By Scott Kinka of Evolve IP
This most recent El Niño season was the worst in two decades, causing billions of dollars in damages and losses. When the elements come together in the form of a force of nature like El Niño, and if it hits hard, what can small businesses do in order to maintain business continuity? Small businesses are especially vulnerable to the consequences of system down time, as they often lack the resources to continue with business operations while troubleshooting simultaneously. This kills profits; small businesses must have a comprehensive business continuity (BC) plan in place in order to mitigate the risks.
So, how does a SMB owner get started on a BC plan? First, focus on developing a plan that is realistic and workable. Next, categorize key risks identify the impact of each scenario to critical business systems and employees. Finally, determine the services, information and systems most vital to continue business operations at acceptable levels.
At a minimum, the business continuity plan should address methods to maintain the following:
- Communications Systems
- Crisis/External Communications
- Data Center and IT Systems
Your ability to communicate with employees, customers, and partners will be critical in times of disaster. For hosted telephony systems, employ multiple Internet providers and test for failover regularly. It’s also important to verify that critical phone numbers are set to call forward due to unreachable office conditions. For premise-based PBX systems, prepare a checklist of key telephony vendors to quickly (if possible) re-route calls to enable alternative ring-to locations and numbers, and designate emergency personnel to take and triage inbound calls.
Many BC capabilities are innate to IP phone systems and call centers in the cloud. Organizations in areas that are likely to be affected by something like a La Niña weather pattern, and those also evaluating their current phone system, would be wise to implement these services soon and take advantage of the inherent business continuity capabilities.
In the event of emergency, your organization must be prepared to share information and work with a number of constituents. In the BC plan, craft key data points and positioning in advance for customers in preparation for a variety of circumstances.
Data Center And IT Systems
For cloud-based data centers and applications, ensure the IT deployment can properly meet disaster recovery RTO and RPO timelines. Ensure that employees can access the hosted environment (both from within the business conﬁnes and remotely) during fail-over mode from the designated location/s. Finally, schedule and test your plan at least once per year, or in accordance with regulatory/compliance requirements.
For premise-based data centers, be sure to create a written recovery plan that is stored remotely. Water and fire are often the greatest threats to on-premise data centers, requiring multiple safeguards. Many of these should be addressed in the initial design of the room, and retrofits will be necessary in some cases. Critical elements include adequate cooling and ventilation, housing the data center above street level with servers as high as possible in the rack, installing a non-water based ﬁre-suppression system and employing a VESDA smoke detection and thermal detectors. Also be prepared with multiple Internet service/data providers and test for failover regularly.
Poor availability of adequate power is also a significant risk factor for premise-based data centers. Purchase uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) and provide for generator access where necessary. If the UPS is gasoline-based, determine how much fuel is required for a prolonged outage. If retrofitting your data center is too costly, consider moving to the cloud.
And don’t forget the importance of data back-ups. If you employ physical tape back-up, take the “human factor” out of your recovery. Tape back-ups should be removed daily and stored in a secure, easily accessed location. Keep in mind that during a disaster, physical travel can be limited or stopped altogether. Accordingly, it is a good idea to back-up data and applications to a geographically distant location, and that they can be transmitted in a time conducive with your RTO/RPO.
While it may seem a daunting task to orchestrate a wide-ranging business continuity and disaster recovery plan, it will pay multiple dividends in the case of an emergency. It can keep your business on track, helping business leaders thoroughly build each element of the program and virtually eliminate most liabilities.
Scott Kinka serves as CTO for Evolve IP. An award-winning, 20-year technology veteran with expertise in virtualization, cloud security and telecommunications, Mr. Kinka designs the Evolve IP roadmap, leads Evolve IP’s project team and works closely with customers and partners.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.