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August 10th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Aug10_CBusiness continuity planning (BCP) is critical to all companies regardless of size. If disaster were to strike, an effective BCP would protect your valuable data and prevent your company from falling on its knees. Yet the implementation of a BCP presents challenges in itself. You need to address the following issues to ensure that your organization is on the right track to build and maintain a successful business continuity plan.

Challenge #1: Prohibitive costs

Business continuity planning has become exponentially expensive as availability requirements increase. Many solutions require substantial investments on the installation and maintenance of additional hardware, software, and data center infrastructure. These requirements drive up the cost of business continuity, and many company owners are reluctant to invest in protective measures.

The solution Instead of relying on costly physical servers to accommodate your backups, consider using efficient and affordable cloud computing solutions. You can transfer your important business files to the cloud and eliminate the expense of having to install and manage hardware infrastructure and software licenses.

Challenge #2: High complexity

Traditional business continuity planning is complex to implement, manage and execute. From managing the recovery infrastructure to updating disaster recovery documentation and testing the BCP to find and close potential loopholes, the prospect of embarking on a BCP project can be daunting, and the whole experience can prove time consuming. Combine with the pressure of your ordinary day-to-day duties, it can seem almost impossible to focus your attention on initiating a BCP.

The solution With all this in mind, it makes more sense to hire a professional IT service provider to plan, implement, and execute your business continuity plan. This way you can leverage their experience and expertise to ensure that, in the event of a disaster, your company will be able to get back on its feet and resume business operations as quickly as possible.

Challenge #3: Lack of staff involvement

There are so many requirements to be considered in a business continuity plan. And the more employees your organization has, the more difficult it is to relay the essence of the plan for everyone to understand. Staff involvement isn’t an option - it’s an absolute necessity if you wish for a successful BCP implementation!

The solution Depending on the size of your organization, you can either hold a company meeting to announce the essentials of your BCP, or schedule a meeting with key staff members who take an active role in the planning process. To create a long-lasting BCP program, you need to get everyone on the same page by emphasizing the importance of the plan in an easy-to-understand way.

Business continuity planning is one of the most important things you need to have in place. You never know when, or in what form, a disaster will strike - all the more reason to take a preventative approach to securing your company and all you’ve worked for.

Need a reliable partner to take care of all your business continuity planning needs? Get in touch with us today - we have exactly what you need to prepare and protect your company.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

June 29th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Jun25_CBusinesses today are relying on data to run their day-to-day operations. We use it to build client relationships, generate sales reports, develop marketing strategies, and so much more. But if something were to happen to it, a devastating disaster for example, you could risk losing your whole business if you haven’t properly backed up. With that in mind you should take necessary precautions to protect your data in the event of a crisis. Let’s take a look at some devices you can use to keep your information out of harm’s way.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to data backups. You’ll want to consider the pros and cons of each of the backup devices below before making a purchase.

USB stick

USB flash drives are basically miniature hard drives that you connect to your computer using a USB port. The drives are extremely cheap, with prices depending on their capacity. They’re also portable, and can be used to backup information from several computers to the same drive.

Although USB sticks are highly convenient, they’re still not a complete backup solution, and are best suited for intermediate backups, such as storing file recovery programs or critical business documents.

External hard drive

An external hard drive is perfect when used as backup storage media. It has the lowest cost per gigabyte when compared to the other backup devices out there. External hard drives use the same plug-and-play functionality as USB sticks, so you can plug the drive into your computer and immediately start selecting the files you want to backup. The transfer rate is also very fast, and you can backup a large amount of data within seconds.

One of the evident drawbacks of using an external hard drive is that you’ll need to update your backups on a regular basis, or else new files won’t be included. There’s also the risk of the device being stolen or misused. For instance, a colleague may take your drive when you’re away from your desk, or a disgruntled employee may copy all of your important business files and take it with them when quitting.

Network attached storage

Network attached storage, or NAS for short, is a dedicated device with its own IP address. It can be used as a multimedia server, and can function as an email or lightweight database server. NAS offers data redundancy, meaning it will generate a backup of your backups, so you can ensure your files are fully protected.

The main downside of NAS is its inability to scale beyond the limits of the system; you have to purchase additional hard drive bays when you need more capacity. You also have to take full responsibility for data security if you’re implementing NAS.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage is becoming more and more popular among businesses of all sizes, due to its many benefits such as allowing users to access data anywhere on smartphone devices, as well as enabling you to work with the most current hardware and up-to-date software. It is also affordable, since you’ll only have to pay for what you use. What’s more, cloud computing is very convenient, because your service provider will take care of the installation, management, and maintenance processes.

