It Wasn’t Raining When Noah Built The Ark

A few simple steps will protect your company’s important data.

Howard Ruff, author of numerous financial planning books, has been quoted as saying, “It was not raining when Noah built the ark.” His reference was to financial planning, but the same notion applies when it comes to business planning for disasters. Many businesses spend a great deal of time planning on how to grow their business, while ignoring what might happen if they experience a major disaster such as a fire or a hurricane.

If you have yet to establish a disaster recovery plan, you are not alone. According to industry statistics, despite major disasters like the hurricane that struck the east coast in October 2012, less than one-half of all businesses say they have a disaster recovery plan. When you ask those with disaster plans if they have tested their plan, most have not. Failing to test your plan is about the same as not having one.

The consequences of not having a plan for a disaster are sobering. The numbers vary depending upon the source, but according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 25 percent of all businesses do not reopen after a major disaster.

So where do you start? This is not a problem to be solved in one short meeting over coffee. Planning for disaster recovery requires time and resources, and it must become an integral part of your total business plan. Three steps will help you get started…

Develop Your Plan

The first step in developing your plan is to bring together the people most impacted by a major disaster. Start asking the questions: “What do we do if?” For example, how would we know what our customers owe us? What do we do if we can’t process invoices? What do we do if we can’t pay bills? How do we notify our customers? How do we order product? Is our data protected?

The next part of your plan is to assign responsibilities. In your plan, you will have an item such as: Get the message about the disaster out to customers. Beside the item, put someone’s name. This person will be responsible for emailing, calling or faxing every customer to let them know what has happened.

Assign someone to develop an inventory of what you have. Your insurance company will want all the details, such as copies of invoices for servers you purchased.

Give someone the responsibility of scanning important documents. Insurance documents, tax returns and payroll records should all be scanned. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to start scanning. The Neat Company markets an inexpensive scanner that attaches to a PC and is very simple to use.

Assign someone the task of installing a product like Carbonite to automatically backup whatever is on the PC to an off-site server. The backup is simple, easy and continuous. You don’t have to remember, it does it automatically. In the event of a disaster, you would have access to all of your important records.

Assign someone the task of converting all of your business reports from paper to PDF files. Regardless of whom your software provider is, this should be a simple and economical process.

As part of your plan, make sure your data is not only backed up, but a copy is stored off-site. If possible, install backup software from a company who will store your data in secure, fireproof, and disaster proof data centers. Most software providers are also providing cloud-based systems that allow you to eliminate your server and access your data through the Internet. Cloud based systems offer a higher level of data protection.

Work Your Plan

You have invested a lot of time growing your business and you should invest a lot of time protecting your business in the form of your new disaster recovery plan. Now that you have a plan, work it.

Don’t assume everything is getting done. Have regular meetings to review the progress on developing your plan. At first, you may need to meet weekly. As your plan becomes an integral part of your business, you may need to meet less frequently; maybe once a month, or once a quarter. The point of working your plan is to make sure everyone is doing their job. Documents are being scanned, data is being backed up, and procedures are in place.

Audit Your Plan

The final step is to periodically audit your plan. It is one thing to back up your data, but more than one distributor has backed up their data to a tape only to realize, at the most unfortunate time, that the data could not be retrieved. In other words, test your backups.

Make sure you can find the reports you need easily. Tell the assigned person you need a purchase journal from last year and see if it can be retrieved. Ask someone to pull a historical document for you. What you look for will be different for each business, but the point of the audit is to make sure things are working as you planned. If you assign someone the task of scanning documents and they are not doing it, or are doing it incorrectly, your plan has failed.

None of us know when disaster will strike. We don’t know when the next earthquake will be. We don’t know when the next tornado or hurricane will strike. But recent events prove to us that they do happen and they will happen to someone. Hopefully, that someone is not you, but if it is, being prepared will significantly improve your chances of survival.

Jim Broughton

Jim Broughton

Jim Broughton is CEO of DataWeld Incorporated, located in Bossier City, Louisiana, and at www.dataweld.com. He serves on GAWDA’s Management Information Committee.