Through the newsfeeds this week, we have seen so many amazing contributions through the #ymm and #ymmfire hashtags. From businesses across Alberta helping people out to individuals opening up their homes. #AlbertaStrong has been a glimmer of hope in a time of chaos.
One of the offers of support that caught my eye in particular, seen through the lens of someone who works for a service and technology company, was from a photographer who offered to reprint wedding photos for free for his clients who had lost their albums in the Fort McMurray fire. His message mentioned almost in passing how he still had everything stored electronically. Other photographers and videographers had similar services, where people’s wedding photos and videos were just a click away, stored in the cloud.
I think these offers got buried a little under the more immediate and urgent need to find people places to live, eat, and sleep. However, this combination of amazing people and cloud computing means that as people recover from this terrible fire and start rebuilding, they can recover some of their memories that would have otherwise been lost.
A similar process will need to take place for entrepreneurs as they rebuild their businesses.
Where to begin? Make an inventory
The first step, once the initial danger has passed, is to assess the overall situation. From the point of view of your technology, you need to run an inventory of your systems and data. If you have a business continuity plan in place, you should already have the checklist you need to assess your systems more quickly. If not, some of the things to consider include the following:
- Do you have access to your email system?
- Do you have a way to redirect your phone system?
- Do you have a way to contact customers, employees, and vendors to keep them updated?
- What physical hardware do you have available? Laptops? Mobile devices? Servers? Backup drives?
- Do you have everything you need to run it? A physical location that is safe? Sufficient power? Internet access? The right physical cables to connect everything together?
- What stores of data can you access immediately? Is your email already based in the cloud? Were you able to take a laptop or backup drive with you?
- What stores of data can you restore with some time? Do you have a backup drive that is in a fire safe or bank safety deposit box, safe but not easily accessible? Do you have a cloud backup that will take time to restore once you have an internet connection?
- What alternate or “ghost” stores of data might you be able to access? This could include things like caches of emails on personal devices, copies of business documents in the hands of clients and vendors, and ‘temporary’ copies of data left on memory sticks.
Assess the damage
With your list of systems and their status, you can assess the damage and start setting priorities. Situations like this are always volatile, and circumstances will be different from case to case, but as a general guideline, it can be helpful to group your list of systems into these four categories:
1. Critical and Available:
These are your critical systems that are still working. Use them as a base to start rebuilding, but this category won’t need as much attention. Email is on Office 365 or Gmail and you’ve still got your phone, so communications won’t be a problem. Accounting is up in the cloud with Sage or Quickbooks Online, so payroll will run.
2. Critical and Unavailable:
This is where your initial efforts will need to go. What are the systems you need to have up and running?
3. Non-Critical but Available:
Your initial reaction might be to ignore this category, but list systems here anyways during your assessment. They are still good news items, and more importantly, they could provide unexpected solutions as you tackle your critical needs. That free web-based service someone set up to track last year’s office gift exchange? That may be a way to get messages out to employees. You’ve lost your server but still have that old laptop you pull out for temp employees? It might be slow, but maybe it can run some industry-specific software you may have.
4. Non-Critical and Unavailable:
This category you can ignore for now, but at least make a list of the items that fit here. At some point, you will want to get these systems back online, or maybe you discover they weren’t needed at all.
As part of a good business continuity plan, you should already have a list of critical and non-critical systems, including what backup systems are available for each. If not, taking a bit of time to pull it together before you start reacting can help you focus your resources effectively, saving you time and money.
Make a plan
If you already have a business continuity plan in place, execute your plan.
In the chaos that comes after a disaster, it is often overwhelming to keep track of everything that needs to happen, both personally and for your business. A business continuity plan, whether prepared in advance or somewhat on the fly, will help make sure nothing gets missed.
For each system on your list that is offline, write down a goal, a list of requirements, and a next step. Then you can start making good decisions and assigning your available resources to the tasks at hand.
For one business displaced by the Fort McMurray fires, VC3 was happy to be able to provide support to get them back up and running. They had been forced to leave behind their in-house mail server during the sudden evacuation and also lost access to their off-site backup location as it was located elsewhere in the city -- a reasonable business decision to make, even in retrospect, as the risk of a complete city-wide evacuation was low. Now with some office space, power, and internet access, they were able to restore their email services within a few days in spite of the circumstances.
Going forward, depending on how they gauge the future risk of a similar business interruption and the cost of having been without email for several days, perhaps they will move to a cloud-based email solution. Or perhaps they will decide that their plans worked for them: only days after having been evacuated from a wildfire that may have destroyed their office, the technology side of their business is back up and running.
If you are a #ymm business needing some tech support or are any business looking for some help with future business continuity planning, contact us.