Bird flu may create sales opportunity


Organisations have been urged to prepare for avian flu by reviewing business continuity plans and ensuring staff can work from home -- suggesting a possible sales opportunity for the channel.

Organisations have been urged to prepare for avian flu by reviewing business continuity plans and ensuring staff can work from home -- suggesting a possible sales opportunity for the channel.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said an avian flu pandemic might infect humans on a considerably greater scale than did Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which infected 8096 people and killed 774 in 2003.

Market researcher Gartner said the risk of avian influenza or 'bird flu' sounded high enough to suggest prompt action should be taken. Organisations should adopt business continuity strategies and update their crisis management plans now, the market research firm said.

Organisations should consider establishing or expand policies and tools that let employees work from home using broadband access, appropriate security and network access to applications, the market research firm said.

Companies should also consider expanding online transaction and self-service options for customers and partners, Gartner said.

Gartner said IT executives should plan for a possible pandemic. The "course and consequences" of avian flu were "potentially catastrophic", the market research firm claimed.

Steve Bittinger, research director at Gartner, said IT must ensure organisations would still operate in the event of an outbreak that meant many people could not come to work.

"Organisations rely on IT to keep the business running, and they can use IT to ensure their business operations continue if transportation restrictions, quarantine or problems with vendors or employees because of illness or fear occur," Bittinger said.

Up to 30 percent of staff might be absent from the workplace in the event of a bird flu pandemic, Gartner said.

Gartner said, however, that planning for bird flu differed from standard business continuity arrangements.

"It requires a re-think of some of the most basic business processes," the company said.

Organisations should use scenario planning to assess the possible impact from a local or overseas outbreak of bird flu that affected business partners or customers and ensure the organisation could respond quickly and effectively to changed circumstances, Gartner said.

Businesses must develop "appropriate" contingency plans for different situations, Gartner said.

Although an outbreak would not directly affect IT systems, "considerable economic disruption" could occur, the market research firm claimed.

A bird flu pandemic would affect the workforce and business activity. The example of SARS in 2003 suggested a pandemic would affect international and local travel, supply chains, health systems, personnel and schools.

"It would also have direct economic impact on most industries, but particularly travel, tourism and hospitality," Gartner said.

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