Business Continuity: How Quickly Do You Plan to Bounce Back?
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Business continuity plans aren't just for large enterprises, or for when natural disasters strike. For most SMBs, every hour of interrupted operations can represent a significant loss; yet many aren't prepared for any kind of outage. Planning for unexpected interruptions can lead to solutions that will help SMBs bounce back from costly disruptions.
Would your business survive if it couldn't operate for 24 hours? Or 48 hours? As many SMBs discover, every hour without access to power or basic infrastructure services can bring a business another step closer to permanent shutdown.
Frequently people think of technology and facilities as being critical to bouncing back from disaster. While these two components are central, business continuity also depends on how well your business has planned for unexpected operational interruptions. Without planning, even small annoyances have a tendency to become big problems that can sap your business of revenue for long periods of time.
Small Incidents Can Become Big Stoppages
It's not just Mother Nature that can take businesses down; the odds are very good that you will face the consequences of others kinds of outages and interruptions. A small fire on another floor of the building could you force to evacuate your office-and if the sprinklers go off, your servers, computers and other electronic devices just might become useless, waterlogged pieces of metal. Or a construction mishap a few doors down might take the neighborhood electrical transformer offline and completely cut off your electricity supply, bringing your business to a standstill.
Costly interruptions can have sources as simple as seemingly inconsequential manual errors that shut down critical servers. Regardless of the source of these problems, the outcome is almost always a substantial loss of income. Customers aren't served, partner contracts aren't fulfilled, and employees aren't able to be productive.
Start with Thinking the Unthinkable-and Plan for it
Suppose a forklift backs into your building and takes out all the network connections. You may not have foreseen this accident as a possibility, but hopefully you will have considered that something might someday interrupt your business operations.
Business continuity planning will help you survive periods of forced inactivity. Your business should have preparations ready for each department and its people. What will it take to get things up and running again-and what will you have employees do while access to data is unavailable?
IT staff need to know which applications, servers and databases are the first priority-and which people require access to these IT components first. But it's not just the IT staff that needs to be part of business continuity plans. Other employees will need to know what to do in the event of minor and major disruptions. Contingency plans for interruptions as well as larger outages will help ensure that key employees can work offsite-and still have access to data.
That's why thinking about the unthinkable goes a long way toward understanding the interdependencies of all the components that run your business. A realistic look at the technologies and services critical to running your business will help you figure out the procedures and technologies needed to beat back the consequences of disaster.
The Technology Factor Makes Business Continuity Tick
If reminders about the importance of offsite backup and giving employees remote data access make you realize that you haven't done enough for business continuity planning, take heart. Few SMBs have contingency plans for disruptions or the tools and solutions ready to meet them.
This lack of preparation often stems from the view that only large enterprises are capable of implementing meaningful business continuity practices. Yet the truth of the matter is that without some kind of business continuity structure in place, an SMB is likely to lose revenue it cannot afford to lose. One critical area of technology often overlooked by SMBs for business continuity can be found in continuous data access. Without it, customers and partners aren't served-and this can make an SMB bleed money. Backup storage within your primary place of business is a start-and will provide extra security in case you find yourself in a situation where some servers suddenly go down.
But if there's a power outage, same-site redundancy isn't going to help. Continuous availability and data access can be achieved relatively easily by replicating information in an offsite location-ideally far away from where you do business. Otherwise, everything that makes your business run can come to a screeching halt. But with continuous data access, employees can work offsite, and if you have mobile employees, they'll continue working as they normally do.
Continuous data access should work hand-in-hand with regular backups of data; otherwise critical information can be lost in an outage-even if you have redundant servers located somewhere else. Plus, with the right foresight, your company should have other tools in place, such as surge protection, to make sure that sudden restoration of power won't fry your critical systems.
Your plan will also come into play for restoring systems and renewing employee access to your systems, so the most important functions will be up and running first. Ideally, you'd be able to restore all operational functions that rely on IT immediately, but in most cases a methodical approach to checking systems is the most efficient way for SMBs to get back on track.
Bouncing Back Doesn't Have to Hurt the Wallet
Despite the commonly held view among SMBs that business continuity solutions are expensive and difficult to implement, disaster preparation can be both affordable and easily attained. Commonsense business continuity solutions-such as backup, storage and security designed for small and midmarket organizations-can be far more cost-effective in the long run than dealing with the consequences of unexpected interruptions.
New online backup options are an alternative that offers greater potential cost efficiencies by transferring backup data via the Internet. This method reduces the risks of performing manual backups with tape, disk or hard-drive systems -- or for companies that have no procedures for backing up their data - and enables backup and data recovery to be achieved from any Web browser.
Packaged services offer a fixed-price solution with flexible configurations. For many SMBs, the hosted services model of business continuity solutions reduces maintenance costs in preparing for the unthinkable. Often offered as a subscription, these services can fit most business continuity plans in a way that minimizes effort on your part. Other SMBs with a more hands-on approach to IT may wish to consider the many business continuity training classes available through vendors.
Regardless of how business continuity best suits your organization, be sure to start planning now. With a little foresight, you may be able to ride out any catastrophe-and be up and running before outages take their toll on your profitability.
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