IT needs to prepare for avian flu disaster

Potential for pandemic should prompt IT shops to beef up remote collaboration infrastructure

What is it about birds and progress? Why are birds always mucking things up and slowing us down? If they’re not pooping on our windshields, they’re attacking our french fries or flying into our wind generators. And now, just when you thought you were prepared for any IT emergency, here comes the avian flu.

Gartner recently issued a strong warning to IT managers, entitled “Prepare Now for a Coming Avian Influenza Pandemic,” which we’d all better hope turns out to be Chicken Little. The report, by Gartner Fellow Ken McGee, says that an avian flu pandemic is “highly likely” and that IT shops need to prepare, primarily by beefing up work-at-home and remote collaboration infrastructure and by ensuring communication in case conventional voice and data channels get overloaded.

“Two of the three conditions required for a pandemic (little or no human immunity to the H5N1 virus, and the virus’s ability to replicate in humans and cause serious illness) are already in place,” the report notes. “Enterprises should take the widespread agreement on the strong likelihood of a pandemic as a signal to take immediate action.”

The report cites two Congressional Budget Office scenarios projecting the scope and impact of such a pandemic in the United States: “mild,” with 75 million H5N1 infection cases, 100,000 deaths, and a 1.5 percent drop in GDP; and “severe,” with 90 million cases, 2 million deaths, and a 5 percent GDP drop.

Eesh, let’s hope not. We’ve heard this stuff before (remember SARS), but in this case, there’s not much downside to taking Gartner’s IT advice. Best case is there’s no bird flu, and you’re left with better contingency planning that’s transferable to many other types of disruptions. And a more robust virtual collaboration capability that will help you compete and sleep easier at night.

Meanwhile, Razzle-Dazzle Snazzle Some happy end-of-year news for retail IT vendors: AMR Research is reporting that spending on retail applications should top $6.6 billion this year and keep growing briskly “as retailers look to dazzle customers.” Research analyst Marianne D’Aquila says that “customer experience is getting the highest priority” as retailers rush to upgrade their store systems, planning applications, and supply-chain capabilities. And she also notes that retailers will have to wean themselves off costly legacy systems, which constrain their marketing flexibility, and instead focus on new areas such as “advanced selling technologies.”

Do you feel the excitement yet? I ran across my original IBM PC this week and remembered the unparalleled thrill of paying $600 in 1988 for that Intel Inboard 386 processor upgrade. You know, there’s a shopper waiting to be razzle-dazzled in all of us.