On the downside, some cloud service providers don’t employ sufficient security measures on their systems, so your data could be exposed to potential cybersecurity threats. This means that it is not always the ideal solution for companies dealing with very sensitive data - medical practices and law firms, for example. Predicting costs can also be hard; if your business is growing rapidly, then you might find you have not adequately planned for incremental costs.

Choosing the best system for backup is a critical decision that will impact your business on a daily basis. There are trade-offs among backup devices, which is why you need to choose the solution - or solutions - best suited to your business. Contact us today and our experts will assess your company’s needs and provide the best backup solutions for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

June 1st, 2015

BusinessContinuity_June1_CBusinesses rely on an effective business continuity plan to carry them through the storm of disasters. Good continuity plans secure your critical data and keep your company up and running through interruptions of any kind. But having your in-house IT department manage data backup could spell disaster for your business - there’s a good chance that the data backup process will be misconfigured or insufficient. That’s where cloud hosts come in. You can offload key infrastructure components to a cloud hosting provider to simplify data backup. Here are some reasons to consider cloud backup over internal backup.

Better uptime

Backing up to an internal drive or an external hard drive won’t completely secure data. If someone steals your computer, you lose the hard drive and the backup. Natural disasters or man-made errors will also likely destroy your backups. Your company could face expensive downtime if your backups are lost or damaged. With cloud-hosted backup, however, things are different. The entire purpose of a cloud backup is to make sure your data is available when you need it. Top cloud service providers will offer redundancy, which means they will make a backup of your backups. This increases uptime and ensures optimum levels of data availability.

Fast resource provisioning

When backups are being implemented, spikes in user activity or cloud environment accessibility can rise rapidly and slow down a website or other running systems. This is where a cloud hosting provider comes in. By closely monitoring user activities, providers can see spikes either before or as they are happening. The provider will provision more resources and virtual machines to manage the influx of users. This type of flexibility is particularly useful for when data backups are in process.

Backup frequency

Most companies work on files and update information throughout the day, so it’s important to have a real-time backup plan ready in case an unexpected disaster occurs. When you backup data to the cloud, you will no longer have to worry about managing the frequency of your backups. Most cloud-hosted providers offer hourly, daily, monthly, or other fixed backup frequencies, while others let you set your own backup schedule. Some of the services offered by these providers will back up files as you make changes, so you’ll know that the very latest version of files and data are always backed up.

Distributed infrastructure

Cloud-hosted backup literally means the delivery of data backup to users all over the world. Selecting the right type of cloud hosting partner is equally as important as having a cloud backup plan in the first place. If international users are trying to access database or download applications through your business website, latency will become a factor - the closer the user is to the data, the faster they’ll be able to access information. A suitable cloud hosting partner will be able to provide backup servers at the location that best suits your company’s business continuity needs. Distributed infrastructure is beneficial if you’re looking to support a large number of worldwide users.

Businesses everywhere are utilizing cloud backup solutions - don’t be the one left behind. If you’re looking for a managed cloud backup service to protect your business data, give us a call today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 26th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May26_CIn the event of a disaster, businesses must make sure their servers, data and critical documents are safe and secure. But that’s not all, for it is essential that you ensure the security and peace of mind of your most valuable asset — your employees. With that in mind, here are five business continuity mistakes to steer clear of in order to ensure your organization will live to tell the tale.

Mistake #1: Assuming your employees will be there to support you

Companies that survive unexpected incidents are the ones that thought about their employees’ needs. It is important that your management team are aware of the business continuity plan’s SWOT analysis, which examines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you face in a disaster. Review and obtain formal management sign-off on the SWOT analysis and have your management team make decisions in advance about actions that require expenditure.

Review decisions on paying all employees during a period of business interruption for a minimum period of time. Communicate your strategy and message to your employees to let them know that you will be there to support them and their families in the event of a crisis. This way, your employees will have peace of mind knowing you and the company are there for them, and in turn they will be there to support you.

Mistake #2: Using only words, not actions

Once you have your business continuity plan documented and your SWOT signed off, you need to think about the small stuff to ensure your plan is executable. This includes logistical considerations like food, travel and living requirements, medical aid and monetary support.

Walk the walk and ensure your medical providers have made arrangements in advance. Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place to make sure your employees have access to people who can give them support in the event of an incident. Staff will remember if you provided them with care and support, and will remember even more clearly if you didn’t.

