When everything is running smoothly, disaster recovery and the continuous functioning of your business may be at the back of your mind. While the word “disaster” generally evokes thoughts of a major or catastrophic event, there are many small “disasters” that can quickly ruin your day, week, or worse. The best time to start thinking about a disaster recovery plan is right now.
Where to begin
If you don’t have a formal disaster recovery plan, or even just an informal plan, starting the process can be overwhelming. A good approach is to break down as much as you can into small pieces. Once the pieces are identified you can begin to solve these smaller problems. You can then combine these solutions together to build more detailed policies and procedures.
Disasters can manifest themselves in many forms, from something as simple as a quick internet outage to a prolonged power outage caused by a blizzard. In each case, being prepared with a plan will minimize the downtime of your business and keep your staff calm and ready. A short internet outage may not seem like a big deal, but for your customer who is trying to download an important report or purchase something from your website, it can be a frustrating experience. Again, start small by identifying the types of disasters that may affect your business, common ones include:
- Internet Outage
- Phone Outage
- Website/Portal is offline
- Power Outage – Short Term or Prolonged
Once these are identified, it’s time to look at the issues caused by their occurrence.
Identify single points of failure
Your biggest vulnerabilities exist wherever you have a single point of failure. These are generally related to your infrastructure, your processes, or your personnel. Infrastructure failures are outlined above and are often the root cause of having to implement part of your disaster recovery plan. For instance, a brief internet outage may drop your locally hosted website offline causing you to lose several orders. Having a backup connection or hosting your website in a dedicated hosting environment could mitigate that issue.
Also look to where your processes can cause you problems. If you always wait until the end of the day to return customer phone calls, what happens when your call tracking software is inaccessible right when you go to pick up the phone. A solution in this case could be to return phone calls in small batches throughout the day, thereby minimizing the scope of the outage. You may not be able to return 20% of your calls instead of not being able to return 100% of them.
Similarly, identify the cases where not having access to certain staff members will harm you. If Bob from Accounting is the only person who can sign off on big sales, what happens when he’s unreachable and a big sale is coming through? Having your staff cross-trained gives you more flexibility.
Eliminating these single points of failure with redundant solutions allows you to navigate a disaster instead of being paralyzed by one.
Often, the biggest point of failure is your data. You should be backing up your data on a regular basis (on a schedule that works for you) and keeping copies of that data in multiple places, including at least one copy offsite. As bad as things may get, knowing that you have a good and recent backup of your critical business data is priceless.
Even before a disaster strikes, let your customers know that you have a formal plan in place in the event of a disruption. In fact, this is the perfect place to start your planning. Identify a way to communicate with your clients in the event of a disaster. This could be accomplished by using a cloud based email account with your customers uploaded as contacts, or even just keeping a printed copy of customer phone numbers and a cell phone plan with a lot of minutes. However you choose to contact your customers, keeping them in the loop when something has gone wrong will help immensely while you work to restore business as usual.
In the end
Keep identifying the small pieces that can grind business to a halt, and wherever possible create second or third points of failure for critical tasks. Staying diligent about this will allow you peace of mind that you have a great plan in place in the event something goes wrong. Let’s hope now that you never have to use it!