Citrix Systems will reveal Oct. 23, at its iForum users conference in Orlando, Fla., a new work force continuity project that promises to help quickly mobilize a dispersed work force following a natural or man-made disaster.
Although most enterprises have the data center covered in their business continuity plans, few have addressed the need to provide employees with quick access to productivity tools such as e-mail and CRM (customer relationship management) applications when they cant get to the office.
In "Project Kent," Citrix Systems is pulling together a unique combination of technologies to make that possible and to give workers access to emergency information to help them in the aftermath of a disaster.
A study of work force continuity conducted by Forrester Research this summer found that the productivity loss from a three-day work force disruption at a 5,000-person enterprise would amount to a loss of $1.36 million, according to Stephanie Balaouras, an analyst at the Cambridge, Mass., company.
And although few of the business continuity managers at the enterprises surveyed were confident that they could reconnect dispersed workers, the news is not all bad. "A lot of enterprises do have some kind of secure remote access procedures in place already—more for mobile workers than business continuity. So the foundation is in place to support work force continuity," Balaouras said.
Project Kent combines emergency notification and content; easy access to data and applications from the Citrix Presentation Server or from a remote desktop; and remote telecommunications and collaboration in the form of a USB stick.
To date, no one vendor has pulled together this combination of capabilities to automate a comprehensive approach to work force mobilization, said Murli Thirumale, group vice president and general manager of the Advanced Solutions Group at Citrix, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"This is a technology soup that were trying to simplify using a USB stick and automation on the back end," Thirumale said.
The technology combines multiple modes of alerts, application access that includes security and authentication, remote access technologies, VOIP (voice over IP) softphones, RSS feeds and Google matchups, he said.
IBM Global Services intends next year to build new consulting and design services around the technology, according to Russ Lindburg, global offering executive for business continuity at IBM Global Services, in Chicago.
The IBM services offering, dubbed Virtual Workplace Continuity Services, will include a review of the clients business continuity plan to see how much it addresses the work force; business continuity strategy development; an update to the master plan; and design and implementation of the Citrix technology with customization that takes into account the clients critical business processes, most crucial employees, and critical partners and suppliers.
"This operationalizes the strategy and makes it real," Lindburg said.
As part of emergency notification and content functions, users "can start to develop a scenario at the end of this on who is activated and what happens using our planning wizard," said Barry Phillips, senior director of product marketing for Citrixs Advanced Solutions Group.
The wizard takes into account different scenarios—such as earthquakes, hurricanes and pandemics—and also prepopulates the system with contact information.
"When there is an event, a business continuity team member just has to activate the system and everything happens automatically. Our system starts notifying affected employees, sending SMS [Short Message Service] messages to cell phones, outbound calls on phones and e-mail. It will keep doing that till they respond or plug the [USB] key in. We ask [if] they need assistance, what their updated contact information is—we collect that information and use it later in other parts of the product," Phillips explained.
The business continuity team also can set up an announcement board to provide information to workers on which buildings are closed and who is back at work, as well as information that can help employees through the emergency. A roll-call report shows which employees are accounted for and automates procedures to account for employees.
Citrix used its own experience during Hurricane Wilma, for example, to develop a way to provide dispersed employees with information such as who had tools and supplies (such as a chain saw and tarps) they could borrow, as well as who was offering showers or places to cook, according to Phillips.
"Companies that use this will really acknowledge that their assets really are their people," said Mike Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo.
"Its a terrific way to build loyalty and a great way to express how those people assets are worth investing in and protecting," he added.
The system promises to simplify the process of accounting for employees and helping them return to work, according to Michael Emerson, Citrixs business continuity services manager.
"The roll-call feature is something weve struggled with over the past couple of years on how to make that process as easy as possible. Getting data from people to see if theyre OK and where they can be reached are imperative for a good business continuity solution. Having it so simple on a USB drive makes your deployment and end user training extremely easy," Emerson said.
Project Kent draws on Citrixs Presentation Server, Access Gateway, automated load balancing and failover with NetScaler technology, GoToMyPC remote control for desktops, and IP telephony technology.
When the business continuity manager provisions employees, they receive an URL in e-mail that installs a client on their machine.
"They get a [USB] key and headset and simple instructions. When the user plugs the key in and they want to access their desktop at work, they click on it, use authentication from the key and get to their work desktop," said Phillips.
"We also have the ability to connect into whatever existing Presentation Server farms there are available," he added.
Citrix expects to have Project Kent ready for customers some time in the first half of next year.