Cost of swine flu to Irish businesses could exceed €2 billion

17 Nov 2009

As many as 90pc of Irish firms do not have a business continuity plan if core employees are hit with the swine flu, warns Magnet Networks CEO Mark Kellett. The cost to the economy could be as high as €2 billion.

Kellett said there is an ongoing and potentially lethal continuity threat in swine flu.

At present, 70pc of US businesses do not have a contingency plan, so one expects that Irish businesses would be similarly unprepared for the real threat of this disaster.

Estimated rate of absentees

The Health Service Executive is estimating an absentee rate of 15pc this winter and this could come with a cost of €2 billion to the Irish economy from an outbreak.

Part of Forfás and the Department of Enterprise’s recommendations on how to handle an outbreak of swine flu on site is to have a facility for teleworking.

“I was recently at an Institute of Directors event held at the National Management Institute and the course lecturer asked 35 senior company directors if they had disaster-recovery plans – few had.

“There’s a significant gap in people’s understanding and I was shocked that while directors thought about manufacturing assembly lines and cost-control issues, the actual communications connection into a physical building is seldom talked about.

“What if you had a fire? If you moved everyone to an off-site location with 50 seats with PCs, desks and phones, would you be able to get up and running quickly? That’s a continuity plan that many firms have. But, what if staff are sick with the flu and 50pc of your staff are knocked out, how do you keep the company running?” Kellett asked.

Business sustainability

Kellett said that IP (internet protocol) telephony via broadband, with a virtual PBX, easily facilitates teleworking, as well as near-instant recreation of a site’s communications in the event of a disaster.

Magnet can offer commentary on what communications technology solutions can sustain a business, as per the government’s guidelines so that businesses enjoy peace of mind as well as the other benefits of the service, from cost savings to increased efficiency.

Firms, Kellett said, should have clear and focused business continuity and their IT strategy should be aligned in such a way to ensure that IT systems will support the business, no matter what. A key component of a business-continuity strategy would be managed services, where all data is kept backed up and accessible via the internet cloud.

Plans to deal with disaster needed

“Many businesses need to have a disaster strategy. But if influenza hits, if employees have broadband at home and can access IP telephony, you aren’t going to be stymied by the loss of key staff who can’t come into the office. They will be able to continue working from home remotely.

“If a business has a shared VPN there’s no reason for that business to be impact. In this day and age, it would be delinquent of employers not to look at broadband at home for a teleworking strategy, bearing in mind factors such as cost management and quality of life.”

Kellett said that beyond the threat of employees being hit with the flu, progressive firms should be looking at IP telephony as a way of creating a virtual call centre so that all employees can work from home or on the road.

“This also means that businesses don’t have the overheads of renting expensive business premises if it suits core workers to be on the road and work from the home office. Many other countries have embraced this model and Ireland is one of the few that hasn’t.

“In the SME space, the threat of flu will be a clear challenge with this winter. But if you were to do a check with most employees you’ll find many already have broadband access and can work via the internet cloud.

“A little bit of forward contingency planning and you’ll ensure your business won’t catch more than the flu,” said Kellett.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Mark Kellett, CEO of Magnet Networks.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years