Planning for disaster: why imagining the worst can be the best thing for your business

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Just last month, a major telecoms operator was laying a new cable close to our Southampton office when the installation team accidentally damaged a power cable. As a result, several nearby businesses were forced to close up shop for the day. Luckily for us, it wasn’t our power cable, but if the workmen had damaged the one two feet to the left, it would have been. For any agency, the thought of losing a day’s billing across a whole office is not a pleasant one.

This recent incident led me to consider again what the impact of such a disruption would be on our day-to-day business and I’m pleased to report that, thanks to the disaster recovery planning we do on an ongoing basis here at Koozai, the answer is ‘not much’.

Continuity planning

About a decade ago, a friend of mine worked for a business that suffered an unexpected ‘disaster’ from which it never bounced back and I vowed I'd never allow my agency to fall into the same trap. Continuity planning became a pet subject of mine.

In essence, disaster recovery is about taking steps to ensure that – no matter what situation may arise – you can continue to deliver for your clients as normal. The biggest disasters an average business is likely to face unexpectedly are ‘no internet’, ‘no phones’ and ‘no access to premises or files’. The good news is that these problems are now much easier to remedy than ever before.

Advances in broadband and cloud-based services mean that none of my agency’s data is held on our premises anymore. Our files and data are stored in the cloud and all of our staff have encrypted laptops that their office phones can be routed to. The laptops go home with staff at night. So, if any of our offices in London, Newcastle or Southampton become unusable or inaccessible for any reason, it’s not much of a problem.

Incredible as it may seem, I’m aware of way too many agencies that still have an in-house file server overheating in a cupboard under the stairs. They may have a backup server, but when was the last time the backup data was checked, if ever? Could they really access it if they needed to in an emergency? What would the downtime be? How would this effect their clients?

By contrast, the major cloud service providers are now spending millions on their reliability and data security every year. You can’t compete with that level of investment, so why even try when most cloud services are now mature, accessible and very affordable?

Duty of care

Any agency has a duty of care towards the client data it gathers and stores, and the reputational damage that can result from a data breach can be catastrophic. There are lots of competing studies all showing different statistics but the main theme is that of the businesses that suffer a major data loss, the majority go out of business within a few years.

Of course, continuity planning can and should be applied to other non-technical areas of your business. For example, what happens if your lead developer or your main salesperson is off sick for a month or two? What’s your backup plan? If there are specialist software applications that your business depends upon, how many people in your organisation know how to use them? Do you have processes? By applying continuity planning to every area of your business, you start to identify and address potential weaknesses that are putting you at risk.

Strange as it may seem, then, one of the best ways to weather-proof your business and protect it from uncertainty is to spend time imagining all the various ways, from the terrifying to the mundane, that you could fail. If you are starting from scratch with continuity planning, my advice would be to begin by having a conversation with those managing your digital infrastructure and work your way out from there.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Ben Norman is the chief executive officer and founder of digital marketing agency Koozai