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Create a Business Continuity Plan for Your Digital Documents

7 Jul, 2010 By: Laurel Sanders, Optical Image Technology imageSource

Create a Business Continuity Plan for Your Digital Documents

The proverbial question of “What if?” is something we each have asked ourselves at some point in time. When it comes to business, it’s a question that needs to be asked, and often. 

Everyday demands keep many executives focused on the current state of business. Maintaining effective operations, profitability, and satisfied customers are crucial to preserving a successful business; yet alone, they don’t guarantee long-term sustainability. Neglecting to prepare for conditions that could arise if something goes wrong puts you in a tricky spot if trouble surfaces. Taking time to develop a plan – but not validating its effectiveness – is almost as risky as having no plan at all. 

Why you need a plan

If you think you or your clients can delay business continuity planning (BCP) until later, ask yourself this: 

• When you buy expensive hardware, do you secure it immediately? Obviously.
• When you sell services, do you require a contract before starting work? Always.
• When you buy software, do you take care to ensure sensitive information is secured by granting only appropriate access? Of course.

So why then, would you purchase technology to manage your most valuable business content – transactional records of everything your business has been, is now, and will be in the future – and NOT put a solid plan in place to enable its continuance? Think about that.

What if… you didn’t have a real business plan to safeguard your business? Are you prepared if a pandemic or natural disaster denies you or your clients access to the office and your information systems?  Could your business survive if a storm suddenly flooded or knocked out the power to your servers, making your files and processes inaccessible for days, weeks, or even months? What would you do if your customers’ information were suddenly and permanently destroyed?

Many businesses struggle after a serious interruption or disaster.  Nearly half never recover. In an increasingly digital environment, failure to assess risk, understand the potential impact, and prepare adequately for business resumption can jeopardize not only an organization’s health, but even its existence.

Digital files help – but don’t fully address – continuity

If you sell and support browser-based electronic document management (EDM), electronic records management (ERM), or business process management (BPM) solutions—or use them in your office, you’ve taken proactive steps by making files secure and remotely accessible. You’re protecting against damage from fire, leaks and floods, humidity, and aging paper or other media, eliminating duplicate files and guarding against document loss.

Yet to ensure 100% sustainable operations, digital environments must have their own continuity (recovery) plan. Natural disasters, pandemics, high turnover, or server downtime may cause slow, costly recuperation, damage your business reputation or end operations.  The goal is to: resume business quickly; minimize the effect on the business; protect your reputation. A good plan ensures this and more.

Getting started

Like any meaningful plan, a BCP requires:

•  A well-balanced team representing multiple business interests.
•  Open and thorough dialogue between team members.
•  Careful analysis of operations and the documents on which they rely.
•  A detailed, written action plan to ensure seamless continuance of operations.

This list will start you on the right foot:

1. Determine alternate site requirements

Depending on the nature and scale of a business, recovery site requirements vary. You might require a satellite office, a data center, or just a few offsite servers with remote staff. 

Regardless, your plan should specify:

•  Site needs for an alternate work environment, including requirements to make it fully operational.
•  Communication requirements (telecommunications, Internet).
•  Hardware, peripherals, and office equipment.
•  Requisite funding so resumption efforts aren’t delayed.
•  Transportation logistics between recovery and back-up facilities.

If all your information is electronic, managed by a robust EDM/ERM/BPM solution and backed up at an alternate site, recovery time should be minimal – but only if recovery plans are stored offsite; employees are Internet-enabled; and everyone can access needed equipment, support, services and information.

2. Build a restoration framework

Getting started requires a holistic approach. Tackle BCP with the same focus, intensity, and tenacity as your business plan.

Consider the big picture. Identify:

*  Current software, applications, and critical information systems.
*  Document types stored in each.|
*  Customer files or databases that require regular offsite backups.
*  Information needed to maintain customer service.
*  Vendor information you need to survive (those on whose products/services your business depends).
*  The risk of various disruptions occurring / the likely impact of each.
*  Each employee’s tasks; information needed to complete them.
*  A priority list of files and processes needed for business to continue.
*  Internal governance procedures and regulations you must observe to avoid penalties.

Drill down into every business process and document the details:

*  What is the sequence of steps?
*  Which department / person is responsible for each?
*  What tasks are involved?
*  What documents and databases must be accessed?
*  How are standard exceptions handled?  By whom?
*  Who is responsible if the assigned employee is unavailable?
*  After a step is completed, does it require approval, signatures, or other action?

Remember, the goal is to create a functional recovery plan that enables information systems and business functions to continue in a smooth and acceptable alternative manner until normal operations resume.

3. Identify disaster severity and appropriate response

Even when backup facility plans, information systems, and other physical requirements are clear, if disaster strikes, someone must evaluate the nature and severity of the interruption and decide which response is appropriate. 

Ask yourself:

* Who will determine the level of disruption? Who is the backup?
*  How will the appropriate course be decided if options exist?
*  What should be communicated to staff? How? By whom?

Include a hierarchical diagram of the response and recovery team.  Specify leadership positions. Store a copy of your BCP offsite. Make sure response team leaders have copies.

4. Test the plan to validate effectiveness

Carefully laid plans can fail without thorough validation. If staff is accustomed to accessing, viewing, approving, signing, and otherwise doing business remotely, testing backup information systems may suffice. Whether you or your clients are operating with a mix of digital systems and non-digital information, conduct business digitally, or are implementing EDM/ERM/BPM components to improve business efficiency and services, now is the time to conduct a mock disaster.  Make sure your plan works.

Test your:

*  Data backups
*  Offsite documentation
*  Alternate facilities
*  Recovery team training
*  Critical business applications
*  Alternate processing procedures

Not testing is far more costly than spending resources on thorough evaluation. The payoff in assurance is well worth the investment in time and resources.

Put your best foot forward

If you haven’t yet automated routine business processes, the discipline of analyzing documents, job roles, and responsibilities on a step-by-step basis will position you well for the transition.  Consider letting your BCP initiatives advance simultaneously with a move toward business process automation.  You’ll see returns in improved efficiency, profitability, compliance, and services.  

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