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2/21/2006
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Be Prepared

Hurricanes, bombings, typhoons, SARS... the list goes on and on.  With the move to the knowledge economy, each item on this list brings up an important question: how do we continue to collaborate and share knowledge (generally referred to as "work") when bad things happen.

Whether it was the Northeast blackout in the United States a few years back, where 50 million Americans lost their electrical service, or more recently the Blizzard of 2006, business needs to continue.  What these items have in common is that they are rather low tech in nature, yet in an increasingly high tech world, they can throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans.  Ensuring business continuity today has a different meaning than it had even a mere five years ago.  Ask yourself the following question: if you were to unplug both your desk phone and your computer, which would you plug back in first?

Ten years ago, without any hesitation, my answer would have been the phone.  Five years ago, I might have wavered.  Today, I would plug the computer back in and perhaps fail to notice that the phone remained silent.

In contemplating business continuity, managers need to recognize three key facts:
1.)  information must be redundant and available from multiple sources
2.)  knowledge workers may need to work from many different locations, and this need may often be unforeseable, even the previous day
3.)  access to a knowledge worker - or group of knowledge workers - could be lost at any time

World events may conspire to keep knowledge workers away from the office - but most managers seem to contemplate business continuity from the standpoint of a single location (as opposed to the unavailability of multiple locations) and "traditional" disasters such as a power failure or storm.  Events of recent history, such as 9/11 and SARS, were beyond the scope of preparation and today few organizations would be ready in another such instance.

There are some steps companies can take, including:
-  Providing redundant access both on-and off-site.
-  Understanding which tasks are part of every employee's daily work life.
-  Evaluating what work by which employees is mission critical.
-  Determining which critical tasks and employees could operate remotely.
-  Creating a process through which a business continuity emergency is declared and implemented.
-  Determining what work needs to be done and what tools will be needed.

In many emergencies, such as a storm, knowledge workers may have to first bail out the basement before taking on more traditional knowledge work.  But a company's customers may be unaware of a localized situation, and may not understand why the phone isn't being answered or e-mails go without reply. 

One unusual solution is the PBX Parachute, by Virtual PBX.  The PBX Parachute is a hosted PBX solution that springs into action only when needed.  It directs phone calls via the public switched telephone network to a variety of termination points, including employees' home phones, mobiles, and other offices.  A 500-person company will lose $90,545 per day, including salary costs plus the immediate and subsequent cost of lost business.  As sage marketer Fred Spira, founder and CEO of Spiratone, once opined: "A lost order can never be made up."  Even if someone has to take messages, this small step in reassuring customers and partners that business is continuing is key in curtailing losses.

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