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The changing state of workforce availability

SunGard Availability Services’ Keith Tilley gives his perspective.

For all the challenges to corporate success, loss of productivity brought about by business disruption remains one of the major risks facing companies today. Worryingly, however, workplace disruption is compromising business operations at a greater level than we’ve seen in previous years [1]– sapping productivity and challenging companies’ abilities to gain competitive advantage and prosper in these tough times. Within this context, how can business leaders best align recovery strategies with changing working practices and incorporate these into broader corporate planning?

The most recent analysis of SunGard’s invocations log, which records when and for what reason customers action business continuity or technology and workplace recovery arrangements, found that the office is now firmly the main source of business disruption, with three times as many problems caused by workplace incidents such as fire or flood than by technology failures involving hardware or other IT issues.

The end result of these workplace disruptions should not be underestimated, especially during a period of time when due to the challenging business environment many are operating with a streamlined workforce. The need, therefore, to restore as much of today’s workforce to ‘business as usual’ immediately after suffering a disruption is paramount. Within this context, sound business continuity practices will play a vital role in enabling companies to best utilise the resources they have to hand – be that their people, the technologies that underpin recovery or the processes that engender robustness and availability.

Another factor for businesses to consider when assessing business availability strategies is the increasing pressure on companies to implement more flexible working policies and allow staff to operate remotely. According to The Work Wise Organisation’s, World Advertising Research Centre, 3.4 million people work from home in the UK. The increasing adoption of mobile technologies, particularly business-specific smartphone devices and applications, is paving the way for a more flexible organization – one that will see the past workforce, rigidly bound to the office desk, replaced by one operating out of a smaller central office surrounded by a larger proportion of remote workers functioning on the move and in disparate locations.

This movement demonstrates the fact that businesses can no longer rely solely on physical recovery services. While the facilities and levels of resilience and secure connectivity offered by recovery centres cannot be surpassed, there is now the need for business continuity providers to offer a more flexible approach to recovery to match the changing work environment. Reinforcing this is the reality that recovery centres cannot be situated near every possible location a disruption could take place. Taking the UK’s key business conurbations into account, most recovery centres are strategically placed to cater for as many organizations as possible but there will always be interruptions that occur at some distance from the nearest recovery solution, leaving some employees unable to work.

The old business continuity mantra of placing everyone in one location for simplicity has long been out of date – due to a collusion of such factors as the nature of supporting wide-area incidents, technology advancements and the working practices of 2010 and 2011, which include a far higher percentage of so-called ‘knowledge-workers’ who are freed from the constraints of the traditional office environs. As recent events such as the ash cloud, London tube strikes and student protests illustrate, it’s often a necessity for workers to be able to work from the location they find themselves in, wherever that may be.

These challenges can be addressed through virtualized recovery’, where infrastructure, from desktop to telephony, is harnessed to create a virtualized recovery capability that seamlessly integrates with a physical workplace recovery service.

Yet this alone is not a ‘silver bullet’. While it does represent a vital part of the recovery mix and is potentially the most effective method to deal with pandemic scenarios and long-term disruptions, a recovery plan based on virtualization alone has an automatic single point of failure and could be rendered impotent from the end user’s perspective should there a communications or power outage in the local area. In addition, mobile working brings its own set of issues to consider – how will compliance and security requirements be addressed, for example. Then there are the people factors to bear in mind. Human beings are social animals and while home working suits some personalities, others need the social interaction that comes from working together in a common office environment. Certain business processes require people to work collaboratively in teams to be effective and others depend on the physical transfer of pieces of paper. For these reasons, most companies find a mix of physical workplace and virtual recovery positions to be the most effective solution for recoveries lasting weeks or months, rather than a few days.

The integration of both physical and virtual workplace environments also enables employees who wouldn’t ordinarily be recovered to fully participate in everyday work following a disruption. This means that, following a disaster, a core team of staff can be situated in a physical recovery centre, supported by a remote workforce that has been virtually recovered, regardless of where they are. Whereas, traditionally, cost factors meant organizations could only recover between 20 – 40 percent of their employees in the event of a major business disruption, the cost of recovering more staff is now affordable. Without the need to purchase additional hardware, the virtualized approach to recovery leverages existing IT assets, making it a cost-effective option for organizations looking to ensure minimal loss of productivity following a disaster.

Our own Recover Anywhere technology can effectively increase the number of recovered employees to between 60 – 80 percent. As long as they have access to a PC, Internet connection and telephone, recovered workers can operate as normal via secure access to an organization’s existing IT and telephony infrastructure, even if they require secure access to IT systems, such as traders, for example. So, instead of just having the board and finance team up and running after a disaster, you can now get your call centre staff, sales teams and other customer facing staff in action ensuring you don’t lose brand reputation and, more importantly, business, as a result of a disruption.

Businesses cannot afford to fall foul of major disruptions. Getting more of your workforce back to work at full productivity in the event of a business disruption is crucial if you want to stay ahead of the competition. As solutions for workforce availability evolve, the business case for implementing the most suitable strategy must be escalated up the boardroom agenda.

Keith Tilley is managing director UK and executive vice president Europe for SunGard Availability Services. www.sungard.co.uk


(1) 2010 statistics confirmed the office is now firmly established as the key source of disaster declarations. Source: SunGard Availability Services customer invocations

(2) The Work Wise Organisation, World Advertising Research Centre

•Date: 19th May 2011 • Region: UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: Recovery facilities

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