Exchange advises companies and government agencies that allow telework to have a written policy on secure mobile computing. During the survey, only 40 percent of IT decision makers said their organizations had a written policy. The report also recommends that companies and government agencies require security training for all employees, ban non-encrypted thumb drives, and use dual-factor authentication to protect against network breaches.

The final step to ensuring secure telework is to establish mobile support systems. In both the public and private sectors, the Telework Exchange found that nearly half of the organizations surveyed do not provide mobile tech support. When organizations do adopt mobile support systems, they can improve them by preparing the IT department for higher call volumes. They should also consider remote diagnosis and upgrade solutions as well as informing employees these support capabilities exist.

According to the report, the need for a more mobile workforce isn't going away. The Telework Exchange says 84 percent of IT decision makers they surveyed said the need for mobility has increased over the past year.

“The benefits of mobility are clear—not preparing for a business continuity situation can hinder organizational performance,” said Cindy Auten, General Manager, Telework Exchange.

"The writing is on the wall," she said. "Failing to act would be reckless.”

♦Photo of home office by TranceMist/Flickr


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