These last few weeks our thoughts have been with the areas affected by major wildfires and hurricanes Harvey and Irma. As communities look toward rebuilding their homes and their lives after these devastating events, eventually local businesses have to rebuild as well. This got us thinking about the importance of a business continuity plan.
It doesn’t take an event as major as a hurricane or wildfire to disrupt business operations, but what if a natural or other disaster occurs that totally destroys your headquarters or primary data center? Most businesses don’t spend much time on this type of planning because the risk is quite low, but the overwhelming impact of such an unlikely event must be considered. Not to mention, many of the same solutions that you can put in place today to provide future business continuity will also provide other benefits by increasing the mobility for your workforce.
When considering what your continuity plan looks like, keep in mind that it is not necessarily a disaster recovery (DR) plan. A DR plan is part of business continuity, and refers to the ability to restore the data and applications that run your business. Business continuity is the overall strategy a business uses to operate with minimal downtime in the event of a service outage of any kind, whether minor (a single server) or major (a large-scale disaster).
With that in mind, below are some strategies to consider when designing your business continuity plan:
Assessing Your Readiness
First, consider how a natural or other disaster would affect your business with your current plan and technology in place. If your primary location and everything inside was destroyed today, what would the impact be on your business? When would you be able to begin operations again? From a technology perspective, would your email, phone, or other communication systems be affected? What about files, documents and other business data? What technology would be totally unavailable in the event of a disaster?
Creating Your Plan
Now, based on your assessment, what is your plan to resume normal operations as soon as possible? What can you change that will provide greater business continuity? What impact could the cloud have on your plan? What could you do today that would provide greater capabilities for your business while also introducing greater business continuity? Here are some primary areas to focus on:
- Data: Remote backups and redundant infrastructure are an absolute necessity to ensure you don’t lose access to your critical data (as well as to ensure that it isn’t lost forever if your systems go down!) Implement regular automated backups or snapshots of your databases and crucial system configurations. You also need some form of redundant infrastructure in place across multiple data centers so that if one data center is offline, you have a backup immediately ready to go.
- Access: Make sure that the correct personnel have secure remote access options for your critical business systems (your VPN, servers/databases, etc.) when they can’t get to your facilities for whatever reason. Note that the key word here is “secure”: Don’t give out system access to people who don’t need it, and use strong authentication options for your most important systems.
- Communication: With your primary location unavailable, how can you quickly communicate with your team members once they begin working remotely, or with your clients who may or may not be affected by the same incident? Ensure your email client will still be accessible in this situation (see our recommendation for Office 365 below), and look into a cloud-based messenger (Slack, Jive, Microsoft Teams) and/or VoIP phone system (Google Voice, Skype) to keep lines of communication open.
In addition to the general recommendations above, here are some specific technologies to consider implementing to enhance your readiness even further:
- Microsoft Office 365: This move to the cloud should be a no-brainer. Office 365 is more secure, has better capabilities than previous versions of Office, is always at the latest versions, and leaves out the headache of maintenance and manual backups. Your team can access their email, Office tools and documents from anywhere!
- Laptops: Switching from desktop to laptop PCs offers great mobility in normal operations (even within the office), and offers built-in business continuity since your team can take them home and easily work off-site.
Business continuity is easy to ignore since the risk of a total business interruption is quite low, but the impact could be catastrophic for your business, so it really must be considered today rather than in the heat of the moment or after a catastrophic event. If done right, you will see business value today in the increased mobility of your workforce, and you will have peace of mind knowing that the appropriate measures are already in place if a disaster should occur and impact your business.
What Is Your Business Continuity Plan?
With intro news today shifting to all about hurricanes and the devastating destruction, one can’t help but think about those with businesses in the affected areas and the deaths that have occurred. Aware that it does not take a hurricane to disrupt your business operations, what if some event with similar impact happened to your business? Most don’t spend much time on this type of planning because the risk is low, but impact must be considered, and the upside — same solutions you put in place to provide business continuity will also provide other benefits around increased mobility for a remote workforce.
Assessment — What would happen if your primary building with everything inside was destroyed today, what would the impact be on your business? When would you be able to begin operations again? From a technology perspective — do you have email, phone, or other communication systems impacted? Files and documents? What technology would you be without in the event of a disaster?
Not Necessarily a Disaster Recovery Plan – which can be costly and capabilities today can significantly reduce that need.
Based on Your Assessment – What is your plan to get back to normal operations? What should you change to provide greater business continuity without having to recover? What impact could the cloud have on your plan? What could you do today to provide greater capabilities for your business and also provide greater business continuity?
Plan Outline – Data, access, communication (internal) and external with clients.
- Office 365 – Get email services out of your office, this move to the cloud should be a no-brainer. More secure, better capabilities, always the latest versions, and no headache of maintenance and backups.
- Laptops vs. Desktops – Great mobility in normal operations (even within the office) and built-in business continuity.
Takeaway – Business continuity must be considered. If done right, you get business value today from greater mobility of your workforce, and peace of mind if a disaster strikes and impacts your business.