SOURCE: ChicagoFIRST

ChicagoFIRST

June 14, 2010 15:53 ET

ChicagoFIRST First Annual Telecommuting Test Encourages Critical Firms to Exercise Work-at-Home Capabilities

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwire - June 14, 2010) -  ChicagoFIRST continues its regional preparedness efforts through the coordination of the first annual telecommuting -- or "work-at-home" -- test among its membership. The collective test, in which more than 3,000 people from 12 critical private sector firms participated simultaneously, was held to provide an opportunity to hone individual firm plans and procedures, to share best practices and lessons learned among their peers, and to highlight concerns regarding Internet congestion.

For most critical infrastructure entities, telecommuting has become a vital element of all business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Nearly all participants in this test had previously worked from home, with a majority of them doing so either weekly or monthly.

Beginning in 2005, the federal government and many industry experts began to strongly recommend that the private sector employ work-at-home policies to address pandemic concerns. Now, in the case of any major emergency, not just pandemic, most critical firms will have a certain number of employees working at home.

As these numbers increase, concerns have arisen regarding the potential for Internet congestion in neighborhoods, miles from highly-populated central business districts.

"As telecommuting has become a critical element to business continuity plans and many regulators are starting to require these capabilities by firms, the June 4 Telecommuting Test served as an innovative way for ChicagoFIRST, as a partnership, to assist its members in their preparedness in this area," said Brian Tishuk, Executive Director of ChicagoFIRST.

Over the past several years, ChicagoFIRST has taken numerous steps at the federal level to identify potential solutions and urge officials to put the appropriate policies in place, collaborating with the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

At the regional level, however, one of the most effective steps that a company can take in terms of telecommuting preparedness is to field-test their policies and procedures. In this case, each participating firm decided individually which elements of their plans would be tested, including critical and non-critical processes, general log-on and system access capabilities, as well as video conferencing and document sharing.

The results from the June 4 Telecommuting Test show that overall, test participants were able to work from home effectively and, of the nearly 90% who had telecommuted before, an overwhelming majority found the Internet speed to be about the same as that experienced while working from home previously. Nevertheless, nearly 20% found the Internet slower and approximately 10% encountered obstacles requiring them to contact their help desks.

Some of the common problems identified included periodic disconnection from their firm server, an inability to access shared files or drives, restricted access to certain programs, and the need to have computers at work serviced so that they can coordinate with computers at home.

"Participating in the first annual ChicagoFIRST Telecommuting Test provided an excellent forum for us to stress test our existing work-at-home capabilities with employees on a much larger scale than previously done," noted John Fowler, chairman of ChicagoFIRST, and Senior Vice President and Director of Global Business Continuity and Recovery Services and Global Physical Security Services for Northern Trust.

Because this test was done among several firms at once, the participants can learn valuable lessons not only from their own employees, but also from participants at other firms regarding technology, internet speed, remote management structures, service providers, etc.

Overall, participants were fairly well-equipped to perform their jobs from home. At the same time, certain problems illustrated the value of testing telecommuting on a regular basis. During an emergency, it may not be possible to solve some of the issues experienced. A telecommuting test involving multiple firms and thousands of employees is an ideal means of highlighting problems that would benefit all participating firms and non-participating ChicagoFIRST members.

"As a matter of preparedness, we allow a segment of our personnel to work from home on a periodic basis," said Larry Kallembach, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer for MB Financial Bank. "However, this event gave us the opportunity to coordinate a larger group to work at home and to coordinate with similar firms in the region, and, in the end, gave us a more accurate picture of logistical and technical issues that could arise during a disaster," he added.

"Based on the success and positive feedback from members for this first-of-its-kind test, we plan to make this an annual event, increasing participation and evaluating performance over time," Mr. Tishuk added.

About ChicagoFIRST
ChicagoFIRST was formed in July 2003 by several Chicago-area financial organizations to enhance the resilience of the Chicago financial community and other key sectors, as well as critical infrastructure overall. The non-profit organization does this by establishing operational and information sharing relationships among its members and all levels of government, and by providing a means by which the critical private firms can coordinate with respect to homeland security and emergency management issues. Additional information can be found at www.chicagofirst.org.

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