IT projects feel SARS impact

IT projects could face significant delays unless companies tighten workplace policies and activate solid business continuity plans as the epidemic economists are calling the $US30 billion disease spreads.

Warning that large projects face delays in the face of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), Meta Group analyst for executive directions Kevin McIsaac said the disease is having a significant impact on IT activities throughout Asia.

In addition to staff bans on travelling to the region, McIsaac said important global projects, often staffed by only a few external specialists, are being delayed.

Consequently, SARS is forcing companies to explore more collaborative solutions for their staff, and use teamware like instant messaging and Web conferencing tools to overcome geographical barriers to communication.

These solutions are simple ways of reducing process cycle times and enhancing workforce productivity, McIsaac said. But the onus still lies with IT and business managers to prove bottom line improvements like reduced travel costs and productivity gains when proposing the staff use such solutions, and buying new applications not out of fear, but need.

Smart companies in the Asia-Pacific region have been preparing for the worst, assessing how they can minimise face-to-face contact with overseas colleagues, clients, suppliers or partners in order to lower the risk of the potential spread of the disease to their environment.

And while SARs is not decimating the workforce, more employees are choosing to work from home, forcing companies to reassess whether they can provide adequate resources for teleworking such as VPNs and video- and audioconferencing facilities.

Sometimes the simplest contingency plans can be the most effective. Gartner research director Dion Wiggins cited the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank whose Hong Kong headquarters splits its customer service staff into two shifts each day. "In the event that one shift got infected, the other could continue servicing its customers, " he said. The number of HSBC branch customers visiting the bank has also dropped with fewer willing to do face-to-face business, Wiggins said.

Sydney-based AMP's management is holding board meetings involving regional staff via teleconferencing, McIsaac said. Australian-based Abbott Pharmaceuticals has cut all non-essential travel to the Asia-Pacific region and recently banned a corporate trainer who had just returned from Asia from training its Australian staff. IT executives in Australia are also dusting off their videoconferencing technology just to be on the safe side.

But the extent to which organisations will innovate and adopt more face-less work styles depends on their culture, McIsaac believes. Companies with a global, collaborative, technology-intensive and mobile culture will easily adjust to the need for less face-to-face communication.

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