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Papering Over A Disaster

How much business-critical data is kept on paper, and can you find it when a disaster strikes?

InformationWeek Staff

September 5, 2003

3 Min Read

The other side of the risk equation is the availability of the documents if a disaster occurs. Will employees have access to the information, either immediately or shortly after the event? These factors should be used to determine the level of attention certain documents need when developing a strategy for business continuity.

For example, paper documents that are critical to ongoing business processes--such as customer files--but aren't maintained in duplicate or backed up electronically, would be assessed as critical with a very high level of risk. These should be assigned top priority to ensure that a contingency plan for rectifying the situation is detailed in the business-continuity-strategy document.

Once a business understands its needs and risks, it should develop a strategy for including unstructured information in its business-continuity plan. Many services are available that can provide the capability to copy paper documents and maintain them in an off-site location. However, it's probably even more beneficial to use some form of electronic media to store these documents, particularly when business continuity is a factor.

There's a lot of technology available that can improve the situation. And many technologies can be used as part of ongoing business functions to help ensure that business continues no matter what happens. These include document imaging, electronic-document management, electronic- and paper- records management, and E-mail management. (For a list of vendors and the services and technologies they offer, see "Business-Continuity Strategy Considerations")

A combination of technologies will probably be needed. These are all fairly mature technologies and available from a wide selection of vendors, depending on a company's specific requirements. Various service organizations can also assist both from a technology perspective and in providing professional services for the strategy implementation.

Finally, evaluate systems that can help you achieve your business-continuity strategy. Many vendors can provide the framework for implementing a good business-continuity plan.

You should categorize your requirements based on the format of the information used in the business--that is, paper (which has no electronic counterpart), internally created electronic documents,

E-mail, internal reports, and others. You may also need to subcategorize these requirements. For example, paper documents will require both a capture (either through imaging or copying) and a storage-management component (either electronically or in a warehouse). For E-mail, you might have a server and a client component (should the users have more control or the administrator?). This categorization will provide a clearer picture of your requirements and help match them to priorities. It will also allow you to identify the systems that may meet your needs.

DoculabsIn addition to the obvious advantages, companies that develop sound business-continuity strategies and related technology implementations can realize a number of other ongoing benefits. These include improved overall accessibility of information and therefore the potential for better ongoing customer service, as well as a positive impact on other technology-related initiatives. In addition, managing and tracking information is likely to become much more accurate and efficient, a critical consideration in today's heavily regulated environment. Finally, the integration of these technologies within a company's business processes can lead to greater productivity overall.

While no company expects to experience a disaster, the power blackout last month shows that they do occur. To secure the future of your business, do as much as possible to plan ahead. And because of the magnitude of such an initiative, it's also wise to take advantage of resources that are available for advice and assistance, whether these are internal resources, software vendors, service providers, or consultants.

Pat Turocy and Linda Andrews are analysts with Doculabs, a technology consulting firm. Contact them at [email protected].

Photo by Time Life Pictues/Getty Images

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