Americans located in a band from Oklahoma City to Chicago to Portland, Me., are preparing for (or already experiencing) a large-scale snowstorm. Yesterday, I talked to Paul Ayoub, who took over as CIO for Hastings, Mich.-based Hastings Mutual last June, for another article, but was able to get some of his thoughts on how his company is preparing for the likely disruptions. (Hastings, Michigan is near Grand Rapids, about halfway between Chicago and Detroit as the crow flies. It's expecting 10 to 15 inches of snow with this storm, according to weather.com.) Look for the rest of my Q&A with Paul in our next print edition.
Insurance & Technology: Are you tracking this storm that's going to cut across the northern part of the country?
Paul Ayoub: We expect a big event. We've been talking about contingencies if workers aren't able to come into the office Wednesday. So yes, this is a test from a DR [disaster recovery] standpoint.
I&T: How do you prepare for such an event?
PA: Probably half of our employees have laptops. Of our 430 employees, about 125 are remote anyway — field sales, marketing, claims people. The half that doesn't have laptops, some subset of those can get access via their own PC. We were just talking about our plan of deploying loaner laptops. The entire IT staff can work remotely — the help desk will be up and working even if no one can get into the office.
I&T: What are some of the software solutions that you have in place for people who don't have company-issued computers?
PA: We have a Citrix solution in place that people can get into from their own personal computers. At a minimum, they can get e-mail, but depending on who they are they can get access to some of the apps they need to run.
I&T: Are you seeing a trend in the industry toward making these capabilities more widely available as the cost of entry comes down and security improves?
PA: I'm definitely seeing that the trend is for people to be able to work from home, whether that's a company deployed laptop with VPN or a Citrix solution off their own PCs. Though most companies probably don’t expect 100% of their employees to work during an event like this, most companies expect to have a large percentage of them working remotely. We deploy the capabilities that the employees can access company assets securely via their own computers or company laptops. Some companies are getting more into smartphones and tablets and stuff like that.
I&T: How were these weather events handled in the past?
PA: Many fewer employees could work from home so less work could be accomplished during events like this. Companies who use solutions such as SunGard for DR, like we do, would not invoke a DR event for a big snowstorm. But certainly other significant DR type events, would still warrant the use of the recovery site for restoring our systems. In the past, this could include booking space where some employees could go and work. Companies have gotten away from that because most people can work from home. The last three companies I've worked for have had that strategy. The old story of booking a hotel conference room and setting up laptops is not practical. Who's to say they can get to the hotel in the first place?