Commentary: Pandemic planning is critical for transportation IT systems

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Polaris created a Digital Laboratory and a sister company, Northstar Digital Solutions, to develop intellectual property around the customs process.
Polaris created a Digital Laboratory and a sister company, Northstar Digital Solutions, to develop intellectual property around the customs process.

People around the world today are on edge due to the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses should be on edge as well, and preparation is key. At the core of the matter is information technology (IT).

Imagine the CEO of your organization getting a call from operations leaders saying that your entire IT team is infected and quarantined. What’s more, your order-processing and e-mail systems are both down. What do you do? Whom do you contact? How do you communicate the urgency, and what about your clients and partner networks?

All of a sudden, the world is a chaotic nightmare with people scrambling and trying their best to solve something. But all this could be planned and executed with seamless precision, and all the while maintaining your business continuity.

Dave Brajkovich is chief technology officer of Polaris Transportation Group, the 2020 CCJ Innovator of the Year, based in Mississauga, Canada.Dave Brajkovich is chief technology officer of Polaris Transportation Group, the 2020 CCJ Innovator of the Year, based in Mississauga, Canada.

Today, IT systems are crucial for any business, so it is vital for systems like e-mail, order-to-cash management, client call center, billing and web portals to function properly. Systems need people to run them, so preventing these systems from down time, security breaches, and viruses (human or computer) is critical.

No matter what kind of business you’re in, it is important to protect your people and organization, and establish procedures and policies that will prevent critical systems from being infected or breached.

If we think about ourselves as “systems”’ we must do the same thing that we do with computer systems; we must have the same sense of urgency to protect ourselves from health-related issues, such as viral infectious diseases that could seriously affect our ability to function as individuals, as a company, and as a community.

So, how do we put in place solid pandemic plans that allow us to function and operate all our critical business systems, while keeping us safe?

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Organizations involved in health care, utilities, communications, and food services are all focused on continuity programs for pandemic planning and disaster recovery. They have to be. But transportation and many other industries are not aware of what to do and are in catch-up mode. They operate in a bubble of status quo, and only react and scramble when things get out of hand.

Here are the key factors for success with pandemic planning for IT:

  • Systems should operate with minimal IT-user interventions. That means making sure that your integrated systems with clients, partners and staff can all operate without any issues developing should user-intervention management not be possible.
  • The entire user community should be able to work remotely at home or at any alternate locations set up as safe sites. That means these people still have full access to files, key applications, and core systems.
  • Communication platforms are vital. You need internal messaging systems to get emergency information out to the user communities and external messaging through multimedia outlets. That can include SMS (text), e-mail, and social-media applications.
  • Have containment procedures ready for areas of infection within the facilities. At Polaris we have a digital lab that can be sealed off and used as a command center. This keeps our users safe, provides cleansing stations, and ensures that any infected user equipment is contained and quarantined for sanitization purposes or, at the very least, is safely disposed of.
  • Ensure an alternate chain of command procedures, in case of executive absence. Responsibilities must be outlined and communicated for key decision-making responsibilities.

These are some of the things we have put in place to become a responsible organization that can contribute to preventing and containing pandemic challenges for now and in the future. But this is not only an IT responsibility. It requires the whole organization to be part of the solution, so every person knows what to do, when, where and how.

Dave Brajkovich is chief technology officer of Polaris Transportation Group, the 2020 CCJ Innovator of the Year, based in Mississauga, Canada. This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail on February 14, 2020.