02:23 PM

Planning for Disaster

What would your company do if half of its workforce couldn't get to work for days or weeks? What would happen if remote access to apps and data, and the ability to communicate with other employees, customers, partners, and suppliers were unavailable or impaired?

What would your company do if half of your workforce couldn't get to work for days or weeks? What if no one could? What would happen if remote access to applications and data, and the ability to communicate with other employees, customers, partners, and suppliers were unavailable or impaired?

Here is a quick look at what constitutes a disaster, how a disaster can impact your business, and how you can be proactive rather than reactive in preparing for the unexpected to ensure the continuity of your business operations.

Defining Disaster
Simply defined, disasters are events that can have disastrous consequences for a business. Whether an act of nature such as a hurricane or tornado, a transit strike, a terrorist attack, or a pandemic, a disaster can adversely impact businesses in two different ways:

  • It can displace workers, leaving them unable to get to the office
  • It can destroy physical assets, including applications and data
  • Disastrous Impacts
    An earthquake or terrorist attack can damage or destroy the work site and network assets. A pandemic or transit strike can leave work site assets undamaged but block employee access. If the IT and communications infrastructure is damaged and there is no application and communications resiliency or backup in place, all business operations will grind to a halt. If the IT infrastructure is merely inaccessible yet there is no remote networking and communications in place for displaced employees, a similar slowdown or shutdown of business operations can be the result. Impacts to businesses can include:
  • Loss of revenue
  • Regulatory fines
  • Lawsuits
  • Disease and death (such as in a healthcare environment)
  • Damage to reputation
  • Loss of partner and supplier relationships
  • Customer churn
  • Prepare for a Disaster
    A disaster recovery plan covers the hardware and software required to run critical business applications, the data that your company must maintain, and the steps necessary to maintain workforce continuity from remote locations. To plan effectively, you need to:
  • Assess your mission-critical business processes, associated applications, and data and their resiliency and backup requirements
  • Make sure information assets are geographically redundant, co-located at one or more separate location
  • Ensure that your LAN and WAN are resilient, with no single points of failure
  • Investigate the redundancy of your service provider
  • Review remote access solutions in place now and what is needed and for which employees (for example, some may only require e-mail and phone, others may need high-speed voice, data, and collaborative tools such as video conferencing)
  • Jim Nelson, President of Business Continuity Services, a disaster recovery consultancy outside of Chicago, Illinois, stresses that beyond backing up their data and providing business continuity services for their employees, companies also have to think about their role in the community during a disaster. "If your entire community is underwater, as was the case in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, what is your responsibility as a good corporate citizen? How do you support your employees and their families?" How businesses respond in such circumstances can have a longstanding effect on their reputations, Nelson says.

    Gene Knauer writes for Cisco Systems.

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