ICT deepens role in pandemic response planning

Technology to support workforce continuity is critical as disease outbreaks become the new normal, reports Forrester

supply chain management problems in need of solutions

Business and risk leaders need to build resilience in a world where disease outbreaks are the new normal, advises Forrester.

In a new report, Forrester analysts highlight the importance of preparing the organisation for a pandemic as the spread of the coronavirus continues.

“Use this opportunity to review and update your risk management and business continuity practices,” reports Forrester.

Enterprises, it says, need take practical steps such as refreshing plans, updating employee policies, communicating frequently, and carrying out succession planning.

“Resilient organisations are those that prepare for worst-case scenarios and can recover faster- and ultimately survive - incidents that might devastate others,” according to report authors Stephanie Balaouras, Alla Valente, and Andrew Hewitt.

They point out climate change will amplify the frequency and ferocity of pandemics. 

Thus, enterprises are advised to “dust off or create a pandemic plan” to prepare for the growing global threat of pandemics.

Climate change will amplify the frequency and ferocity of pandemics 

The report observes most existing business continuity plans address business recovery and resumption after events like extreme weather, terrorism, and power outages, but not the impact of a pandemic or epidemic.

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Planning for a pandemic involves three steps, reports Forrester.

First, identify an executive sponsor and build a pandemic planning team. The team must include representatives from across business units including IT, HR, communications, finance, legal, facilities, and line-of-business owners.

Forrester says it is important to put employee and family health and safety first. In the middle of a pandemic, their first thoughts will be about their families and their own health, not their jobs. Enterprises must provide them with the information they need such as community health reports, arrangements for alternate childcare and formal spousal or emergency contact notification programmes.

Second, conduct or update the business impact analysis (BIA).

View your BIA through the lens of a pandemic scenario, advises Forrester. These include assessing critical business processes and operations, as well as supplier and third party partner relationships.

Diversity and redundancy aren’t just for IT operations, says Forrester. Having multiple suppliers in different geographies improves supply chain resilience. 

For single source suppliers, evaluate their business continuity or disaster recovery plans annually. Identify and keep inventories of critical parts and prioritise your most important business partner relationships so those partners get first claim on help from your staff. 

Diversity and redundancy aren’t just for IT operations. Having multiple suppliers in different geographies improves supply chain resilience

During a pandemic, the organisation may be working with scarce resources, and fewer customer service representatives are available. Forrester advises: “Make sure your company knows which customers should receive priority service.”

Third, develop or update the pandemic response.

This should include a communication strategy before, during, and after the pandemic. “Err on the side of frequent and regular communication,” states Forrester. “A robust communication strategy is one of the areas that all business continuity plans seem to lack.”

During a serious pandemic outbreak, organisations may need to update hundreds, and potentially thousands, of employees and other stakeholders immediately. 

Organisations must therefore have a multimodal communication plan so they can successfully reach all employees through at least one mode and are communicating with them in the modes they prefer.

Understand which roles are critical for operations and have backup plans for those roles when current staff members fall ill, says Forrester.

Technology to support workforce continuity is another important area to plan for. ICT teams must ensure the greatest number of employees work remotely from home or another location. 

These employees need access to data; business applications; and communication and collaboration capabilities like phone, email, calendar, address book, instant messaging, teleconference, and videoconference. 

The ICT staff should work with local service providers to expand their telecommuting/remote access infrastructure. Remote access and using personal or company-issued laptops will mean that employees at home caring for sick family members can still pitch in.

In the future, there won’t be a 10-year period between major disease outbreaks as there was between H1N1 (the Swine Flu) and the coronavirus, says Forrester.

“Like droughts, hurricanes, and floods, pandemics and epidemics will become another consequence of climate change that every organisation must adapt to.”

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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