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Planning for disaster recovery

As many as 70 percent of businesses that suffer from a natural disaster will go out of business within a year of the event, and only 6 percent of those businesses are able to survive in the long term, Aberdeen reported in 2013.

For companies of all sizes and industries, this unfortunately means that you are just one disaster away from the total collapse of everything that you have worked so hard to build. To increase your company’s odds of surviving a crisis, you must plan for disaster recovery before anything goes wrong.

Learn what steps you must take now to properly protect your company from a crisis — and to sleep better at night.

Take inventory first

Too many times, nervous business owners worry about recovering from a disaster and rush a recovery plan out of this fear. Unfortunately, this can backfire because people fail to take into account some mission-critical application or data source, and can’t get back to business as a result.

While it can seem like a step backward to begin with an inventory of your business systems, this is in fact where you must begin if you want to develop a strong plan. After all, how can you adequately protect business assets if you do not know what you have or if you are unsure what information is most critically needed by each department?

Take inventory of all digital assets, including those in archives or offsite storage. Next, create a table that lists: every single critical asset; what could happen if the asset were lost; the time frame for asset recovery after a disaster; and the strategies for disaster planning, recovery and response. This table will form the first draft of your disaster recovery plan and should accommodate all systems, all potential problems, and the solutions that will be implemented.

For example, assume that all customer service data is on a secure server in-house. If the server were to crash, then your business could not respond to customer inquiries. In the short term, orders could be subject to delay. In the long term, your company could suffer a consumer confidence and reputation loss as a result and lose customers to a competitor.

A disaster planning strategy might be to back up all data in the cloud for ease of access after an emergency, with a recovery and response strategy of using the cloud as a workaround until place-based access could be restored.

Let’s say you can easily list out all of your critical assets and you understand all too well the worse case scenario of asset loss, but you don’t know how you could prevent loss or recover afterwards. Don’t worry. The disaster recovery planning process will help you fill in those blanks so that all business assets are protected. Make your comprehensive list and trust that blanks will be filled in along the way.

It’s worth making a remote office disaster recovery plan in case the whole office suffers a natural disaster. These plans are more complex, but essential if you work in an area where inclement weather and natural disasters are periodic. Remote office plans allow for secure data storage and access offsite.

Prioritize for immediate response

Now that you have your list, you must get organized so that all staff know where to begin when restoring business operations after a disaster. Give every team or department a job to do so that everyone knows what to tackle first after an emergency.

Begin with the systems that cost your company the most by not working, and work down to those that affect business the least and can wait to be fixed. Dividing the work by department lightens everyone’s load.

While you create your task list, you may realize that some departments or team members do not have the knowledge or skills needed to get a key system up and running. Make note of this now and plan to implement training as part of your disaster preparedness plan.

Identify solutions

The next phase of disaster recovery planning is to fill in those blanks on your table by finding solutions you can implement in a crisis. Talk to your vendors and managed service providers about disaster recovery options. At Last Line Solutions Inc, we offer image-based disaster recovery using StorageCraft with cloud-based backup as one of our many options. This allows us to spin up servers virtually after a disaster for fast, accurate recovery.

These vendors may have workflows that you can use to guide your planning, or they may have additional information that benefits you. Since you already have a relationship with these parties, it can be easier to implement a solution that they offer rather than to add a new solution from another vendor, and then have to train your staff on how to use the new system.

Even if you cannot implement a recovery solution for every item on your table, you can probably solve many of your problems by turning to your existing service providers. These vendors may also be able to recommend third party solutions to you, which can shorten the research process on your end.

Next, find alternate suppliers for the remainder of your systems and invest in backup supplies for your workplace. If the power fails, a generator can deliver power on demand. If your telecom provider experiences an outage and the phone system goes out, employees may be able to use personal devices to call clients or you may use VoIP technology.

Train staff

Take the time now to identify your alternate supplier or procedure, and then take the steps necessary to implement it. Train staff on how to use the alternate systems so that everyone feels comfortable using them. A crisis is not the time to teach staff how to use the VoIP phone system.

It’s a great idea to train all staff on all procedures if you can. You never know when something can go wrong and who will be there. If you have to call the senior manager at home and wait for them to arrive, you risk losing valuable time. If someone else can step in and start the process, you can get key systems up and running quickly.

Build in time now for regular training. You might decide to do a yearly test of your disaster recovery plan, kind of like a fire drill for everyone. Or you might put a system in place to train new hires once, and then expect everyone to be prepared whenever disaster strikes.

Write up policies 

You have done the hard work already in identifying the systems you need to protect, taking steps to protect them, and training your staff. Now, you need to take the time to write everything up for business continuity purposes.

Define your disaster recovery approach and write everything down in detail. Use your table as a resource and simply write out in clear language how to take the steps necessary to tackle the problem. You must write clearly because staff will be trying to follow your instructions when they are highly stressed. They might not be thinking clearly. Refine your policies until everything is really clear.

Show your plan to key stakeholders like business owners, and have them give approval. Be prepared to demonstrate how the plan meets business continuity objectives, saves time, or saves money. Get everyone’s signature to make it official.

Launch and follow-up 

With all of the planning finished and policies written up, you are ready to officially launch your disaster recovery plans. Begin with an exercise to test that all procedures are working properly. Were you able to recover key information and restore business assets to operability? If so, great. Your plan passed its test and you are ready for disaster (although of course you hope one does not strike).

Did anything not go well? Review what happened in detail to see whether someone made a mistake, the process has a loophole, or something else went wrong. Correct the process and run it again; do this as many times as needed until everything works as it should.

When you can successfully exercise all parts of the plan, and everything works the way it is supposed to, you are disaster ready.

As your business changes and you adopt new systems, make sure to include them in your plan. Follow the same brainstorming procedure, and edit plan documentation to include the new asset or reflect the policy change. Continue to exercise the plan on an annual or biennial basis, to make sure everyone knows what to do and that all systems work.

While disaster recovery planning is time consuming, it is necessary if you want to weather a storm. By breaking the process up into a series of actionable steps, you can move past procrastination and being overwhelmed, and begin to implement small steps that safeguard mission critical assets, assist staff in responding to problems that arise, and position the business for success in the event of a natural disaster or other large-scale emergency.

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For more information about Disaster Recovery in Los Angeles, California, or for general questions about cloud services, including how a managed service provider can ensure a well thought out disaster recovery plan, please visit our website at https://www.lastlinesolutions.com or call us at (310) 286-0111

Laurent Slutzky is the founder of Last Line Solutions Inc., a full service Managed Service Provider