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2016’s top business continuity disasters are a reminder to plan ahead

From severe storms to power cuts to local fires, 2016 has brought its share of business continuity interruptions, testing businesses’ continuity strategies and putting their revenues at risk.

In an effort to raise awareness of why it is important for UK businesses of all sizes to have a business continuity strategy in place, nationwide managed services provider (MSP) IT Specialists (ITS) has put together research highlighting some of the biggest threats to business continuity during 2016. The incidents include the following:

  • Storm Gertrude (January)
  • Storm Katie (March)
  • Saltley recycling site fire (March)
  • Power outage following electricity cable damage in Cromer (April)
  • Major power fault affected UK-wide internet services (July)
  • Flash floods, lightning and landslides hitting UK overnight (September)
  • Exeter fire decimating Royal Clarence Hotel (October)
  • Storm Angus (November)
  • Soho power cut (November)
  • Massive flooding in Angel following water pipe rupture (December)

Without a thorough business continuity programme, there is a risk of negative consequences such as lost inventory, reduced productivity due to employees being unable to work remotely, property damage and the all-important revenue loss.

Acts of God such as the incidents featured above are not always preventable, but having a business continuity plan in place can help you mitigate their impact on your business. Unfortunately, only 51 per cent of organisations have a comprehensive business continuity plan in place. If you’re one of the unprepared 49 per cent or if your business continuity plan needs updating, the biggest business continuity disasters of 2016 remind us of a few key steps your business should take in order to weather the interruptions 2017 might hold.

Reduce the risk of losing data and access to your IT infrastructure

Often even the most careful precautions can’t protect against system damage. Man-made disasters such as flooding from the burst water pipe in Angel can happen without warning and destroy IT systems. Incidents such as the Soho power cut can knock systems offline for hours –or even days – at a time. Other disasters, such as the Exeter hotel fire, might not cause physical damage to your infrastructure, but if your business is located in a cordoned-off area, you might not have access to your facility.

To protect the integrity and accessibility of your data and IT environment, vault data and systems off-site in a location that is as close as possible to your facility without there being a common risk between geographies. If you are unable to access your facility, disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solutions can give you access to critical systems and data remotely in a virtual environment.

Prepare for power faults

Nearly all of the incidents on ITS’ list of 2016’s biggest business continuity disasters involved power cuts. Indeed, electrical failures are one of the most common causes of business interruptions, so you must have a plan for power outages and ensure that any critical supply chain vendors do as well.

To minimise the impact of a blackout on your business, classify your important systems and processes. Then determine what resources (e.g. uninterruptible power supply and generators) are necessary to sustain these systems and processes during an outage.

Outsource equipment and network repairs

Exactly half of the incidents on the list above involved heavy rains and/or severe flooding. Businesses affected by these conditions likely saw their IT staff stretched thin as they sought repairs to hardware and networks damaged by water or electrical surges.

Even natural disasters in other parts of the world can affect your business if they form a critical part of your supply chain. For example, in 2011, floods in Thailand affected more than a dozen hard drive disk (HDD) manufacturers. These included Western Digital, the world’s largest hard drive manufacturer, which had half of its production processes destroyed. The disaster led to an HDD supply shortage, which contributed to a 1.4 per cent decline in PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to Gartner.

Enlisting the help of an IT MSP prior to an emergency provides the assurance that during an outage or supply chain interruption, your systems can quickly return to business as usual. The benefit of working with an MSP is that if there is damage to your network, the provider can assist with resolving network issues and performing any necessary recabling, which can be scheduled outside business hours or during a less busy time of day, to avoid interruptions to employees. During the day, your own IT staff will available to perform their day-to-day jobs.

In the event that hardware replacements are difficult to come by, some MSPs maintain spare parts depots and can provide replacement parts for equipment repairs or supply loaner equipment. Having an MSP on hand can also help mitigate the effects of IT staff members being unavailable due to inaccessible travel systems or even a pandemic illness.

Implement a bring-your-own-device strategy

Business interruptions often entail employees not being able to access their primary workplace. Storms Gertrude, Katie and Angus and the flash flooding in September caused chaos for commuters, with roads closed, flights cancelled and trains stalled. The Saltley recycling site and Exeter Hotel fires might not have caused widespread travel disruptions, but the surrounding areas were blocked off, meaning businesses in the vicinity were forced to close.

If employees aren’t able to access their primary work environment, they are likely to use their personal devices for work. While having employees continue business operations from their personal devices can be beneficial because it allows your business to resume business operations quickly, this practice can also open you up to the risk of cyber breaches.

This is why is it important to establish a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy that addresses issues such as data security, remote management, data transfer, backups, data wipe and technical support (office or field based). If you work with a managed services provider for your IT support, check to see if the vendor can assist with developing and supporting your BYOD program.

While you might not be able to predict exactly what incidents 2017 will bring, you can think ahead and prepare, using 2016’s biggest disasters as a guide. Will you be prepared?

Matt Kingswood, Head of Managed IT services provider, ITS

Photo Credit: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock