Business Continuity Planning – Lessons Learned

The COVID-19 pandemic has created strife across the globe. Many families have suffered from illness, the loss of a loved one, loss of employment, and in some cases maybe a loss of hope in a way forward back to normal. While many businesses have been shuttered others deemed critical or those that operate virtually may be thriving. Assuming your business is operating, have you been able to operate effectively and efficiently? 

Some businesses are benefitting from their consumers being shut in, leading to increased online video and music consumption, people using at home time to learn a new skill, hobbyist expanding their knowledge base. All that aside, in order to operate virtually a business must have at a minimum an appropriate technology infrastructure and a business continuity plan that considers workflows.

Maybe you moved your business operations to the cloud so that all you applications are hosted in some remote data center and not your office space. Maybe you had a plan in place. Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, WA treated patient number one in the US. They had a pandemic plan, had recently tested it, felt confident but when the pandemic hit they realized they didn’t have enough critical supplies and were scrambling for personal protective equipment, PPE. Additionally, defective test kits provided by the CDC were also a major problem. This story played out throughout Washington State, the country and world.

Some business may have segments or divisions that were able to operate just fine while other segments were shutdown. Content providers such as Netflix or Disney have had no problem providing streaming services and supporting end users watching TV shows, movies and documentaries. However, their content creation businesses that produce new movies and shows have been shuttered. Even with the best planning and infrastructure in place, market dynamics have had a huge impact on business operations.

Assuming you have been able to provide your service virtually or were deemed critical and allowed to remain open, having employees isolated at home has had its problems. I personally needed equipment and what normally would take no more than 2 days took over 2 weeks to connect, get advice and place an order. The company was operating virtually and demand was at all time highs and their technology infrastructure did not support their business process remotely as it did when employees worked onsite.

So what have we learned? For me the biggest difficulty was to have imagined the scenario we all faced. This event was beyond many organization’s planning. Perhaps many of the behemoths got it right, or scrambled to make things work. The largest obstacle perhaps was getting the business processes right when forced to operate remotely with employees in isolation. Difficulties collaborating with colleagues, maintaining business workflows, and operating efficiently are among the largest hurdles that virtually operating businesses have had to deal with. This pandemic will certainly impact business continuity planning for many years to come.

So what can we do to be better prepared for other unanticipated disruptions? A framework is important to getting things right for all business continuity planning. Below is a simplified 5 step approach.

  1. Develop a plan – Assemble a team, identify outage scenarios and goals. List what services must function as soon as possible, and what other functions can wait.
  2. Establish business operations workflows – Define how various departments and staff function both independently and cross functionally. Identify how the business operates with staff in isolation or at remote locations. Identify logistical moves of personnel that could be made today which would support business recovery plans in the future. Some firms such as Facebook are already defining work from home positions. Establishing work from home positions could potentially boost employee productivity and reduce company costs.
  3. Define the technology – Identify the services and infrastructure necessary to support the plan, as well as what other technologies could improve efficiencies or resilience. Identify potential logistical technology moves that might better protect the company, i.e. cloud computing and services.
  4. Brainstorm potential pitfalls – Ask what are we missing, identify the what ifs….
  5. Test the plan – Testing can help identify gaps in planning. After testing assess what worked well, and where expectations fell short. Identify the necessary changes and retest.

Network Management Solutions has been assisting companies since 1996 to design, implement, monitor and mange IT infrastructure. We have helped companies recover from failed projects, security breaches and outages. Contact NMS for a free, confidential, consultation to understand how we may contribute to your business ongoing businesses success.

How To Select A Managed Services Provider

You have a growing business that relies on computer based technology. What do I mean?… well, computers, operating systems, servers, networks, internet connections, cloud infrastructure, and data sharing applications. Yeah it all sounds overwhelming and jargon filled but you need these things to run your business.

You have been getting by with support from an internal resource or two that have a little information technology experience but maintain other full time responsibilities within the business. You might also as well utilize an outside resource at your internet service provider or local computer store.  You know its not efficient, it’s a drain on your internal resources and problems seem to fester.  Its time for a change but what’s next? 

This article is intended to help guide you towards a solution, that will free internal resources from ad-hoc IT tasks and enable your employees to focus on their intended functions, as well help you to have a problem management process and secure technology infrastructure that most effectively supports your business.

Introducing the Managed Services Provider, or maybe you already have one, but it doesn’t seem to be working out. Hopefully these steps will set you on a path towards solving the dilemma and keeping your IT systems and information secure and in top shape.  

  1. Identify your infrastructure. Identify what internal and external infrastructure exists that supports your business. What I’m talking about are computers, servers, network connections and applications. If you’re not quite sure how to gather this information, many Managed Services Providers will assist in the process through an information technology assessment. An information technology assessment should be routine to an MSP and some will credit the cost of the assessment if you decide to sign up for their ongoing services.
  2. Identify your service needs. Decide what elements of the overall internal and external infrastructure need oversight. For example if you host an internal email server, or database server, is this something a third party could take on the management of? Do you require proactive management of network connections, servers, and applications, or do you just wait until they fail and scramble to identify where the problem is? Perhaps our IT problems page, or evaluation checklists can help you come up to speed and refine your approach.
  3. Assemble your business requirements. Now that you have a clear understanding of the components in your infrastructure and service requirements, such as proactive monitoring of critical systems, problem management support, support hours and response times, document these items as they will be critical in moving forward towards a decision on a new Managed Services Provider.  
  4. Interview potential Managed Services Providers. Find out what services each company provides and how they map to your business requirements. Do they have the staff, experience, and hours of coverage to support the business requirements; can they respond in the required timeframes; do they provide ongoing updates on service outages, or operating systems updates and patches?  Is there a standard service level agreement that defines how issues are managed and can it be customized to support your specific requirements?  Identify the cost of services for supporting your current requirements as well as the costs as your business and infrastructure grows.
  5. Select a Managed Services Provider. Establish clear service level agreements defining services provided, operating procedures, response time agreements, as well as key contacts and escalation procedures. Also establish the ongoing reporting provided by the Managed Services Provider and have the reports customized to meet your specific needs.
  6. Review ongoing performance. Review reports provided by your Managed Services Provider and compare them to your service level agreement. Most importantly maintain an open and honest dialogue with your Managed Services Provider. Clear open communications will foster the results you are looking for while strengthening the partnership and mutual respect and trust in the business arrangement.

Network Management Solutions has been providing custom information technology solutions since 1996 for large, mid-sized and small business.  All of our services, including our Managed Service Provider solutions are customized to support our client’s business needs. For more information please call us at 908-232-0100, also reference our online questionnaires and toolbox.

Network Management Solutions  www.nmscorp.com. Please reach out we want to assist you in making your business better.