Tue, May 13, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Broadband key to communicating during quarantine

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Broadband Internet access may prove key in the success of contingency plans to prevent inter-company SARS transmissions by dividing up staff between homes and offices.

An increasing number of companies are dividing up crucial employees, but are finding home-based employees need to be connected.

"Like many other local companies, we are finding the biggest difficulty in having our staff work from home is the shortage of [broandband] equipment," Joseph Chou (周家鋒), senior vice president of National Investment Trust Co (建弘投信), said yesterday.

National Investment sent nearly half of its 80 staff to work at home starting late last month, and may send more if the outbreak of SARS keeps worsening. The measure, however, requires more than cooperation from personnel.

Chou said the firm is encouraging home-based staff to install the super-fast Internet connections.

"Household broadband Internet access is still not widespread compared to access via dial-up service," Chou said.

As of the end of last year, 8.95 million households in the nation had Internet access, with about one-quarter of that figure using broadband services, according to the government-funded Market Intelligence Center (資策會).

The speed of exchanging files is the key issue.

"The speed of the dial-up system cannot meet our needs," Chou said.

Another inconvenience of dividing up staff is company Intranet systems become useless, he said.

Hewlett-Packard Co, the world's biggest personal computer maker, has also encountered problems due to the lack of broadband access in staff homes, said HP general manager David Wang (王柏堂) yesterday.

HP resolved the dilemma by selecting only staff with broadband access for home assignment, and further subsidizes a portion of employees' broadband fees, which can top NT$1,000 per month.

On April 7 the company split its staff into three teams with one team working from home and two others working in separate offices. Staff members from different teams are allowed to meet face to face, Wang said.

Splitting up staff only adds to corporate costs.

HP spent an undisclosed amount on videoconferencing equipment to allow its various teams to communicate without meeting. The results are not always perfect.

"Message exchange by phone or videoconferencing is still not as smooth as face-to-face communications, and increases the time we need to do business," Wang said. "Despite the added cost, time and energy to conduct such measures, we'll still carry them out rather than paralyze the whole operation."

Unlike companies with limited communication facilities, Microsoft Corp has established a mobile office system over the past two years, meaning that most of its staff are not office bound.

"Our [company's] operations weren't affected in the slightest degree by SARS," Microsoft Taiwan spokeswoman Zoe Cherng (程文燕) said. "I believe working from home will be a trend in the future."

Cherng, however, warned that companies need to be more cautious about security in case hackers intercept important official data transmitting via the Internet.

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