There have been a handful of events in the GTA over the last 20 years that have made us all stop and say “wow, didn’t see that coming”. Recent ice storms, SARS and the big blackout of 2003 come to mind. Now this most recent event of Novel Coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19 and now declared as a global pandemic, has us yet again stopped in our tracks with a panic of what could happen and what the impact could be to our lives and businesses. While these events can catch us off guard, they are also opportunities to check our gauges for emergency preparedness.
COVID-19 is a serious threat to our lives and businesses, and this is an opportunity to look at our businesses and our extent of emergency preparedness to weather any type of disaster or major potential disruption to day-to-day operations.
Here are some of the top considerations to help your business mitigate against any disaster scenario:
Disaster/Business Continuity Plan – Everything starts with planning! Every business should have a written disaster/business continuity plan which will address both the business and technical aspects of recovering from and continuing business after an event. You have the option to hire a consultant/business that specializes in creating disaster plans or create one yourself using a template/guide. In either case, if you have the right consultant or guide, they will take you through the process of identifying
a) Your emergency team who will be responsible for actions and communications in the event of a disaster or emergency;
b) the critical functions of your business and the effect on your business if impacted;
c) a list of issues/events that could happen and a plan for business continuity (if possible) in each scenario;
d) a list of key personnel, clients and vendors and how to communicate with each in the event of a disaster; and lastly
e) a process to review and test the plan that you’ve written.
Having a written plan doesn’t guarantee that you will have prepared for every possible scenario, but you will have a much better chance of surviving a disaster scenario if you do have a plan and you know how to use it.
If you don’t have a plan, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has a great how-to article as well as free templates to create your own Emergency/Disaster Plan (see https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/business-strategy-planning/manage-business/pages/business-continuity-8-steps-building-plan.aspx)
Remote Access – One big eye-opener COVID-19 has presented is the possibility of ordered and/or self-quarantine for individuals who have been exposed or may have been potentially exposed to others who have the virus. In this scenario or other similar scenarios where individuals cannot come into the workplace, businesses should review their existing remote access capabilities. Some businesses already have full-functioning remote access for a portion or all their employees. A note of caution, if you have remote access enabled for some of your employees it’s not a given that you can easily just get the rest of the staff up and running easily. You will need to look at several things including Internet bandwidth, existing computing capacity/resources, security, licensing, the availability of all software and systems in a remote environment and training for your staff in the event they need to use it. For those who don’t currently have remote access capabilities, there are several considerations including an inhouse solution built on a VPN or remote access protocol (Citrix, Remote Desktop) or potentially moving your systems to cloud hosting. Each scenario has its advantages and disadvantages and it’s best to review it with your IT department or provider to assist with the best solution for your business.
Cloud Services – If your business is already 100% on the cloud, then you should have most of the technical aspects of business continuity in the event of a disaster, however, don’t take this for granted. It’s still important to ask questions regarding disaster scenarios. Is your cloud solution resilient against a local or regional event? If your people had to work from home, do they have the proper machine, Internet connection, security, etc. to access systems remotely? Have you tested this with all employees or at minimum key personnel?
If you are not on the cloud or only partially on the cloud, it would be a good exercise to see what cloud solutions are available at minimum for critical applications (email, financial systems, ERP systems, line of business applications, etc.) or potentially all of your systems. Speak with your IT staff or provider to assist with the best cloud strategy for your business.
Remote Communications – Good backups and remote access are critical pieces to a disaster scenario plan, but many businesses miss a critical piece that’s necessary to keep productivity levels up – communication. How will your people, teams and departments, who may be more used to face to face interaction, communicate in a disruptive scenario? Let’s start with a basic one – the telephone. Telephone communication has certainly become more accessible with the adoption of VoIP telephony and mobile phones. VoIP telephony allows for the mobility to make and receive calls anywhere with an Internet connection as well as the flexibility to forward calls to a cell phone, use your pc or laptop as a “soft phone”, etc. Be cautioned that this functionality is not necessarily setup and ready to go at any time with all systems. Your systems may need additional configuration and/or licensing to provide this functionality. That said, it is a good idea to review and test your systems for these scenarios. If you’re not using VoIP technology for your phone system, it should at minimum be a consideration for your business.
Email is the next obvious one. If your email is hosted externally, you’re probably OK if you’re hosted with a larger provider (I.e. Microsoft Office365, Google, etc.). However, if you are with a more local provider or if your email is hosted on an inhouse server, you may want to do some due diligence to ensure you have failover systems in place to cover against internal, local or regional events that may disrupt your service.
Communication doesn’t end with phones and email and relying on just these two modes may be a clunky way of communicating. There have been great innovations with messaging and team-based communication apps that help to keep Teams functioning and collaborating efficiently whether in or out of the office and you don’t need a disaster scenario to benefit from using them. One notable app is Microsoft Teams which has basically taken the business world by storm with massive adoption of the app by businesses everywhere. In fact, I’m using Teams right now to collaborate with a coworker in writing this article. Teams is a communication and collaboration application that has many features: File sharing and collaboration on files with an individual or group, instant messaging to individuals and groups, audio and video calls with an individual or group, screen sharing and more. If you’re using Office365 you most likely already have Microsoft Teams available to you as it’s included in most O365 subscriptions. A great feature of Teams is that all the information can be backed up. If you are not familiar with Teams, here is a brief video overview from Microsoft- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jugBQqE_2sM. There are certainly other applications for collaboration that can accomplish similar features to Teams. In any case, I would highly recommend implementing a remote collaboration solution in your firm to increase productivity every day and prepare you for disruptive scenarios.
Backups/Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity Systems – see this article on Backup vs Business Continuity (https://www.pacetechnical.com/backup-disaster-recovery/)
IT Security –see this article on The Cybersecurity Essentials for your business.
Individual Preparedness – see the Canadian Government’s GetPrepared website (https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/plns/index-en.aspx
As of the writing of this article, we’ve seen major events and conferences cancelled, the NBA season put on hold, an entire country on lockdown, disruption to families travel plans and a major celebrity (Tom Hanks) identified as having COVID-19. We’re not sure exactly where this is going, but best to take whatever measures we can now to prepare for this and/or any other disaster scenario that presents a threat to businesses. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas to help your business weather any type of storm. Please stay safe!