During the last several years, NH has experienced some extreme weather-ice storms, floods and winds. Those events are nothing compared to the tragedies that have unfolded in other parts of the country and around the world, such as the devastating earthquake and tsunami that has left untold damage in Japan. From a business continuity perspective, these events should be a wakeup call.
When most executives talk about disaster recovery, they are probably referring to their data backup system and how reliable it is. Can they recover data and restore it? But that's just one small aspect of a true business continuity plan. If you had to keep your business running in the face of a disaster, could you do it? If so, how and where? If not, what will happen?
Statistics put the odds squarely against those companies without a comprehensive business continuity plan. When they face some type of catastrophic loss or interruption, odds are they will be out of business within five years. In today's highly connected world, you need a plan to keep your workforce functioning and communication flowing between your customers, suppliers and business partners at all times.
This can be an overwhelming topic to tackle, but it doesn't need to be. How likely are you to be affected by an extreme weather or related event? During the ice storms a few years ago, how long was your business without power and what effect, if any, did it have? Most companies made it through the ice storms just fine, despite being without power for several days. Hospitals, nursing homes and other similar organizations have sophisticated power generators to keep them functional through extended power outages, for obvious reasons. Data centers that house servers for multiple companies also employ this same type of power protection so they can outlast extended power outages and keep clients operating. But the cost of data center space might be too much for a small business.
Most businesses take into consideration their vulnerability to fire and have an alarm and a sprinkler system in place. But what if that sprinkler system activates? You will have a lot of damage, from soaked files to damaged electronics. And while you might have access to the office, you may not be able to work.
Also consider whether you are in a flood zone. Are you near an airport or railroad tracks? Are hazardous materials passing by your office and you don't even know it? Are you near any facilities that deal in hazardous materials that could result in mandatory evacuations in the event of an emergency?
For example, in the unlikely event something happened at the Seabrook nuclear power station and the Seacoast had to be evacuated, it would not do much good to have your company's data center within the evacuation zone. That's why you may want to consider having it at least an hour away-not too far to require a major travel inconvenience, but far enough to survive a local evacuation, whatever the reason.
There are two Web sites that can be helpful when a company is conducting disaster and business continuity planning: FEMA's (Federal Emergency Management Agency) www.ready.gov. (click on Ready Business), and the State of NH's www.nh.gov/ReadyNH/.
Among FEMA's tips are: assess how your company functions, both internally and externally, to determine which staff, materials, procedures and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating; identify suppliers, shippers, resources and other businesses you must interact with on a daily basis; plan what you will do if your building, plant or store is not accessible; plan for payroll continuity; and review emergency plans annually.
Having your data safely stored off-site is an important piece of a business continuity plan. Cloud computing, which refers to just about anything you can do online that does not require a server or possibly even a complete computer at your office, should be part of a business continuity plan. The advent of more reliable Internet connectivity along with cloud computing presents options for businesses to continue operations in a disaster. Internet-based backup services can also be a valuable resource, as they fully automate data backups, sending them to secure data centers located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from your office.
There are companies that specialize in maintaining secondary office space for companies so that if your office were to be lost to a fire, as an example, your employees could report to this alternate location and find computers and other needed resources ready for them to get back to work as quickly as a few hours after the event. According to FEMA's Web site, a business should examine whether it could function from a home, or if the business could develop relationships with other companies to use their facilities in case a disaster makes its location unusable.
Look into the technologies that exist to keep your data and your business operations functional in a disaster. There are affordable options. Take advantage of what you have available to you to keep your business operating and communicating and you will be able to weather the storm. Remember, it's better to have a plan and not need it, than to need a plan and not have it.
MJ Shoer is president and virtual CTO of Jenaly Technology Group Inc., an IT services firm in Portsmouth. He can be reached at 603-431-7864 or MShoer@jenaly.com. For more information, visit www.jenaly.com.