Tech firms ready for worst-case scenario

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Source: Ong Boon Kiat, Business Times, 7 May 2009

Options include tele-commuting, split-site operations

(SINGAPORE) The H1N1 flu alert may soon be downgraded to a more reassuring Yellow level - but some of the biggest tech firms in Singapore are keeping vigilant and ready with their business continuity (BC) plans.

NCS, StarHub, Mobile- One, SingTel, Pacnet, Singapore Technologies Engineering, IBM and Hewlett- Packard (HP) were among big tech employers polled by BT on their contingency plans in the event of an outbreak.

IT services provider and SingTel unit NCS, which has more than 5,500 staff here, could segregate its workforce at two different sites to continue operations if the need arises, said company flu pandemic manager Wong Tew Kiat. NCS will also tap various long-standing BC measures, many of which have been in place since the Sars outbreak.

The company has dedicated crisis management teams, business continuity facilities - and even custom-fitted mobile office containers to let customers deploy their staff in an emergency. StarHub, which has about 2,700 staff working from six sites in Singapore, is studying the possibility of tele-commuting.

Jeannie Ong, head of corporate communications and investor relations at StarHub, said various departments have already been asked to study 'infrastructure readiness' for tele-commuting. StarHub is also making plans to cope with possible manpower shortages, as well as identifying alternative sites for operations if its existing workplace is quarantined.

'We have begun to identify teams who may need to work from different sites, or from home, especially if they are not physically needed,' Ms Ong said.

Also considering alternative work arrangements for staff in the event of a H1N1 escalation is MobileOne, which employs about 1,250 people.

A MobileOne spokesman told BT the company is making provisions for such measures as remote working, as well as the suspension of large group events and scaling down sales activities. It has an 'Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plan' it can activate quickly if necessary, said the spokesman.

Singapore's largest telco SingTel, which has about 12,800 staff here, said it 'will step up our measures as part of our business continuity plan' if the situation escalates, but did not provide details of its BC plan.

Subsea cable operator Pacnet, which has 320 staff in Singapore and a major network operation centre (NOC) here, said it can weather even the temporary shutdown of its Singapore office and NOC. It is allowing for most of its Singapore employees to telecommute from home if necessary. 'We are confident that our business will remain unaffected should there be an (influenza) outbreak in Singapore,' said a spokesman.

Singapore Technologies Engineering, which has about 11,000 staff here in various business units, has provisions in its BC plans to split critical functions and staff into separate locations. 'The BC plan will be fully activated if the flu alert is raised to Red,' said a spokesman.

Hewlett-Packard and IBM said they have BC plans and are taking precautionary measures, but did not provide details.

Quote from Dr Goh Moh Heng

Although there are no reported cases of H1N1 in Singapore so far, companies should be prepared because 'disruption of business is inevitable once there is an outbreak', said Goh Moh Heng, president of Singapore-based BC training and certification firm Business Continuity Management Institute.

He urged companies to maintain strict travel restrictions and conduct table-top simulation exercises for their crisis management and business continuity teams.

Firms should also be 'making available PPE (personal protective equipment), upgrading preventive measures, streamlining human resource policies and having alternate sites ready for split operations', he said.


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