It is all about a well planned and well executed recovery and continuity plan

National Preparedness Month was this September and already Hurricane Joaquin is here. We should remember that it is crucial to know how to recover when disaster strikes. It’s serious stuff: the economy takes a damaging hit, and some businesses suffer financial loss so great that they never reopen.

Gartner estimates that the average business loses $5,600 per minute of downtime. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy have devastated local communities almost to the point of no return, costing billions in reparations to infrastructure, businesses and the lives of those personally affected.

The graphic below illustrates the states most prone to such incidents. September falls in the middle of hurricane season when many coastal businesses keep careful watch on developing storms such as the recent Tropical Storm Erika. However, storms are not the only crises with high potential to harm business continuity. More commonplace disruptions, such as equipment failures and critical employees calling in sick, can also have major business impact over time.

States Most Prone to Natural Disasters

National Preparedness Month serves as a reminder to businesses across the country of how critical it is to assess their readiness to handle disruptions and create a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan. As B2B businesses conduct continuity assessments, they should pay particularly close attention to the reliability and capability of their technology.

According to Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael Brandenburg, “Well-architected cloud [private branch exchange] or [Unified Communications as a Service] offerings can provide a high level of protection during a disaster event, as well as significantly reduce or almost eliminate the time it takes to recover after a disaster.”

In an effort to ensure disaster-related downtime is kept at bay, businesses should proactively back up data, move servers to the cloud and keep communication a top priority.

Back Up Business Data

The first step in disaster preparedness is backing up all relevant data and ensuring that there are replicas of important files and information in case the primary data is lost, corrupted or inaccessible. From personal business files on PCs to sensitive corporate data on servers, this information is a company’s lifeblood and powers day-to-day business decisions, large and small.

To maximize security, businesses should look for cloud-based solutions where information is stored in multiple data centers. This geo-diversity ensures access to backup files in case a regional disaster affects one of the data centers.

One of the most important factors in preparing a backup solution is the time it takes to recover your data. Businesses will want to start recovering time-sensitive materials immediately, and for companies with large volumes of data, this could take days, weeks or even months. Work with a provider who will prepare and ship a physical hard drive so that businesses continues as normal as possible.

Move Servers to the Cloud

Moving infrastructure to the cloud protects businesses far more effectively than relying on outdated, on premise solutions. Cloud service providers should be able to guarantee 99.99 percent uptime.

This reliability is the top consideration that draw businesses to the cloud, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey of IT decision-makers. From a disaster preparedness perspective, scalability is also a key consideration in transitioning servers to the cloud. The ability to increase off-site server capacity at a moment’s notice through a web-based portal makes organizations even more nimble in responding to business disruptions.

Such a level of access makes it easier to get these resources up and running quickly, regardless of location, without any capital investment and with minimum additional IT resources. Beyond reliability and scalability, the cost effectiveness of cloud-based UC solutions is yet another strong factor in forcing businesses to reconsider their disaster preparedness solutions. All three factors interconnect to offer a high quality, effective solution to ensure business continuity.

Keep Communication a Top Priority

Clear, timely communication is more critical than ever during disruptions. To keep lines of communication open, businesses should look for cloud-based IP phone systems. Features like mobile twinning, which sends inbound calls to mobile and desk phones simultaneously, ensures employees are available at any location at a moment’s notice.

Businesses should also invest in voice services that use a dedicated circuit with automatic failover in order to reduce dependence on the Internet, proactively identify potential issues with the primary line and seamlessly switch to alternate lines without downtime.

To keep business functioning optimally, it is best to house 100 percent of communications in the cloud. While hardware such as phones and desktops are key for in-office productivity, any programming stored in a physical phone increases the odds of disruption when the unexpected occurs.

Keeping phone communication settings in the cloud allows businesses to leverage features like softphones, which aid mobile workers by allowing any Internet-connected PC, iPad, iPhone or Android device to be turned into another phone extension.

B2B companies must be able to address the needs and concerns of the businesses they serve – even in the midst of a disaster. Town Residential, a New-York based real estate company that deals in both commercial and residential properties, lived that reality during Hurricane Sandy. When businesses across Manhattan were shutting down, Town Residential did not miss a single phone call. In fact, the day after the hurricane hit, they closed their single largest deal of the year.

Too many businesses settle for surviving disaster, when the right technology would enable them to thrive despite it. Town Residential ensured business continuity in advance to the disaster by choosing the right provider and the right solutions.

While National Preparedness Month places business continuity at the forefront of business planning, companies should prioritize preparedness year-round. Backing up and moving critical data, servers and communications into the cloud, and ensuring open communication are foundational steps to reducing vulnerability.

Putting the right technologies in place today is critical to navigating accidents, failures and disasters in the future that might otherwise disrupt operations. With proper planning, businesses may never need to recover from disasters – because they will avoid them altogether.

Advertisements

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning – Lessons we need to learn from Sandy

Disasters can be classified in two broad categories. The first is natural disasters such as fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. The second category is man-made disasters to include security incidents, equipment failures, arson, sabotage, and even file deletions.  While preventing disasters is very difficult, measures such as good planning which includes mitigation measures can help reduce or avoid losses.  Disaster recovery is the process, policies and procedures related to preparing for recovery or continuation of technology infrastructure critical to an organization after a natural or human-induced disaster. Of companies that had a major loss of business data in the last 5 years; 43% never reopened, 51% closed within two years, and only 6% survived.  As a result, preparation for continuation or recovery of systems needs to be taken very seriously. This involves a significant investment of time and money with the aim of ensuring minimal losses in the event of a disruptive event.

Disaster Recovery Planning is the factor that makes the critical difference between the organizations that can successfully manage crises with minimal cost and effort and maximum speed, and those that are left picking up the pieces for untold lengths of time and at whatever cost providers decide to charge; organizations forced to make decision out of desperation.

