Business Continuity In the COVID-19 Emergency: How IBM is Responding


With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, IT vendors like IBM need to keep customers focused on the business continuity implications of pandemic-response tactics.

Robust enterprises maintain unshakeable business continuity even under the most trying circumstances.

Though few enterprises have included pandemics in their business continuity planning in the past, it’s a sure bet that most will do so from now on.

Rethinking Business Continuity with Pandemics in Mind

Pandemics such as COVID-19 endanger every aspect of a traditional business continuity plan. In the event of a “stay at home” order, primary and secondary disaster-recovery sites may all become equally off-limits to IT staff. Building and administering the software, hardware, and services that sustain business operations must be conducted at a distance. And by making in-person encounters potentially deadly, viral outbreaks make it difficult to complete day-to-day activities – among business and IT personnel equally – that involve such interactions.

See also: Reflections on a Real-Time Pandemic

IBM’s Comprehensive Business Continuity Response to COVID-19

When people’s lives are jeopardized by in-person business processes, an additional set of tactics must be considered to ensure business continuity with high availability.

Practically every tech vendor has responded with public statements of what it’s doing to battle coronavirus and to help customers and employees through this tense period. However, IBM’s strategic response to the pandemic is more comprehensive and multifaceted than its competitors. It is addressing the COVID-19 crisis at all levels in the company and in its engagement with the broader ecosystem of partners and customers.

From a business continuity standpoint, the key elements of its response may be considered in the following perspective.

Keep employees, partners, and customers from exposing themselves to the COVID-19 virus

Business continuity is impossible if you don’t keep your employees, customers, and partners’ personnel safe and healthy.

In early March, IBM announced the cancellation of its Think 2020 event in San Francisco. It also made plans to recreate Think as a “global, digital-first event” scheduled for May 5 to 7.

Also, IBM placed stringent new business-travel restrictions on its workforce. It now requires that employees who engage in personal travel to restricted locations inform their company managers about their trips and self-quarantine themselves for 14 days following the ends of their trips.

Keep customers’ businesses in operation throughout the COVID-19 emergency

Business continuity requires a back-end infrastructure that can continue to operate without fail even if principal offices are shut down and personnel required to work from home for an indefinite period.

In late March, IBM announced that it is providing a range of public cloud business services at no charge to existing customers for 90 days.

In addition, IBM has included several no-charge cybersecurity services in its COVID-19 response, offering these to customers who wish to thwart criminals’ attempts to penetrate exposed IT assets that are suddenly vulnerable in the rush to support first-time “work-from-home” employees.

Keep customers’ stakeholders well informed on the COVID-19 crisis

Business continuity requires that all customers and their stakeholders stay informed, from authoritative sources, on the status of the pandemic crisis and receive appropriate guidance on what actions they should take.

To that end, IBM announced the launch of  “Watson Assistant for Citizens,” an AI-driven virtual agent to help government agencies, healthcare organizations, and academic institutions deliver authoritative responses to COVID-19 questions.

Also, IBM’s The Weather Channel launched a free online dashboard and mobile app to help people track COVID-19 infections.

Furthermore, IBM has published a “call for code,” asking developers to create open-source apps to help address society’s challenges in coping with a different aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keep advancing scientific research into COVID-19 cures and treatments

In the broadest perspective, business continuity depends on the entire human race being able to pool our collective smarts in looking for cures and treatments to the pandemic.

In the past two weeks, IBM Research announced the availability to qualified researchers of free resources – such as a cloud-based AI research resource that has been trained on the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) – to help accelerate COVID-19 drug discovery.

Also, IBM announced its launch of the U.S. COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, under which it is delivering 16 supercomputers to help COVID-19 researchers in public, private, and academic partner organizations.

Furthermore, IBM announced the launch of two AI-powered services to help advance the study of COVID-19 and potential treatments. These include a cloud-based molecular explorer that enables researchers to study COVID-19 therapeutic candidates and a search engine for researchers to rapidly find useful data in relevant research literature.


As the current COVID-19 emergency wanes, IBM and other enterprise IT vendors will need to keep customers focused on the business continuity implications of pandemic-response tactics that may endure.

Chief among those risks is the massive shift of employees to working from home, if not every day, but as an optional off-siting that may continue to be required until the authorities give the global “all-clear” on the risk of COVID-19 re-infection.

In the aftermath of the current crisis, IBM and other enterprise IT solution providers should expand the range of cybersecurity protections they offer to “work from home” enterprise personnel.

From a business continuity standpoint, we are likely to see a surge in ransomware attacks that attempt to extort money from jittery companies who have, deliberately or inadvertently, allowed work-from-home employees to maintain valuable data and apps on their home computers.

Read the other blogs in this series:

James Kobielus

About James Kobielus

James Kobielus is a veteran tech industry analyst focusing on AI, cloud computing, and DevOps. In addition to his stint as IBM's big data evangelist, Jim has held research and consulting positions at Futurum Research, SiliconANGLE Wikibon, Forrester Research, Current Analysis and the Burton Group. He is a prolific business technology author, publishing regular columns in InfoWorld, InformationWeek, Datanami, and other industry channels.

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