According to FEMA, 40-60% of small businesses affected by disasters will never reopen their doors. Regardless of your industry, there is a lot riding on how you protect your business from disaster. You likely physically protect your business with alarm systems, cameras, and even safes. You also probably invest in protections for your data and technology systems, as well.
A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a tool used by successful businesses the world over to protect themselves. In this article, we’ll explain why so many businesses use it and how you will benefit from having one, too.
Anatomy of a disaster recovery plan
Let’s start by going over the core of any DRP. The details and number of points often vary, but the core of any effective plan has these points:
- Assess your business – Inventory your business assets and identify critical processes and functions.
- Determine acceptable downtime – Downtime is costly. How long can you (or your customers) afford for systems to be down? This helps determine how quickly you must restore basic operations following a disaster.
- Create an action plan – Create a plan to get critical functions up and running within the timeframe determined by step 2. There may be multiple plans to account for different types or scales of disasters.
- Determine responsibilities and communication – Who is responsible for which critical roles and essential communications? Be specific.
- Test and update – An untested DRP is almost as bad as no DRP. Test your DRP and find the holes and issues. Make adjustments, test again.
Get a clear picture of your business
We’ve all heard that old quip about people who “can’t see the forest for the trees”. Whether you are a details person or a big picture person, this is your opportunity to get a good look at both.
The first step in creating a disaster recovery plan is to take a step back and assess your entire business. This enables you to take a holistic view of your operation that you don’t often see when you are working in the day-to-day operations. Make the most of this opportunity to ensure that you are not duplicating efforts or leaving any one area exposed. Take a close look at every aspect of the business and get reacquainted (or get familiar) with aspects that you may not have considered recently. Start with your hardware, but consider also your infrastructure and even your partnerships.
Prepare for the inevitable
We would all like to think that we are one of the lucky businesses who will not be adversely affected by circumstances like natural disasters. The reality is, though, that even just a few hours of downtime can cause big problems for a small business. In September 2018, a cooling problem at one of its data centers caused an outage of over 24 hours for Microsoft Azure customers in much of the US. For businesses that rely on Microsoft Azure, that downtime could have cost them dearly. A successful business is dependent on a number of systems, so it’s important to evaluate each one critically and understand the risks and damages of being compromised. Your website outage can be a very different problem if you’re only using it as an advertising landing page than if you are using it to conduct daily business transactions or interactions.
Consider how a business with a DRP might have handled the Azure downtime compared to a business without a DRP. When the event occurred, a business with a DRP plan would have been able to quickly assess the situation, go to the action plan, and determine the best response based on that plan. At its heart, a DRP is about minimizing losses. One day of downtime is unlikely to close your business for good, but it will still cost you. It pays to be realistic about what your priorities will be when a problem arises and how much downtime you can reasonably tolerate.
Roll with the punches
In 2016, Southwest Airlines experienced a chain of failures in critical systems that started because of a router breakdown. Over a period of fewer than 48 hours, they canceled hundreds of flights and delayed thousands more. The cost of lost ticket sales alone was between $5 million and $10 million. While this may seem like an extreme example, it’s relevant when you consider that the cause of all this lost revenue and two days of downtime was a simple, unforeseen hardware failure.
Downtime happens to everyone. The best and biggest service providers don’t promise 100% uptime, even as a best-case scenario. What can separate your business from the rest is what you do when downtime strikes. Will it result in a few hours of downtime or a few days?
Restoring your systems efficiently and successfully takes a lot of research and preparation. It’s likely you would rather address your disaster recovery plan while you have the foresight, time and bandwidth, instead of when you’ve got one or multiple systems down and the pressure is on to get things back up. Investigating this kind of information and planning a response tailored to your business is easier to navigate by consulting with the experts.