Detailed disaster recovery plans can prevent many of the heartaches and headaches experienced by an organization in times of disaster. By having practiced plans, not only for equipment and network recovery, but also plans that precisely outline what steps each person involved in recovery efforts should undertake, an organization can improve their recovery time and minimize the time that their normal business functions are disrupted. Thus it is vitally important that disaster recovery plans be carefully laid out and regularly updated. Organizations need to put systems in place to regularly train their network engineers and mangers. Special attention should also be paid to training any new employees who will have a critical role in the disaster recovery process.

There are several options available for organizations to use once they decide to begin creating their disaster recovery plan. The first and often most accessible source a business can drawn on would be to have any experienced managers within the organization draw on the knowledge and experience they have to help craft a plan that will fit the recovery needs specific to their unique organization. For organizations that do not have this type of expertise in house, there are a number of outside options that can be called on, such as trained consultants and specially designed software.

One of the most common practices used by responsible organizations is a disaster recovery plan template. While templates might not cover every need specific to every organization, they are a great place from which to start one’s preparation. Templates help make the preparation process simpler and more straightforward. They provide guidance and can even reveal aspects of disaster recovery that might otherwise be forgotten.

The primary goal of any disaster recovery plan is to help the organization maintain its business continuity, minimize damage, and prevent loss. Thus the most important question to ask when evaluating your disaster recovery plan is, “Will my plan work?” The best way to ensure reliability of one’s plan is to practice it regularly. Have the appropriate people actually practice what they would do to help recover business function should a disaster occur. Also regular reviews and updates of recovery plans should be scheduled. Some organizations find it helpful to do this on a monthly basis so that the plan stays current and reflects the needs an organization has today, and not just the data, software, etc., it had six months ago.

Business Continuity planning is an essential part of running any modern organization that takes its business and its clients seriously. With so many potential business disasters looming that can befall an organization at any time, it seems unwise not to take actions to prepare for and try to prevent the devastating impact of such catastrophes. There is a multiplicity of benefits in planning for Business Continuity within your organization. Not only will your data, hardware, software, etc., be better protected, but the people that compose your organization will be better safeguarded should a disaster occur. In addition, employees will be informed and rehearsed as to what actions to take to immediately start the recovery process and ensure business continuity if disaster strikes.

Without this type of preparation any unexpected event can severely disrupt the operation, continuity, and effectiveness of your business. Disabling events can come in all shapes and varieties. They can vary from the more common calamities like hard drive corruption, building fires or flooding to the rarer, yet more severe and often longer lasting disruptions that can occur on a city-wide or even national basis; events such as disruptions in transport (oil crises, metro shut-downs, transport worker, strikes, etc.), infrastructure weakening from terrorist attacks, or even severe loss of staff due to illness like a pandemic flu. All of these strikes a blow at an organization’s struggle for business continuity.

For smaller companies the impact of the above mentioned and even lesser disasters can hit much harder. For example, unexpected non-availability of key workers alone could be catastrophic, potentially causing as much disruption to business continuity as technological hardship, especially if it occurs during the height of the company’s busy season. If only one person is trained to do particular and/or essential tasks, their unexpected absence can severely disrupt productivity.Thus, putting business continuity plans into practice in your organization now can prepare your business for most any potential disaster, help ensure that you will be able to maintain continuity of your business practices, and reduce or even possibly remove the effect such calamities could have on your organization.

In addition to the above mentioned benefits, the following are also advantages of business continuity planning:

If not already, your organization my soon be required to incorporate some type of Business Continuity Management planning into its policies by either corporate governance or governmental legislation.
With an effective and practiced Business Continuity plan, your insurance company may well view you more favorably should some sort of disaster ever require you to call upon their services.
In creating a Business Continuity plan, the process of evaluating potential weakness and planning how to deal with what could possibly go wrong often offers management the chance to gain a better understanding of the minutia of their business and ultimately helps an organization identify ways to strengthen any short comings. Frequently the greatest and most immediate value of the Business Continuity planning process is the awareness one gains of the details of his/her business and not necessarily the streamlining of how to handle disaster as an organization. Business Continuity planning can often create awareness of useful ways to improve an organization, sometimes even in areas that had previously gone unconsidered.

Business Continuity planning will make your organization more robust. It can strengthen your organization not only against large-scale problems it can also help make smaller problems that might have caused continuity interruptions to become moot, through detailed planning.

Business Continuity plan will show your investors that you take business seriously, that you are prepared and desire to maintain productivity regardless of difficulty. This preparation will also show your staff that you have their employment and personal well-being in mind. It will show that you care.

Informing your customers that you have a Business Continuity plan, that you have taken steps to ensure continuity of your productivity so that you can keep your commitments to them, lets them know that you consider the provision of quality service a high priority which in turns instills their confidence in your business. A Business Continuity plan helps protect your organization’s image, brand, and reputation. Being known as a reliable company is always good for business. And finally, a Business continuity plan can significantly reduce your loses if ever you are hit by disaster.

As a way to mitigate communications and data loss, we suggest the following:

  1.  Know your providers contact information (check out our list of provider emergency numbers)
  2.  If you can, vary your providers and the types of circuits (e.g. use a primary circuit that is fiber, secondary circuits copper, back up with fixed wireless)
  3.  Back up your data onsite and offsite (check out our back up disaster recovery device – that does constant backups and you can do a bare metal restore off of!)
  4.  Write your plan, communicate your plan and revise your plan.
  5.  Practice your plan
  6.  Research your options! In writing this blog, I used information from http://www.disasterrecovery.org which offers free disaster recovery and business continuity templates.