FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How Would a Flu Pandemic Affect Business?

Recent findings suggesting a spread of avian flu (aka bird flu) have raised not only the obvious concerns about public health, but worries about how business infrastructures would continue to function in the event of a pandemic. Mass absenteeism, diversion of resources and even shortages would challenge businesses' day-to-day functioning, on top of added responsibilities for critical industries:

Airlines, for instance, would have to fly health experts around the world and overnight couriers would have to rush medical supplies to the front lines. Banks would need to ensure that computer systems continued to move money internationally and that local customers could get cash. News outlets would have to keep broadcasting so people could get information that might mean the difference between life and death.

"I tell companies to use their imagination to think of all the unintended consequences," said Mark Layton, global leader for enterprise risk services at Deloitte & Touche in New York. "Will suppliers be able to deliver goods? How about services they've outsourced — are they still reliable?"

Asian companies, drawing on their experience with SARS several years ago, are drawing up contingency plans that involve having employees work from home or at multiple sites as much as possible to reduce contamination, replacement of all face-to-face meetings with teleconferencing and web conferencing, and rapid "phone tree" communication via text messaging and cell phones. Companies in the US are likewise considering increased use of automation to keep operations running with minimal personnel.

Preparation for a pandemic -- whether or not one occurs -- could be the tipping point for many new business technologies that facilitate telecommuting and robotics. Just as interest in teleconferencing spiked in the wake of 9/11, so too could the broader adoption of technologies that have been "right around the corner" for years.

Source: New York Times