Mistake #3: Not showing your employees how the plan will work

While many business owners worry about downtime, they overlook the fact that explaining the plan and its execution to employees is critical to minimizing lost productivity.

As part of your maintenance program, include your employees as well as your security, medical and EAP team in the testing process. Execute a live test where various providers can demonstrate their capability to support your employees. This way, your employees will know that you care and can have faith you will be able to support them when the tables have turned.

Mistake #4: Not dealing with your employees first

When an incident occurs, the first assessment most businesses make is to determine the impact it has on the company. But how do you execute that process without people? When disaster strikes, your employees will naturally want to be taking care of their families, not your business.

Ensure your crisis management team addresses the people issues first. Where are they? What do I need to do for them? Are there any special employee needs I must address? After having accomplished this, you gain the ability to show your people that you’re in control and that you truly care.

Mistake #5: Reacting rather than communicating

In the event of a disaster, the most important thing to get right is communication. It is imperative that your employees know you can provide them with the most up-to-date information.

Set up a toll-free hotline so your employees can call in for regular updates, or create an open forum where your employees can tell you what you could have done better and what failed. With that, you provide consistent messaging and you can eliminate second-hand information and employee guesswork, while gaining insight into what could have been improved.

If your business continuity plan takes into account that your employees are your biggest assets, you’ll have peace of mind knowing the core of your organization is still standing strong even if the worst should happen.

Looking to learn more about business continuity and how it can help your business? Contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_CWhether you’re a small business owner or managing a medium-sized company, you must have a business continuity plan (BCP) to safeguard your business against disasters. But developing a BCP that’s capable of putting your company back on its feet fast is equally as important as having one in the first place. Let’s take a look at these crucial features of a successful business continuity plan.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 20th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Apr20_CBusiness continuity plans (BCP) are designed to protect your company’s resources and data in the event of a disaster. Backing up data, getting insurance and marking rally points are some of the main components of a BCP. One of the most important processes is running an exercise to test whether the BCP actually works. But a business continuity exercise can be a challenge in its own way, as it involves all your employees and executives. Don’t be overwhelmed - we have a few proven steps to get you started.

Set objectives

The first step to any efficient exercise is having clear objectives. Think about the results you want to see at the end of the exercise. These outcomes may include, but are not limited to, IT disaster recovery, evacuation routines, off-site recovery plans, and supplier management. If there are measurable targets that can be put into the equation, then all the better. For instance, meeting a recovery objective after a disaster within x number of hours.

Select the right type of exercise

Essentially there are four levels of exercises, each increasing in complexity and difficulty.
  • A walkthrough - this exercise involves a team meeting to discuss whether the present BCP has everything covered and is up-to-date.
  • Desktop exercise - ideal for new or intermediate teams. A desktop exercise takes place in a room where delegates discuss a fictional scenario delivered via a series of powerpoint presentations. Role-playing and dramatic simulations are not part of this stage of the process.
  • Functional exercise - this level allows employees to perform their duties in a simulated environment. It is designed to exercise specific team members, procedures, and resources in the event of a disaster.
  • Live or real time - this is a full-scale exercise performed in real time with normal business suspended. The aim is to see whether people can do what’s expected of them within a set timescale. A live exercise is often complicated and costly to organize, but will generally ensure a much smoother process if the worst does happen.

Develop a scenario

Take what you’ve learned from the team, the objectives and plan to develop a scenario. Depending on the type of exercise, you should have a scenario tailored to suit your objectives. Be creative when simulating incidents. You may need only two or three to keep your employees busy for a couple of hours - during that time you can monitor their performance.

Prepare employees

Assign a group of representatives responsible for making announcements and preparing conference rooms to relay the plan to employees. Be specific about who in the company are participants, observers, and facilitators for the purposes of the exercise. Explain courses of actions to everyone involved in the plan. Remember, your BCP’s success depends on your employees’ cooperation, so do your best when you’re clarifying the plan.

Run the exercise!

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. After careful planning and scheduling, it’s time to put your plan into action. Make sure you observe the exercise closely and ask yourself these questions: Are there any potential areas that can be improved? What should you do more of, or differently? What went well, and what didn’t? End the exercise with a feedback session where employees can express their opinions and share their ideas.

If you don’t get it right the first time, then go back to the drawing board and schedule another exercise. It only gets better with every practice.

