Is your Business Prepared for a Disaster?

Would your business survive a disaster?

There are many important business considerations for disaster planning. While disaster type, probability, and severity will vary from business to business, the importance of preparing and planning for minor and major business interruptions is uniformly critical.

Many businesses forgo or defer disaster recovery and/or business continuity planning on the basis that the likelihood of a disaster is small and they’ll deal with it when it happens. Unfortunately, the consequences can prove far more severe than short-term downtime and lost sales revenue.

Business relationships can be destroyed and customers lost if they are able to continue business with competitors who were better prepared. Damage to your hard earned business reputation and credibility can prove ruinous. Social media, aided by your competitors, will ensure that the market and prospective customers are fully aware of even the most minor interruptions and reliability issues.

You should reflect on potential scenarios and their consequences. What would happen if a key employee took sick or unexpectantly left? Could you survive the loss of your computers or other equipment if they were damaged or stolen? How would you recover your business data and software applications in the event of a hard disk crash or virus attack? What would you do if your power, mail, courier, internet, or phone services were interrupted?

You should also understand the differences between disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Disaster recovery is one element of business continuity. Disaster recovery typically has a technological
focus and is concerned with the recovery of your business data, software, hardware, and communications. In contrast, business continuity is much broader and addresses the recovery of all aspects of your business operations including human resources, communications, business processes, safety, and, if necessary, office relocation.

Some of the many disaster recovery planning factors that you should consider are outlined below:

Disaster Recovery Planning

Data and Software Backups

  • Ensure your business data is backed up on redundant internal and/or
    external hard drives.
  • Ensure your business data is backed up both onsite and offsite.
  • Schedule data backups as frequently as is practical.
  • Investigate and employ, where practical, cloud (web-based) services.
  • Protect your software applications with backups, disk imaging,
    and license tracking.
  • Test data backups on a semi-annual basis to validate that
    data can be successfully restored.

Hardware Backup

Ensure that you can recover your business applications and systems on backup hardware:

  • Define and document a plan for on- and off-site system recovery (fail-over).
  • If affordable, mirror your systems offsite using either company or third-party
    hardware.
  • If mirroring is unaffordable, identify the hardware and location on which systems would
    be recovered.
  • Test and validate both on- and off-site system recovery on an annual
    basis.

Document Critical Information

Ensure that you document all the information that you are going to need to
recover your systems:

  • Make, model, and warranty information of all your computers and
    peripherals.
  • Account names and passwords for online services, desktop operating
    systems, applications, ISP account, wireless router, networks, and BIOS.
  • Software license information including a list of all installed software,
    versions, and license and activation keys for reinstallation.
  • Network settings including IP addresses, gateways, firewall rules, DNS
    and domain information, server and printer names.
  • Mail client configuration and information.
  • Support phone numbers for all hardware and software.

How to Survive Small Business Startup Risks

Why do small businesses fail?

Canadian small businesses face a serious test of survival in their early years. Recent Statistics Canada data shows that almost two-thirds of small businesses with revenues under $30,000 fail within five years of their start-up.

Why is this? In daily discussions with small businesses, I’ve learned that they are confronted with a myriad of ever changing risks. Some risks are more visible than others. Business owners typically focus on external risks that include market changes, competitive and regulatory activity, rising costs, and funding shortfalls.

However, according to Statistics Canada, almost half of the small businesses that fail do so because of internal skill-set and experience deficiencies. Most small businesses in Canada are unprepared for the following types of operational risks and managerial issues:

  • Loss of intellectual property – loss of key personnel
  • Service and quality degradation and inconsistency
  • Inadequate operational and financial controls
  • Decision-making “bottlenecks” – delegation constraints
  • Information “silos” – inconsistent or incorrect understanding of business policies, procedures, priorities, and values
  • Performance management and assessment constraints
  • Recruitment and training constraints
  • Business scaling and growth constraints
  • Potential business interruptions (downtime or inability to meet customer commitments)
  • Potential damage to business credibility and reputation

Fortunately, many of these business risks can be mitigated in a comparatively simple and cost-effective manner. Defining and documenting your day-to-day business policies and procedures provides a very effective insurance against these risks.

Documentation ensures that your hard-earned business knowledge is protected, shared, and levered more effectively. It also provides important strategic advantages for future business growth, franchising, third-party investment, and business sale opportunities.

On-line business documentation, including wikis, offers a number of additional benefits including enhanced accessibility, maintainability, ease-of-use, keyword searching, dynamic cross-referencing, and multi-media support.

Whether documented in-house or through a documentation consultant, the documentation process begins with a business risk assessment to prioritize your process definition and documentation requirements. Business risk should be evaluated in terms of both its probability and severity. This allows you to prioritize and focus on high-value and high-use documentation.

The documentation process also serves to raise your awareness of potential business workflow and process control gaps which can then be simultaneously defined and documented (e.g., customer service policies, financial controls, and disaster recovery plans).

Business documentation is critical to empowering your staff and management so that business operations and growth are no longer held hostage by your day-to-day availability. You should reassess and reprioritize your business documentation requirements if you want to build a credible, scalable, and profitable business.