A business continuity plan is a must for small and mid-sized businesses. Companies have been told to collect critical employee and customer contacts, business data and intellectual property and store it in the cloud. In the case of an outage, fire, natural disaster or a simple power failure, it’s possible to get back online faster and limit the amount of time that you’re spending without access to critical systems, information and equipment by having a clearly defined disaster plan in place.
Yet once the lists are secure and the cloud storage systems are in place, what else can companies do? Here’s a closer look at six strategies that can help shore up your business continuity plan, help reduce your chances of going offline and make it easier for small and mid-sized businesses to put plans into action when business as usual is disrupted.
1. Personalized File Backups
Server-level backups are an important component of any company’s business continuity strategy. Whether your files are stored 100% in the cloud or your company embraces a hybrid cloud and on-site server strategy, most companies are regularly backing up information like client data, financial information and other critical information. Often, physical versions of your most important files are kept at another location.
Yet it’s important that individual employees also have remote backups of their files taken regularly. Look for a system that:
- Runs in the background of your employees’ system and automatically backs up files. Since it runs in the background, it won’t slow down their computers while they’re working.
- Works on all your employees’ devices, including laptop and mobile, since employees now work on both their mobile devices and laptops.
- Meets your company’s security standards or industry compliance standards.
- Speeds up restoration of files in case of a system or hard drive failure.
- Can be accessed from any Internet connection with a secure username and password to help employees get back online when outages or disasters occur. This will ensure employees can work from home or an alternative office location in case your office is out of commission.
2. Email Continuity Solutions
Workers receive an average of 122 emails per day. If you assume that most of those arrive during business hours, every hour that your servers are offline means that your employees could be missing fifteen critical emails. These emails could be from vendors with a problem, customers with an important question or prospects ready to sign a deal. In other words, none of these are messages that you can afford to miss. Small and mid-sized businesses should consider an email continuity solution, which keeps emails flowing even when your servers go down. While your IT team works to get you back online, your staff can access their most recent messages through a mobile device or a secondary web connection. Factors to consider when choosing an email continuity solution include:
- An easy-to-set-up model with adequate technical support throughout the setup process
- On-demand technical support to help your team access email during crisis events and to troubleshoot technical problems
- Integrates with your company’s mail client of choice, such as Outlook, or offers easy to access alternative web-based or mobile access solutions
- Diverts a copy of messages to a secondary mailbox that can be accessed while your main email access is offline and prevents an “undeliverable” message from being sent to your customers
3. Cross-Device Continuity Solutions
Whether you’re facing a server outage or a physical issue like a major storm, downtime can have critical consequences for your business. Employee communications get cut off, critical systems aren’t processing transactions and customers see that your website is offline. An important tactical part of any small or mid-sized business continuity plan is thinking about cross-device continuity solutions. One set of devices that is probably still working is your employees’ mobile devices. Your business continuity planning should consider:
- BYOD: If your company embraces a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, business continuity planning may be more complex as you have to create strategies for multiple devices, operating systems and platforms.
- Can cloud-based versions of essential systems be accessed by mobile devices if core servers go offline to keep things moving?
- Whether solutions such as device tethering – which allows you to use your cell phone plan to get Internet access for other devices – could be valuable in the case of an Internet outage.
- Clarify how mobile device usage may be affected in a disaster and how employees can use their device as a backup tool to stay connected and productive.
- Whether investing in a VOIP solution will help you efficiently manage telephone access in an emergency, by establishing a management portal and setting up an emergency routing plan that forwards business telephone numbers to mobile phones, home lines, or a temporary facility.
- Consider looking at software apps to make sure they have mobile versions that will allow your team to keep working if they’re relying on mobile devices – for example, Office 365, Skype for Business, Slack, Google Drive and Adobe PDF previewers
4. Collaboration and Communication Software
In order to access communications from any device no matter where they are, companies of all sizes are increasingly relying on unified messaging approach, which means integrating all texts, emails, faxes etc. onto a single interface. Whether you’ve got in-house teams on opposite coasts or contractors on a different continent, the right tools enable efficient collaboration and communication. VoIP, video conferencing, instant messaging, file sharing and the ability for teams to work on documents together in real-time are all possible thanks to specific programs. If your communications and collaboration software is hosted on a server in your office that goes offline, your team may be unable to collaborate. Work around this by:
- Considering hosting your unified communications on a secure cloud server that’s offsite, and will keep operating if a power outage, natural disaster or other issue impacts your on-site servers.
- Establishing a service-level agreement (SLA) with your provider that offers fast support, emergency backups and routing users to an alternate server if your primary servers go down, to ensure you have the technical support needed during an emergency.
- Set up company guidelines that identify alternate programs that can be used to communicate until you’re back online
5. Allocating Your Technology Budget and Resources
Add a line item for business continuity to your IT budget. Companies typically spend between 4 and 6% of their budgets on IT. When determining what percentage to invest in your business continuity planning, consider that Techradar reports that one hour of downtime can cost a small or mid-size business $20,000 or more . Whether it’s investing in the right systems or ensuring you have the on-demand IT talent needed for fast responses, every company needs funds set aside for business continuity and disaster response. It can be hard to imagine every January when you’re trying to find the funds for new laptops, upgrading servers and investing in the latest software. Yet it’s critical to realize that the most complex and efficient plans are useless without the resources to execute.
Ultimately, a company’s resources can be allocated more effectively by creating a tiered Business Continuity and Disaster Response (BCDR) response plan. Work as a team to define “mission-critical day-one” functions required to keep your business doors open. De-prioritize infrastructure and systems that don’t impact top-tier priorities like customer-facing functions, compliance requirements and business safety. A tiered plan will minimize downtime and expense required to stay operational while you gradually re-establish lower tier functions. Prioritizing your BCDR needs will also help you manage related spending decisions when you’re budgeting.
6. Empowering Staff
It’s important to empower employees to take action in the case of a disaster. For example, by having clear decision rights outlined in your recovery plan, you’re enabling your team to take action and more quickly resolve any issues. This should include:
- Your IT team should be able to jump into action without approvals when a critical system goes offline.
- Your customer service or social media team should have specific processes outlined for updating your company’s social channels or handling inbound customer requests.
- Ask for input from your office administrators and staff to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Business continuity planning is an essential part of running a business. By investing in the right technology tools and empowering your team in times of trouble, your small or mid-sized business will be in the best possible position to get back online as quickly as possible – and keeping things moving until the root issues are resolved.
For more on business continuity for your business, please visit: http://www.centurylink.com/business/products/managed-services/business-continuation/