Are you ready even if disaster should strike? Contact us today and we can help you develop a business continuity plan that keeps your company in the game.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 6th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Apr6_CThink your business is immune to disasters? Think again. Disasters can strike without warning and, when they do, your company stands to lose more than just the time and money you’ll have to spend on data recovery and compensation. You could lose years of hard-earned reputation and trust from loyal clients - the two things that could potentially put an end to your operations altogether. It’s therefore important to protect your business from disasters before they even happen. When it comes to disaster recovery planning, there are countless actions you can take to minimize damage and risk. Here are a few to get you started.

Cloud backup

One of the most serious side effects disasters inflict on your business is preventing access to data. This is a major inconvenience, especially if you need to communicate with clients on a daily basis. Make sure all your crucial data is safe by using a cloud-based backup solution. With the power of the cloud, your files are stored and accessible from anywhere, and at any time. Cloud backup provides convenience and enhanced uptime, ensuring business continuity during a disaster.

Get disaster insurance

Disaster insurance can help cover the costs of repairing damage caused by certain disasters. Many business owners think they have sufficient insurance coverage, only to find out later that their policy didn’t cover a disaster scenario. Take the time to consult with your insurance agent to understand what is, and what is not, covered by your insurance. If necessary, consider buying additional coverage from your insurance provider.

Prepare your employees

Many businesses regard employees as their most valuable assets. In the event of a disaster you will rely on them not only to execute the disaster recovery plan, but to also keep your business running. Unfortunately, if your employees or their families are also affected by a natural disaster, they won’t be able to concentrate on their work. That’s why you need to prepare your staff for coping with a disaster as well as your business. It could be something as simple as issuing a handbook to cope with crises, sending emails to alert employees, or preparing emergency supplies and communication devices to meet immediate needs.

Create a contingency plan

Review all your business operations and identify areas that are crucial for your organization’s survival. Establish a procedure for managing those functions during a disaster. For instance, you can make a list of all suppliers and their contact information. If your suppliers are located near your business, you should have secondary contacts in other locations. Establish an assembly place where your employees can continue to run the business if your main premises become inaccessible. Once you have a contingency plan in place, make sure you review it with your employees at least twice a year so you don’t forget any crucial details.

When your business is hit by a disaster, the top priority is to keep your daily operations running as normally as possible. If you want to learn more about planning for a disaster, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 23rd, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar23_C_2As a business owner you’ve probably heard of the benefits of a business continuity plan (BCP). It ensures your company’s protection in the event of an unexpected disaster, whether that’s natural or man-made. But you likely don’t have time to sit and learn all about business continuity procedures and terms. Hearing technical terms in meetings, and being expected to follow protocol, may also sound overwhelming. To help clear up the confusion, here are eight common business continuity terms that you should be aware of.

Battle box - a tool box where necessary equipment and vital information are stored. These objects and pieces of information should be useful in a disaster. Typical items include a first aid kit, laptop, protective equipment, and communication devices.

Business impact analysis (BIA) - a process to evaluate the impact that a disaster may have on a business. The BIA shows what a business stands to lose if some parts of its functions are missing. It allows you to see the general picture of your business processes and determine which ones are the most important.

Call tree - a comprehensive list of employee contacts and their telephone numbers. Call trees are used to notify out-of-office employees about a disaster. Companies can use a software program to contact people on the call tree by sending automated emails and text messages. In order for a call tree to work, employees should provide alternative contact options and their information must be up to date.

Data mirroring - a duplication of data from its source to another physical storage solution or the cloud. Data mirroring ensures that crucial information is safe, and companies can use the copied data as backup during a disaster.

Exercise - a series of activities designed to test a company’s business continuity plan. When an exercise is carried out, there will be an evaluation to decide whether a BCP is meeting standards or not. An exercise can identify gaps in, and the drawbacks of, a BCP and is therefore used as a tool to revise and improve a business continuity plan.

Hot site - an alternate location equipped with computers, communication tools and infrastructures to help a business recover information systems affected by the disaster.

Plan maintenance - a process of maintaining a company’s business continuity plan so that it is in working order and up to date. Plan maintenance includes scheduled reviews and updates.

Recovery time objective (RTO) - a period of time in which companies must recover their systems and functions after a disaster. This is the target time for a business to ideally resume its delivery of products and services at an acceptable level. RTO may be specified in business time (e.g. one business day) or elapsed time (e.g. elapsed 24 hours).

