Better Business Continuity Plans after SARS Ordeal

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Better Business Continuity Plans after SARS Ordeal

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

Tech firms such as NCS, StarHub and M1 are better prepared to tackle business disruptions this time around as the threat of the H1N1 flu looms, reports ONG BOON KIAT

THREE tech firms here are confident that they'll be able to tackle any business disruptions, having drawn lessons from their brush with the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak.

Alternative workplace: Cost of BC implementation will depend on whether a firm uses an in-house team or engages part-timers

They told BizIT that their experience with the devastating pandemic five years ago have led to better business continuity (BC) plans as the threat of a new virus - the H1N1 - looms.

'Since 2003, we had refined our BC plan such that it is more effective. We also built more BC facilities - from 200 to 600 work seats,' said Wong Tew Kiat, flu pandemic manager at NCS.

During the Sars outbreak, NCS moved to quickly segregate its workforce and control the movement of its staff, as well as put in place a number of precautionary measures.

The company managed the disaster activations by 16 of its corporate banking customers, which saw around 400 banking officers segregated from their primary sites in the Central Business District and moved to NCS's business continuity site in Bedok.

This time round, the company is counting on a new BC offering that it has dubbed 'mobile business continuity office', or iMobicon, which lets NCS customers deploy their workforce in specially custom-fitted mobile containers.

Past lessons from the Sars outbreak has also put StarHub in better stead to face the threat of the new pandemic.

'The difference this time around, is the fact that we are more pro-active and ready,' said Jeannie Ong, head of corporate communications and investor relations.

The StarHub spokeswoman noted that the telco is simply better prepared this time around. 'Our HR and task force are more prepared this year, having gone through the previous Sars experience.'

She noted that the current situation is also more controlled, and with the relevant authority being notified earlier, StarHub now has more time to roll out the necessary preventive measures and work out business continuity processes.

MobileOne (M1) told BizIT that its current BC plans are similar to the ones it had drawn up five years ago, only better, since those plans have been refined and updated based on the company's experience with Sars.

More than 30 people died from Sars in Singapore.

There has so far been no reported H1N1 infection in Singapore. And yesterday, the perceived threat level of this new epidemic dropped a notch when the government said that it would be downgrading its alert level.

Quote from Dr Goh Moh Heng

Yet, as the death toll from this deadly virus continues to climb elsewhere, its threat, not least to business disruptions, remains real, said Goh Moh Heng, president of the Business Continuity Management Institute (BCMI), a Singapore-based BC training and certification agency.

But he noted that Singapore is better prepared this time around, both at the national level and also at the organisational level.

A sticking point with many firms, especially smaller companies, is the cost of contingency planning and BC implementation. According to Mr Goh, this outlay will depend on whether a company uses a full-time, in-house team or engages part-timers.

'The cost is actually the time cost for organisation to develop their plans,' he said. And for companies which choose to engage BC consultants, they can expect to pay between $50,000 and $200,000.