karldmoore development

A development oriented blog, containing anything I've been working on, reading or thinking about.

Businesses Counting Cost Of Bad Weather: How Can Technology Help?

Posted by karldmoore on February 5, 2009

dsc00181The BBC reported on Tuesday that the recent disruptions caused by the heavy snowfall could cost UK businesses about £1bn (or $1.4bn as of 05/02/2009). It was also estimated that about 20% of the UK’s working population, or 6.4 million people, were absent from work. The bad weather has continued this week and is forecast to continue into the weekend. With the huge potential loses to the economy how can technology help?

Currently the roads are covered in snow, buses, trains and planes are cancelled and I’m stuck at home, and I’m costing my employer money. Some employers might expect you to turn up regardless of the weather. Some employers might take the “snow day” out of of next months wages. Some employers provide the means to let their employees work from home. It is obviously not logistically possible for every business to allow working from home, but what about the ones that can? In a quote from the BBC report, Keith Tilley said;

“Employers need to do everything they can to allow staff to work from home and ensure that those that do manage to travel to work are well looked after, with overnight accommodation if necessary.”

Many businesses are turning to technology to allow their employees to not only work from home during periods of bad weather but also during peak demand. These virtual call centres are proving extremely popular with more businesses turning to this technology to provide a more permanent solution. Many businesses could benefit from this approach but lack the technology to actually make it possible. Is this technology too expensive, too complicated or is there simply a lack of knowledge about it’s usage?

A quick search in Google yields a range of solutions that can make working from home very possible, one of the best is a VPN. At one end of the spectrum is OpenVPN which retails at £0 (or $0). It’s open source; download it, install it, configure it and you’re ready to go. There is obviously an associated learning curve, but for most people with a technological persuasion it should be quite straight forward. If you don’t want to have to install and maintain software, another top result is Barracuda SSL VPN which starts to retail at £1250 (or $1800). It’s an appliance; turn it on, configure it and you’re ready to go. Both solutions provide the means to be virtually on the network without having to be physically in the office. Access can be provided to email, file servers, internal Web sites and office workstations. As a developer I can access CVS, SVN, our Maven repository, Hudson build system and any other resource I use during my normal working day. I can be just as productive (often more so) as if I’m really in the office.

There are a whole range of products that allow employees to work from home, but there really should be something to suit every businesses budget. Some businesses worry about letting employees work from home, but even if the technology is only used for extreme or emergency purposes, at least a business can suffer near zero downtime. Even if the technology is only used once or twice a year, it can still provide a return on investment for the smallest of companies. We currently have six team members connected to our SSL VPN, our business is counting the cost of the bad weather, but fortunately for us it should be somewhere near £0 ($0).

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