Now is the Best Time to Review Your Business Continuity Plan

COVID-19 reminds every business of the importance of being prepared for the unexpected.

We’re now a few months into the COVID-19 shutdown, and many businesses are wondering what the future will look like. The UK is gradually re-opening for business, and while some business owners are eager for this; others are wondering whether doing so is safe and whether customers and employees will feel comfortable returning to their businesses and office buildings.

The current pandemic is an unprecedented type of disaster for UK businesses and the Service Providers that help support their IT operations. Things happened very quickly, with many businesses having to send deploy their workforce from home with very little notice. Well-organised operations invest in planning for disaster preparedness, business continuity, and recovery. But those plans are usually focused on singular, dramatic events like power outages, floods, snow, and fires.

Those are the types of disasters that can destroy your IT infrastructure. What we’re seeing now is the opposite of one of those events. The infrastructure is still in place, but the employees have had little or no access to the building. That makes this as good a time as any to revisit those business continuity plans with your customers, measure just how prepared they were for this particular problem, and make updates where necessary.

An Unanticipated Type of Disruption

The good news is that if you already had a plan in place, the transition to work from home during the pandemic should have gone smoothly. For us at Redsquid for example, it was a case of providing a few extra laptops, and perhaps bringing home an extra monitor if needed. The computers, networks, servers, and data centres all still exist. The biggest challenge is making sure everyone can access them remotely in a secure and reliable fashion.

The main difference we’re seeing with this current situation is the length and scale of the disruption. Businesses haven’t just been disrupted; every vendor and customer they work with is in the same boat, regardless of their geographic location, and it’s not clear how long that disruption will last.

If there is one thing we have learned from the pandemic, it is that most business continuity plans are inadequate when it comes to maintaining operations when things are open-ended. Hence the necessity to develop a plan to transition employees to a remote-work scenario with sufficient hardware resources, remote software licenses, and connectivity options that are not cobbled-together after the fact.

Many business owners were not open to remote work prior to the pandemic. Now, many have changed their minds and certain businesses may even make remote-work permanent. Service Providers should be working with their clients to determine their remote-access needs and help get their infrastructure ready to support this. They may need to invest in a VPN or SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network). They also may need to reconsider leveraging cloud resources or cloud-based applications, and their hardware may need to be upgraded.

Additionally, employees should be trained for long-term remote work protocols. That can include everything from safe use of email and video conferencing systems to file sharing and customer support expectations.

The updated plan should also take in to account limited employee availability. While everyone is working from home, they may be juggling childcare or taking care of vulnerable family members, while also sharing computing resources with their partners and children. Be prepared for employees to work limited or irregular hours, and make sure there’s redundancy built in for times they’re not available. As a Service Provider, we should also keep in mind that not all of our customers will be able to fully operate remotely. This includes restaurants, hotels and hospitals and medical care facilities, and plans will need to be made to accommodate this as well.

Some great feedback Redsquid received from a customer during the lockdown

As businesses slowly start to return to the office, there should be a transition plan for a pandemic scenario. Can hours be staggered? Which employees should return first? Can the business handle requirements like social distancing, mask distribution, and adhere to COVID-19 regulations that are being imposed? Are resources in place to properly sanitise the building?

Be sure to review and test the plan. Like fire drills, you should ensure you can respond to different scenarios to help identify flaws in the plan. See how quickly you can move employees out of the building and ramp-up a work-from-home environment for the entire organisation. Review and test your infrastructure to ensure you have adequate bandwidth for widespread remote access.

Encourage clients to communicate their plans with key vendors and customers and ensure that they’re still able to collaborate remotely.

Service Providers and their customers are in uncharted territory, and there aren’t a lot of good models to follow in this situation. Existing disaster plans can help, but there’s an opportunity to carefully document what’s working right now and what isn’t, and use that to help everyone prepare for the next major disruption, no matter how long it lasts.