As more cases of the coronavirus are found in the UK, businesses are going to have to face the very real prospect that encouraging people to go into the office, raises the risk of the virus spreading.
Business continuity plans may well have to be deployed, to limit the impact of the virus. The question every business executive is asking is: “How well will my business cope if staff are self-isolating or avoiding travelling to the workplace, in order to reduce the risk of the virus spreading?”
The CIO needs to be at the top table with the head of HR to implement a technology-enabled business continuity plan. This needs to be done today. Is everyone in the company contactable via a phone? Is there a way to get hold of them through non-corporate messaging services like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype? How many people already have remote access? Do they know how to log-in remotely. What about the staff members who do not have a corporate laptop? Can they use their own device at home to log into the corporate network?
On Monday, there were news reports that the 111 non-emergency telephone number was inundated with calls from people trying to find out if they had any of the symptoms of the coronavirus. The NHS has recommended that people use the web instead. This will relieve pressure on the helpdesk, but how well will the web servers cope if a large number of people attempt to use the online service?
So from a technical perspective, in a corporate environment, the CIO will need to get reassurances that the virtual private network, or remote access gateway will be able to cope if everyone logs in at the same time.
The chief information security officer will also need to be involved.
These systems may also have restrictions, that limit usage, or the security gateway may wrongly think that the corporate network is under attack from a distributed denial of service attack, as people from different locations attempt to log in. Are there enough user licences to cope with the extra users logging in remotely? There may be technical measures in place that prevent corporate data from leaving the corporate network. How quickly can user access rights be changed, at a granular level, to give the right people access to the data and enterprise applications they need?
There are numerous unknowns. But IT will have technical workarounds. We should all be prepared to deploy these.