Vendor Surveys: Helpful, Misleading or Just Confusing?

            I get lots of emails a day.  Many of them are trying to sell one thing or another or they’re telling me what training course I can take and how – if I sign up now – can save 15% with an early registration.  Once and awhile, I’ll get an update from a company that’s publishing their latest survey on Business Continuity or some other BCP/BCM/DR related field.  Some of these surveys are quite interesting in nature yet other times they seem to be a bit misleading. 

Recently, I received an email from a large reputable technology company stating that corporations weren’t doing enough to enable their workforce to work from home during a disaster; whether it be a natural disaster or something as a schools strike, causing parents to stay home. 

I had a brief conversation about this with a colleague and something ‘niggled’ at us.  Maybe it wasn’t noticed by the vendor or maybe it wasn’t, but we thought it odd that if a there’s a hurricane, this reputable technology company was suggesting that employees (and employers) should immediately be able to work from home?  Now, it might be possible for some that aren’t impacted by the hurricane to do that (assuming they want to and can) but I’ve yet to see anyone who has lost their home, friends or their neighbours who suddenly run into their home(s) and sign into their employer to do work.  Are they assuming there’s power? Is that really going to be the focus of a community and its employees during a natural disaster like a hurricane?

Granted, a school strike might be a good opportunity for someone to work from home – such as a parent or care giver – but if their youngster is exactly that – young – wouldn’t they be looking after them instead of working?

We also got talking about a few other challenges with regards to working from home.  We thought of it because both our current clients are experiencing the same issue with having people work from home. 

They both have said flatly that those who deal with client files (you know, those coloured folders full of papers) can’t work from home because they need to update them or add new correspondence to them or make changes to them.  They also need to ensure security and privacy of these files.  How do people get these files if security and privacy isn’t a concern?  And we know it is. 

For all the technology we have in place – in any organization/industry – there are still paper files that are utilized by many companies.  If this is the case, how do they address that?  They can’t pay taxis to move people’s files around and even couriers wouldn’t be able to keep up with that sort of thing.  What happens when more than one person needs access to the same file?  Not what do you do because it might be hard to even know where the file happens to be at the time it is needed.  It could even get lost in transport and how do you deal with all the privacy issues related to those files? 

Privacy issues?  Oh, sure there are privacy issues.  Some places that do allow ‘work from home options’ provide laptops to employees so they can work from home by dialling in using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  But do organization really have the amounts of money to do this – and offer support for these laptops?  It could be a fortune – something not easily found in today’s economic climate.

Some that provide remote access won’t allow people to use their own personal laptops or desktops, so if they are to work from home, they have to be provided a proper resources (laptop, desktop) to be able to do it.  It comes down to money again and when that happens, its going to be the IT team who gets them (for support) or executives (to do what exactly, no one is ever really sure…).   for the corporation?).  These laptops hardly go to those who do the actual ‘day to day business’ activities of the organization. 

That’s when those concerns over privacy and security come into play and again, the decision will be made (as I’ve personally experienced in numerous cases) that those who deal with client data/files can’t work from home; regardless of what vendor surveys and how they say that companies aren’t allowing it.   Well, there news for you, the privacy and security laws out there won’t allow it for many organizations, simply because of the nature of their business operations. 

So people can work from home during a disaster?  Really?  What if the site burned down – will people still be working from home? Or, is there the suggestion (or assumption) that a backup or alternate site is already in place and that those with dial-in/VPN capabilities will simply route to the new location and continue to work?  If they can, how do they recognize lost data from the outage period or corrupted date when systems ‘switched over’?  Is it done on their own and they move forward or do they need to be in contact with someone else on their team to help resolve the issue or validate that things are OK?  If not, they could accidentally recreate or resend files/transactions? 

Maybe someone working from home can’t see that a file was transmitted but someone else working from home performing a different task, but that person can see that a file was originally transmitted – successfully.  Now we have two files on the go because of communiation issues between people working from home.  How do organizations address that situation?  Should we be sharing each other home numbers (freely) so that we can talk amongst each other and investigate/resolve/validate/confirm issues?  Might be a bit tough to do if you ask me – even if many home numbers are available in the phone book.  How do these two individuals working on the issue resolve it?  One could duplicate a file transmission and cause issues later on down the road. 

I know some of you may say that its possible for everyone, especially when there is the technology in place to scan files and other documents, but can someone scan all these documents from home to make it possible for others to work from home?  It might be fine for documents that are already in the systems (scanned and indexed) but what about the new stuff coming in?  How can ‘work at home personnel’ deal with that?  How do changes occur to files if parts of them are scanned but other parts aren’t?  Could cauase a mess don’t you think? 

Again back to the physical files; can you control who is reading the files at an employee’s home?  It could be anyone; children while chatting with a work-at-home mom or dad, a neighbour who pops ‘round cause they see the mom or dad working at home or even a sibling looking for the stapler in the office. 

There lots of issues with working from home and its not so simple for a vendor to flatly state that employers aren’t doing enough – there’s more to the issue that what they are seeing, or not seeing. 

What I did find strange about the survey was that it was completed by technology companies and service providers, not other industries.  That in itself seemed a bit odd; why not get information from other industries?  Is there something that might be revealed if others were included into the survey?  Or is the survey simply a means to sell products by giving some misleading and confusing data for ‘paranoid’ corporations to digest and act upon?  Hhmmm…

So, based on what these survey emails and published survey results in magazines state, do these survey results actually help organizations make amendments to their continuity programs or do they provide a false sense that corporations aren’t out there doing something proactive?  Maybe corporations aren’t as ‘dumb’ as surveyors like to portray them. 

Oh, and FYI, I wrote this at home…

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