Months after the disaster in Japan, the country struggles to rebuild from the devastation caused by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. That tragic event reminds us that disaster can happen at any time, with little warning.
A critical component of business continuity and disaster recovery planning is ensuring that workers can remain productive even if they cannot commute to their regular offices. That requires remote access to company systems and resources to keep operations running.
Our company experienced this firsthand in February when a blizzard walloped the Chicago area. Though CDW executives decided to close several facilities the next day, IT preparations and the use of Citrix XenApp  application virtualization allowed approximately 1,700 coworkers to access the network remotely and work from home. Remote access  effectively eliminated typical winter disruptions of absenteeism and decreased productivity.
Remote-access implementations serve companies well  not only during severe weather, flu outbreaks or natural disasters, but also to support telework initiatives. For example, CDW’s XenApp application virtualization deployment gives many coworkers the opportunity to work from home on a regular basis. That’s a win-win for everyone — telework improves morale and aids work/life balance while boosting productivity.
Mike Pflieger, senior director of IT operations for CDW, outlines the advantages of application virtualization: “It brings us closer to our goal of providing ubiquitous network access. This is when staff can work from basically anywhere and on any device,” he says. And IT administrators can roll out new applications, patches and updates at the click of a button to almost every device on the network.
Such network accessibility must happen in more companies, according to the results of CDW’s Business Continuity Straw Poll. Based on responses from 200 IT decision-makers at medium and large U.S. businesses that had incurred network disruptions, the survey explores how businesses reacted to disruptions and what measures they are taking to improve business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities.
Estimated cost of lost profits that U.S. businesses incurred because of network outages in 2009
SOURCE: CDW Business Continuity Straw Poll, 2010
Although 53 percent of respondents said employees are instructed or given the option to work from home when a foreseeable network disruption approaches (such as a weather event), only a third of businesses have communications and network systems on standby that can support increased remote access when warned of such an event.
And while respondents to the business continuity poll offer regular telework options to 44 percent of employees, on average, only 39 percent of those employees could telework during recent network outages.
So what should businesses do to leverage mobility? Identify all positions critical to business continuity and ensure that those staff members are trained and equipped to telework, even if they don’t telework regularly. Ensure there are redundant connections and build in enough capacity to handle spikes in demand. Finally, roll out application or client virtualization to give workers access to all the systems they need to do their jobs, regardless of location.
Certainly when disaster strikes, employees’ first responsibility is to their families. But when they can work remotely, such advanced preparation improves the likelihood that they’ll have access to the data they need, when they need it, from any location.