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As I write this column, Hurricane Joaquin has just been upgraded to Category Three and may become a Category Four storm before you get this issue of The Voice. It is a serious reminder for small businesses of the disruption to data networks in New Jersey businesses caused by Super Storm Sandy in 2011, and the more recent multi-day power outages in June around the southern part of the state from severe summer storms.
Increasingly severe weather underscores the need for advance planning for keeping a business operating when infrastructure is impaired.
Michael Mullin, president of Integrated Business Systems in Totowa, NJ, says that businesses of all sizes should have a business continuity plan.
Listen to a podcast of our conversation with Mullin.
“As we know, the longer a business goes without getting back on their feet, the more likely it is that they will never get back on their feet,” Mullin says. “I think we saw this after Sandy. Lots of businesses that weren’t prepared never came back, just because they didn’t have their records, their customer lists, the things they needed to sustain their business.”
The cost of having backup is becoming more reasonable, and more accessible for even the smallest businesses, Mullin says. Advances like cloud computing are changing the way mission-critical information is stored and accessed, providing a real “win” for business continuity in terms of both efficiency and cost, he says.
Business continuity solutions are not one-size-fits-all, Mullin says. Companies need to think about the impact on their business from disruptions to their technologies.
Companies should determine how often to make backups of data based on what’s needed to get up and running again.
Mullin says business owners need to ask themselves what would happen if email correspondence is lost? What systems, software applications, key documents and user clearances must be kept absolutely current in order to run the business?
Then, they need to decide how long they afford to be offline during and after a disaster. Some smaller companies can manage effectively without instantaneous recovery of some data systems.
There are some key steps every business can take to prepare for a problem, before a disaster disrupts their systems, Mullin says. For example, backup systems and data storage should not be managed in the same building, but should be in a different location remote from the company’s operations.
Software should be kept up to date, and installation files and documents should be available offsite.
Companies should keep a written plan detailing how they will get back on line after a disaster, and they should test it with their employees. Often, companies find that plans are outdated, have wrong phone numbers or email addresses for people who have left the company.
Mullin says that companies can engage outside help to manage a disaster recovery plan, and there are a number of vendors in New Jersey who work in this specialty. We featured one of them, Lam Cloud, in our April 2014 column.
It’s a lot like insurance, you feel like you’re just paying for something you’re not using, until a Hurricane Joaquin comes along, and then you realize you won’t lose your business because you lose your computers.