In an age when business depends on so many critical services being available, we have to ask ourselves. Are we fully prepared for whatever could (and will) happen?
Last night, an internet fiber line was cut, affecting our credit card processor – essentially stopping our online customers from paying with credit cards. Less than 12 hours later, Comcast, our phone and internet provider at our corporate office, had a regional outage that took down our phones and internet.
Let me introduce you to a term called Business Continuity Planning (BCP for those of you who like acronyms). BCP is simply a fancy term for processes you put in place to account for things that may interrupt your ability to conduct business. From the mundane (you lose internet) to the potentially disastrous (a fire in your facility, a natural disaster, etc), putting in place these processes helps to minimize the impact on your business.
Take for example, the two issues we had today. We use two separate merchant providers. Our website is programmed in such a way, that when someone attempts to “check out” and pay with their credit card, and the processor is unavailable, an email and text message is sent to my phone. So as I was sitting comfortably on my couch watching the Bruins game, I got an alert on my phone notifying me that our processor was down. No problem, I quickly re-configured our site to use the other processor and business continued on as usual.
This morning, when our internet went down, we were left with no phones and no internet access. Our phone provider has a feature that re-routes our calls to a cell phone whenever the network is down, so all our calls could continue to come in. We also have a 4G wireless router in our office (approx. $49.99 + $30/month data plan). So when our internet went down, we simply changed our computers to access that wireless router instead of our normal one. Viola, business as usual.
Having a good BCP is basically about asking yourself the what ifs. What if my internet is down? What if my laptop crashes? What if we lose electricity, etc? Downtime of any kind can cost a business thousands so you need to plan for these events. Let me start you off with a few simple ones to ponder.
What if your website goes down?
For most of us, a website is an integral part of doing business. We are primarily an ecommerce company, so for us, it is mission critical. If your site went down for several days, what would be the impact? Worse yet, if your site and all your site files and data were simply gone (this can happen!), what would you do?
When most people think website, they think $20/month with one of the many service providers out there. They put their website up, trust that all will be well with the service provider and go about their day. If your website is critical to your business, this is a ticking time bomb. Without going into all the technical details, I can tell you that our website hosting alone costs us nearly 150 times your average run of the mill hosting plan (and that’s cheap compared to some of the big boys). But with that infrastructure in place, we have the ability to get our site up and running in a reasonable amount of time if something disastrous happens. We also have offsite backups (with backups being run constantly) so we minimize the risk of losing any order data should a disaster occur. In my experience, this is one area where small businesses are the most vulnerable.
What if your computer crashes?
There are a lot of solutions out there that you can use to backup data on your computer. From simple services like Carbonite, to larger enterprise solutions to back up your entire organization’s computers and data, these can be essential to continued business when something bad happens. The motherboard on my laptop died on me a couple of months ago. It wasn’t a problem. I have a second laptop with all the same software as my original. I simply logged into Carbonite, downloaded my files and was up and running in a couple hours.
What if you lose power for an extended period of time at your office?
Natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, ice and snow storms, can bring power down for weeks at a time. Never mind un-natural disasters like fires. What would you do? For us, power is critical for two reasons. Because we’re sending baked goods, without power, we can’t bake. On top of that, we stand to lose thousands of dollars in perishable ingredients like milk, eggs, cream cheese, etc. if our refrigerators and freezers are out. As a first step, we have an alarm system in our bakeries that notifies us if there is a loss of power (via text message) or if any of our “cold equipment” (freezers, refrigerators) gets to a certain temperature. This lets us know immediately that there is an issue. From there we can take action before it’s too late. We could outfit all our facilities with industrial generator systems, but right now, the cost is not practical for us. The risk to us is that if we lose power for a long time, we’ll likely lose product. Financially, that’s the best bet for us right now. But because we have 3 separate kitchens (Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago), we can route any baking from one facility to another and make sure orders go out as planned. This happened to us this past Valentine’s Day. A major storm in the Mid Atlantic took power out in most of Pennsylvania and grounded all UPS trucks and planes. We simply re-routed all the orders scheduled to go out of Pennsylvania to Boston, and got everything out on time.
Other items to consider
- What if one of your major vendors or suppliers goes out of business?
- What if a key employee quits?
- What if there’s a natural disaster and your employees can’t get to work?
- What else puts your business at risk?
You get the idea. Each business is different and can have hundreds of what ifs. You’ll never be able to have a plan for everything, but you should at least be thinking about it. It can be tough especially when you’re a small or growing business. Like us with the industrial generators, we just can’t afford to equip three kitchens with such a system so for now, we’ll take the risk. It is important however to know what your business critical needs are (like our website) and make sure you have a plan in place of them. At the end of the day, it’s really not if something happens, but when. Are you prepared?