Business continuity plans can be a hassle to design and implement without proper understanding of their requirements. If you want to learn how you can protect your business from disasters, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 9th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar09_AYou’ve been putting that business continuity plan off for months now, but you’ve finally decided to go through with it. You start by talking to members of your staff, partners and service providers. And it doesn’t take long to see that everyone has a different opinion about what to recover first when disaster strikes. The head of your IT department demands your servers are top priority, while your Vice President argues that without network security being reestablished pronto, your business is left vulnerable to even further damage. Who’s right? It may be difficult to decide. That’s why we’ve compiled these fundamental ideas to consider when drafting your business continuity plan.

Speak to many members of your organization

And not just your IT department - which may sound like a bit of an oxymoron coming from an IT provider’s blog. However, the reason behind this is simple. Suppose you have an IT staff member called Jane, who is responsible for a series of applications that automate your e-commerce system. If you call a business continuity meeting concerning to identify assets to prioritize during a disaster, what do you think Jane will say? She’ll likely point to her group of applications, since to her this is what she prioritizes and spends her days on. And it’s not just Jane; each staff member will probably voice that their particular job (whether that’s security, server maintenance or something entirely different) needs to be prioritized. It’s human nature to think of your responsibility and role first. We all do it.

The key is to get more than one opinion. It’s not a bad idea to start with the leaders of your company, and then work your way down. Leaders generally think in a broader sense about your organization as a whole, rather than one particular facet of it.

Consider where your business is going

When developing your business continuity plan, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about your business as it is today. While you’ll draft your plan in the present, it needs to be created with the future in mind. For example, if you’re considering joining the Cloud or virtualizing your servers in the next year or so, how is this going to impact your plan? It’s smart to think of this sooner rather than later, as it could cause a major shift in your priorities. If you start deploying your business continuity plan but then have to switch gears further down the line, it’ll likely cost your company a lot of money.

Examine the interdependency of your business

Remember to connect the dots between your IT department and business processes. For instance, if your email system can’t run without the use of a particular IT application, it will do no good for you to have your email system as a priority 1 issue and that IT application as a priority 3. In this scenario, the IT application would need the same priority as the email system - if not higher, or else your email system will simply not work.

The point is to map out the interdepencies of your business processes and IT, so that you know what depends on what. That way you’re not left in a pickle when disaster strikes.

Need help getting started with your business continuity plan? Contact us today to learn how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 2nd, 2015

Trouble aheadDisasters can happen at any time, which is why it is important for your company to have a business continuity plan. In the event your business gets hit with an unforeseen disaster, you’ll be able to minimize damage, downtime, and impact to your business operations. If you don’t have a contingency plan to protect valuable data and technology, you may face serious consequences, the worst of which is shutting down your business for good.

Relevant factors such as your business’s resources, location, suppliers, customers, and employees must be carefully analyzed before a business continuity plan can be formed. It is also necessary to test the plan and check whether it’s working or not. Here are some proven methods to test your continuity plan’s efficiency.

Review the BCP

You have a business continuity plan ready with all the necessary information, contingency locations, personnel, contacts and service companies. The question is can you really pull it off? Have the plan reviewed regularly, or at least quarterly. Gather a team of individuals, heads of departments and managers to discuss the plan. Focus on the business continuity plan’s feasibility and pinpoint any areas where it might be strengthened.

Determine time and duration to test the plan

You should decide how often you test your business continuity plan, and for how long. Even if you have a solid plan in place, it’s still wise to review it again after a few months. Come up with a schedule for testing the plan and share it with employees. Testing time may take anywhere from one day to two weeks. However it can also take as little as three hours to determine the effectiveness of the plan by monitoring employees’ responses and decision-making abilities, based on the guidelines of the business continuity plan.

Outline objectives to employees

Most business continuity plans fail because they have never been properly relayed to employees. Emphasizing the plan’s importance to your business and demonstrating it to employees is crucial. You need to outline objectives for the business continuity test to your employees, informing them how you plan to measure its success and failure, so that they get a general idea of their roles and your expectations.

Create a scenario

Create a fake scenario that affects your business - whether it’s setting off fire alarms or announcing another disaster. Employees should act as though the scenario is genuine, and refer to their duties in the business continuity plan, going through it step by step. Monitor the time it takes to get everything under control, from contacting customers to checking business resources and temporary meeting locations.

Evaluation

After the business continuity plan is put to test, gather your employees to discuss the plan’s overall performance. Identify where it needs improvement and encourage the parts that worked best. Make changes to key persons and actions where necessary, to ensure that the continuity plan is working at its best.

Having a business continuity plan is good, but testing it regularly is equally important. Contact us today and see how we can help you cope with unexpected disasters.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.