How one outsourcing provider is coping with swine flu
Monday, August 10, 2009
This morning, the BBC is reporting that swine flu deaths are on the rise in India. Over the weekend, three people died of the disease, followed by a further two in the early hours of today. A further six patients are reported to be in a serious condition in the western city of Pune, a major hub for outsourcing.
It’s too early to say what the full impact of the pandemic might be on the Indian outsourcing industry, but it seems possible that the costs could be considerable, in both economic and human terms. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas in Delhi has said this morning that, although the number of swine flu deaths in India is still low, there are concerns over the ability of badly-run and under-equipped government hospitals to handle a rising tide of patients. Plus, the 12 swine flu testing centres in India will not be sufficient if the number of cases rises sharply, he adds.
In light of this sad news, it seems a good opportunity to describe how one outsourcing provider, based in Mexico, has been coping with swine flu since the initial outbreak hit the country in April this year.
That company is Softtek and its approach to dealing with the spread of the H1N1 virus has been squarely based on using remote working technology to enable a large proportion of its staff in badly hit areas to work from home.
In Mexico, for example, the April outbreak meant that many companies shut down their operations for five days, according to Softtek vice president of marketing and communications, Alejandro Camino. But during this time, he says, all four of Softtek’s Global Deliver Centers (GDCs) in Mexico - in Aguascalientes, Ensenada, Mexico City and Monterrey - remained operational, through use of a remote work infrastructure that allowed between 50 percent and 80 percent of Softtek staff at these GDCs to work from home. That infrastructure included web conferencing software; virtualisation of client/server-based applications; Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Server for document and file-sharing; a blog for communications with clients and a Twitter stream to keep internal staff “in the loop”. As a result, Softtek was able to deliver on 100% of its contractual commitments during this difficult period.
Since then, Softtek has been applying the swine flu experiences garnered in Mexico to its operations in other regions, says Camino. “Probably the place where we are facing the biggest challenges right now is in Argentina,” he told me last week. Because it’s currently winter there, the virus has spread significantly in the southern cone of Latin America. The situation for Softtek is different in that country, because over 80% of the clients served by its GDC in La Plata (60km west of Buenos Aires) are domestic, meaning that “the concentration of large groups of people is an issue that we have to address jointly with our clients, at their own premises, rather than just Softtek taking unilateral measures.”
Still, despite operating in some of the most swine flu affected areas of the world, the company has had only one case of an employee testing positive to H1N1. “This was in Santiago in Chile. He was treated with retro-viral medications and is fully recovered,” Camino reports.
To me, the Softtek example offers important insights to other firms on the need to be prepared for swine flu. In the UK, for example, children and young people (who so far have proved more susceptible to the virus than others) will soon be returning to school and college, and the weather will be getting colder, prompting speculation that the country could see a second, more virulent ‘wave’ of the virus.
That could hit businesses hard. Economists at Ernst & Young recently predicted that swine flu could reduce 2009 GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK by 3 percent and that companies need to have a strategy for dealing with it. Next year, they say, the economy could see a further 1.9 percent knocked off GDP, “just as it could have been starting to recover from the credit crunch.” They advise companies to make sure staff can work from home and make full use of technologies that facilitate remote working, such as video conferencing and collaboration packages. Hopefully, outsourcing providers around the world, as well as their customers, will heed those words of advice.