By Kathy Chill, Citrix Online VP of Business Development and Product Marketing
Unexpected – and even expected – work disruptions are a way of life. For example, meteorologists have predicted the 2010 hurricane season to be severe, as the first half of the season has already produced the same number of storms as an average season and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. For companies based in hurricane-prone areas, this presents a potential threat to business operations. Now is the time for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to put business continuity plans in place and ensure they can remain operational during any weather disruption.
Business continuity planning is important for all companies, not just those often hit by severe weather. Unpredicted disruptions – like the Swine Flu virus of last winter or major traffic accidents that affect employees’ commute and access to the office – can occur anywhere, anytime.
Beyond protecting IT systems and infrastructure in the event of a disruption, business continuity plans should address how employees will continue working and stay productive if the office is not accessible for any reason. The impact on business from unforeseen interruptions can be extensive and detrimental: from unhappy clients to lost revenue and even business collapse. A survey of 500 SMBs in the middle Atlantic states, commissioned by Citrix Online, projected that last winter’s severe storms resulted in a loss of nearly 50 million man hours of productivity in the states surveyed. This is based on 52 percent of survey respondents having lost six or more hours of work due to the storms. The study also found that while half the respondents had been forced to cancel or reschedule at least one meeting in the last year due to bad weather, 47 percent had no technology tools, flex time, virtual work provisions or alternate assignments to turn to when commuting was a challenge.
You must realize that operations can continue regardless of whether the physical office is out of commission. In fact, with access to a power source and Internet connection, businesses can stay productive from any location by using virtual collaboration and remote access technology to do work and communicate as usual. These solutions enable staff to conduct meetings online, collaborate on projects and effectively communicate with each other, customers and partners alike. Additionally, these tools provide access to office desktops, including programs, files and email so employees can work from anywhere just as if they were at the office.
Here are strategies to consider when developing a business continuity plan:
- Review the roles and responsibilities of company departments and determine what employees need in order to get their work done. Think about this in terms of productivity and keep in mind that there may be very different needs depending on the employee’s role and responsibilities. For example, engineers have different requirements than those in the sales and customer service departments.
- Evaluate the solutions required to support these identified needs. The most effective remote access and virtual collaboration solutions are those that are simple to deploy and use. SaaS-based technology can be optimal here as it can be easily downloaded from the web, implemented throughout an organization and activated with a few clicks of a mouse. The ideal solution is one that does not require employee training, additional equipment or advance setup on home and personal computers.
- Develop a plan. Putting a business continuity plan in place is critical and regular testing is also important. Be sure to check your business continuity strategy annually to determine if there are any holes that could jeopardize it. Training your employees on best practices will help to ensure compliance.
Preparation for the unknown and the guarantee that your workforce can stay productive while away from the office is vitally important for all companies, especially SMBs whose resources are limited. The good news is that companies are catching on. According to a recent Forrester Research survey of 2,803 IT decision-makers, developing business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities is the number one priority for SMBs and the second highest priority for enterprises for the next 12 months. An estimated 32 percent of enterprises and 36 percent of SMBs plan to increase spending on business continuity by at least five percent.
Ensure your company is on the right track to maintain productivity in the event of any disruption with early planning and the right technology solutions.