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Local store fronts are under water in downtown High River, Alberta on Thursday, June 20, 2013. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
Local store fronts are under water in downtown High River, Alberta on Thursday, June 20, 2013. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

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Ten ways to prepare for business disruptions Add to ...

This summer’s floods in Alberta and Toronto highlight the importance of business continuity planning – a key part of any risk management strategy. It keeps employees productive and maintains essential business operations and customer satisfaction during any kind of interruption. However, according to IDC, only 44 per cent of Canadian large businesses, with more than 1,000 employees, had a continuity plan in place as of late 2011. Small businesses, with fewer than 100 employees, were even less prepared, with 25 per cent planning to launch business continuity plans in the next 12 months.

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Here are some key steps to make sure your business operations can continue in the event of another major interruption:

1. Have executive buy-in. Support from executives or other senior leadership is critical for the success of a business continuity plan. Planning and execution will require their buy-in and attention to ensure that all processes are managed effectively.

2. Determine scenarios. Identify all potential disruptions that could impact your business. These could include natural disasters, epidemics, transit strikes, office relocations and power outages. Determining all scenarios will help you develop appropriate responses.

3. Embrace mobile workstyles. This is an essential component of any business continuity plan today. Most Canadians already own devices that can be used for work, such as smartphones and laptops. If you give your employees the ability to work from anywhere, on any device, they are already prepared to continue their jobs during a disruption. Online collaboration tools that enable remote meetings, secure file sharing and project management will also help maintain productivity.

4. Develop a team structure. Identify all responsibilities for each staff member during a disruption and determine a decision-making hierarchy. Establishing a core business continuity team can also be beneficial. Business disruptions are usually stressful, particularly during an emergency, so people shouldn’t have to wonder who has authority.

5. Prepare IT. Have IT infrastructure in place that will secure all company information and give employees access from any location. For example, desktop and application virtualization let staff move from one device to another both seamlessly and securely. Storing corporate data in a public or private cloud will also help maintain operations during a business disruption. If you don’t use the cloud, make sure that the IT department has recovery strategies in place to minimize downtime.

6. Prioritize goals. Identify and prioritize operations that are most essential to your business. Once this is done, determine who will be responsible for them and assign backups. Ensuring that key operations continue to run will minimize the overall impact on your business during a disruption.

7. Conduct business continuity training. Take the time to familiarize your staff with the business continuity plan and their roles during different situations. This will also give you the opportunity to test the plan and to see if anything is unaccounted for.

8. Identify an alternate location or facility. For some businesses, essential operations require a physical workspace. If this is the case, see if there is another location or facility that you could use during a disruption. This is particularly beneficial if you have some prior warning. Make sure your IT has the proper infrastructure to provide remote access to company data and desktops if relocation is needed.

9. Test and update. Test and update the continuity plan annually to account for any changes in your business. Something that is considered an essential operation may no longer be critical in a year.

10. Prepare for the aftermath. It’s equally important to plan for recovery after a disruption. Make sure that your team understands their roles once the situation is over to ensure that your business returns to normal as soon as possible.

Michael Murphy is the vice-president and country manager of Citrix Canada , a global company that enables mobile workstyles, empowering people to work and collaborate from anywhere.

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