SMB - IT execs take different paths on bird flu threat

14. April 2006
U.S. companies hold widely divergent views on the risk that an avian flu pandemic could force school closings or broad quarantines in hard-hit areas, according to interviews this week of 12 CIOs, business continuity directors and IT management consultants.

Some IT leaders, mainly at large companies, said they are preparing for the worst in an effort to avoid being left short-staffed or unable to support vastly increased numbers of telecommuters on their networks if a pandemic strikes.

For example, Beneficial Financial Group in Salt Lake City 'is seriously looking into the pandemic issue,' said CIO Steve Terry. 'Since we are a life insurance company, [being prepared] makes sense for us. We have to have the capability to continue doing business if there is a pandemic.'

In contrast, several other CIOs said the possibility of a major flu outbreak isn't a big issue to them, despite warnings dating to early 2005 from the federal government, international groups and consulting firms such as Gartner Inc.

'I don't view [pandemic preparations] as that important,' said Amy Fowler, president of the Colorado chapter of the Society for Information Management and an IT management consultant to large companies. 'I mean, what are the odds of [a long quarantine] happening It's never happened where schools have been closed for three months at a go. We have bigger issues in IT than that one.'

Dave Berg, CIO at O.C. Tanner Co., a provider of employee-recognition products and services in Salt Lake City, also hasn't made planning for a possible flu outbreak an action item. Berg noted that most of his employees have high-speed and secure computer access and that most operations can be done remotely. 'I do not think we would have a serious problem here with keeping our computers and applications services available,' he said.

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