Why remote work is only the first step of your business continuity plan

 

Enterprises that depend on IT are in a fortunate position. Many workers can work from home; messaging services, online conference portals, and video chat platforms make it possible for millions of tech workers to go on with their jobs while isolating.

At the same time, however, companies without a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) may have trouble adapting to the new normal. Encompassing strategies for a range of problems, from a natural disaster closing a building to a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a BCP delineates how an organization can continue to deliver service in the face of a major (or minor) disruption.

From determining essential services to making sure there is proper bandwidth, the CIO/IT manager plays a vital role in implementing a BCP and keeping employees working. Here’s a look at what your plan should include, and some of the solutions you may want to integrate.

 

What goes into your business continuity plan?

Any plan worth its recovery salt will have to take into consideration whether the main business units can be supported by staff working from home.

Beyond the basics, CIO/IT managers need to understand who is responsible for what. Which departments take care of which services, and what are the technologies/applications that support those services?

Communication with individual departments can help set recovery time objectives (RTO: how long they can go without each service) and recovery point objectives (RPO: how long without data for each service). When in doubt, the CIO can ask the business end what it thinks is important, what service(s) each unit delivers, and how quickly each would need to be restored if service was cut. In throwing the question back at business and steering away from technology, department heads can usually tie it to specific reasons why they need services restored.

Another important consideration: are the remote workers ready now with the tools they will need? These include VPNs, collaboration and video conferencing solutions (and more, below). For any remote access solution, identity and access management are vital. Staff already using remote access have no problem, but others may have to be helped in setting up their home computers. That could cause an immediate strain on help desk support staff. A plan includes figuring out who needs to have remote access and how it can be quickly given to them.

In addition, CIOs should keep in mind the possibility that IT staff may be unable to work due to illness. Ensuring that current staff are cross-trained for each other’s jobs may help.

Another question to ask: are the organization’s other main providers (i.e., application providers, SaaS providers, cloud service providers) able to continue supply if they experience a lot of absenteeism? Your organization may have the bandwidth, but if it can’t count on providers, it could face obstacles in keeping the machine running smoothly. 

 

Business continuity solutions

As you know, during a disruption like the current pandemic, it’s crucially important that workers stay at home.

However, with workforces scattered, businesses still need to maintain collaboration.

In this area, mid-size and small companies that are largely cloud-based and don’t need a VPN have an advantage. Business is booming for companies that offer services to help people conduct meetings online, such as Cisco Webex. Bell offers audio conferencing and integrated voice, video and web conferencing solutions through a partnership with  WebEx. Accessible from any device, Webex from Bell transforms meetings into seamless, real-time collaboration sessions – whether it’s a two-person meeting or a 100-person event – inside or outside your organization.

Other businesses, however, may need a virtual private network. VPNs are necessary if staff have to connect to the corporate network to access on-premise databases.

Bandwidth can be a problem. “Imagine you’re a company and have 100 people who work from home,” Rob Smith, a director with IT research firm Gartner, told itworldcanada.com. “Everybody these days has superfast bandwidth (from home), so they have 100 Mbps. That’s 10 GB if everyone was using full bandwidth. So, it’s real easy to use the entire corporation’s bandwidth just by a handful of people accessing the VPN.”

In this eventuality, the CIO may need to throttle the traffic through the VPN gateway. Some staff may require more bandwidth than others.

Another consideration: ageing infrastructure. Gateways, firewalls, and internet providers need to be able to handle the extra bandwidth or extra capacity if it has to be purchased. To this end, several tech companies have started offering temporary deals on cloud-based VPNs, collaboration and video conferencing solutions.

These are trying times for all of us. Businesses with a plan in place, who can mobilize quickly (and remotely), are in a better position than most.

 

To learn more about team collaboration research, best practices, and solutions, see IDC Technologies’ Future of Work Report here.

 

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