Ray Emirzian is Vice President of Operations & Product Management at docSTAR, a B2B software firm specializing in cloud document management software and business process automation.
East Coasters will remember where they were when the lights went out in 2003. Fifty million people lost power during the great power outage due to a falling branch in Ohio and a chain of events – including “deficiencies in corporate policies, lack of adherence to industry policies, and inadequate management” that ultimately resulted in the blackout. Looking across the Hudson River to NYC from New Jersey, there was nothing but darkness.
So the most important question to ask is, where would your business be without electricity?
For those who think it won’t happen to them, think again. According to a recent Forrester survey – The State of IT Resiliency and Preparedness – 1 in 3 companies have declared a disaster in the past five years. In 2010, the statistic was 1 in 5.
Don’t get caught in the dark, preparing for the worst
To prepare for the worst, there are two areas that you need to address. One is Disaster Recovery (DR) – the processes put in place to prepare for everything from power outages and natural disasters, to terrorist attacks. Systems to manage data backups, data recovery processes, access to information stored offsite, including online and physical storage, are all integral components of a DR plan.
The second area is Business Continuity Planning (BC). Implementing policies and procedures that can help keep the most important pieces of your business running, ensuring your employees know where to go in the event of an emergency, and how to access their documents and applications are critical components to a full business continuity plan.
Many organizations are looking increasingly to third party solutions to perform a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) and handle DR and BC/BCM initiatives. For small to medium sized businesses however, many large scale DR systems can be cost-prohibitive.
Before you throw a whole lot of cash at the problem, there are four key areas you need to consider:
PEOPLE & PROCESSES What is the chain of command and workflow in the event of a disaster? Each department should have a plan in place for their respective teams, and executive management needs to develop a detailed blueprint for communicating with each other and departments. Make a list of contacts at other vendor sites that may need to be contacted in case of emergency. Communication is key. You should also talk with your technology vendors about their disaster recovery plans to ensure your information is protected and accessible when needed.
DATA & DOCUMENTS Where are our documents and important data stored now and how do we access these data files? Ensuring you have continuity of your business processes is critical during a disaster. As a first step, more and more businesses are looking to enterprise content management systems to store documents and data in a central location that can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
With centralized storage, you don’t need to worry about the destruction of or access to physical files – on or off-site. Employees can access from multiple devices via a web browser. With hosted service, small and medium sized businesses can enjoy the same security benefits of the larger corporations with the benefit of very low overhead, minimal startup investment, and the security of a redundant, disaster-proof data center. There is no specialized hardware to manage and there is no up-front capital investment.
COMPLIANCE & CONTROL What are the industry regulations regarding document and data security? Every industry has its own rules and regulations about handling sensitive data – particularly legal, education, healthcare, manufacturing and state/federal government agencies. Ensuring you are storing documents and data in compliance with industry standards is an important step in protecting your business in the event of an emergency.
With enterprise content management systems, organizations can save time and money by eliminating on and off-site storage. Not only can all critical files be stored electronically, they can be accessed immediately, and business rules can be implemented to ensure that you control who accesses your data.
TRAINING & TESTING Do we have the staff and budget in place to make training and testing of our DR and BC plans a reality? Many firms don’t understand the full costs of DR when managed internally, and are unable to manage it successfully. Full scale DR vendors exist, but many small to medium size businesses just can’t afford the cost. Most organizations also struggle to understand their cost of downtime.
In the Forrester study cited above, 57 percent of businesses surveyed said their organizations had not calculated this cost. Those who did know their hourly cost of downtime gave answers in the range of $10,000 to $3.5 million.
Take the time to calculate how much you could lose with just one to two days of downtime, and then compare this to the cost of aggressively managing your DR plan. Take the time to discuss what your current plan is, train your employees – and then test it out. If it works, you will sleep well knowing that your data is protected!
If you are like many businesses, there may be more work to do. Start by protecting your data and documents today.
 U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force August 14th Blackout: Causes and Recommendations, April 2004
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