Friday, September 23, 2011

How Prepared Is Your Business If Disaster Strikes?

Hurricanes. Fires. Equipment Failure. Theft. What would you do if your company's emails, billing records, customer files, inventory reports, payroll and tax information suddenly disappeared? For many of us, the answer is not pretty; in fact, according to the Insurance Information Institute, up to 40% of small businesses affected by disaster, will never reopen. The good news is that having a solid disaster recovery plan in place will significantly reduce your chance of business failure and help you get your company up and running again, post disaster.

Here are ten questions to ask yourself in order to determine how you might fare if disaster were to strike tomorrow. Let's hope that you never find yourself in this position, but it is always best to be prepared.

1. Do you have a written, documented disaster recovery plan?
No? You need one. Work with your team leaders (IT, security, sales) to create a detailed, written plan of action that makes sense for your company. While the details of each company's plan vary, each essentially serves as a road map for maintaining your business until you can recover. Ensure that all employees - from the receptionist to the CEO - receive both an electronic version and a printed copy, which they are to keep in a safe location outside of the office.

2. Planning for the future starts with the present - what's your backup plan now?
Disasters tend to strike when they are least expected, instantly wiping out a significant amount of data. That's why data recovery should be a central component of any backup plan. Unfortunately, many small businesses only back up files once or twice a month, a procedure that can result in tremendous loss. Be sure that you have a system in place that is human-proof; even those of us with the best of intentions can overlook the need to back things up, particularly when things get busy.

3. Is your data backed up continually and automatically?
Make sure you find a service that works automatically and continually in the background. Doing so can do more than save you money; it can literally save your company. Carbonite, a leading provider of online backup, transmits your backed up files offsite to one of their state-of-the-art data centers, keep your files safe from theft, fire, spills, power spikes, power outages, physical accidents, and just about anything else that might happen in your office.

4. Does your staff understand how to execute the disaster recovery plan and your expectations of them?
How will everyone within your company communicate with one another in the face of a disaster? How will they ensure that everyone is safe and that each person is aware of his or her responsibility in helping to maintain operations? Hold a company-wide meeting in order to review your plan in detail. Any time the plan changes, be sure to let everyone know. As for new employees, the disaster recovery plan should be part of their initial employment training.

5. Does your plan include external communications, too?
Obviously, preparation is critical for your internal team; however, your hardware, software, facilities, and service vendors are critical to your operations as well. Be sure you can get in touch with them - chances are you'll need to. For example, what if you have products shipped to your office? Are your vendors willing and able to ship them elsewhere? Most likely, they will bend over backwards to assist you, but to do so, they must know the plan first.

6. Have you designated an alternative site of operation if you are unable to get to your current office location?
Key to any successful disaster recovery plan is locating and continuing to communicate with employees and customers until your business is up and running again. Do you have another location where key employees can conduct critical business functions in the event of a disaster? Ideally, you would identify at least two separate locations, one of which is at least an hour away from your current location.

7. Do you have a plan to recover files if you lose Internet connectivity for an extended period of time?
The Internet is not always available, A good data backup service should be prepared to assist you in this case as well. Should you find yourself in this situation, Carbonite can ship you a portable hard drive that contains all of your backed up files. Carbonite support staff will also walk you through the process of recovering your files, which can prove particularly helpful if key IT members from your own company are unavailable.

8. Do you have a chain of command in place?
What if your top executives are unreachable during the time of disaster? In addition to an offsite crisis meeting and work place(s) for employees, it is vital to select and train additional employees to perform emergency operations in their absence.

9. Have you tested this plan to be sure that each individual knows what he or she is supposed to do?
Practice makes perfect. While it may generate some eye-rolling, companies that walk through a simulation have a far greater chance of successful recovery. Employees are less likely to panic when they are familiar with the plan. And even more importantly, a simulation allows flaws to be noticed - and fixed - before disaster strikes.

10. Is your plan current?
If your plan is out of date, it is essentially useless. Ideally, your plan would be updated annually or each time major changes are made.

Some final thoughts
While your company's Disaster Recovery Plan will be unique based on your own business needs, the above tips will help keep you on track. Remember, entrusting your business files to antiquated back up methods that are easily lost or damaged and require a significant amount of manual effort is not good for any business. That's why so many smart companies are now utilizing online backup services, like Carbonite Business, as part of their disaster recovery plan. With affordable, annual pricing, Carbonite is friendly to your SMB budget and, you can even try it free for 30 days.

Thanks to OfficeArrow, Inc.


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