While Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a wakeup call for many businesses, the rubber hit the road when Hurricane Sandy six years ago hit too close to home for Janney Montgomery Scott LLC.
“Katrina set [the stage], but Sandy was when things picked up because we can’t have offices down at the same time,” said John Olson, vice president of wealth management at Janney in South Whitehall Township.
Olson said data are available through remote access from all employee devices including cellphones, and that data backups are housed in “sister branches” in other states to ensure their protection.
“It has made us a mobile workforce,” he said.
A mobile workforce – particularly enabling staff to work from home – is critical in a world where businesses are susceptible to natural disasters, cybercrime, power and technological failures and physical catastrophes such as fires. Businesses can become mobile by arming employees with technology to work remotely and to communicate with colleagues, storing data in the cloud and by creating and testing an off-site disaster recovery plan.
Paul Marrella, a Certified Financial Planner in Wyomissing, said his entire team is able to work remotely, whether caring for a sick child or avoiding icy roads during recent winter storms.
“We have work setups from home and through client relationship management systems” so employees can work remotely by routine, or to keep business moving under any circumstances, he said.
“We have virtual private networks and redundancy centers around the country because we always try to think, ‘what if,’ ” Marrella said.
The time to develop a plan isn’t when you’re staring down a disaster, said George Sanchez, owner and CEO of TeamLogic IT in South Whitehall Township. Protecting the business and data means having systems and processes in place so workers can continue daily operations in the event of a physical disaster or data breach.
Nic Hindle, director of technology at Hindle Power in Williams Township, said not only does the firm use two third-party providers, it has an in-house information technology staff and uses a third-party cybersecurity partner to protect data.
A remote workforce provides information continuity with video chat conference apps and Microsoft Office 365 tools and apps.
“We have guys that are on the road and work out of hotels in other parts of the country, and our culture is connected,” Hindle said.
His firm’s disaster plan is designed to keep the workforce quicker, smarter, faster and safer, Hindle said.
“A well-documented plan that can be executed is essential,” said Sanchez, whose firm provides third-party IT support to clients and advises them on how to create disaster-plan strategies.
“Have a ‘fire drill’ that shows you what works, as well as what doesn’t work,” he said.
Regular tests ensure processes play out the way they’re expected to and allow time outside of a crisis to shore up weak areas.
Besides regular system backups and using cloud-based storage systems, consider off-site and long-distance locations to prevent them from being down should a storm or event hit your home region.
Sanchez said equipping employees with the tools they need to conduct business at home or away from the office can make the difference between whether or not a business survives.
But what about the small-business owner afraid of technology that he or she doesn’t understand?
Michael Hawkins, CEO of Netizen Corp. in South Whitehall Township, said his 40 employees have a central cloud location so entire desktops are stored there “and nothing gets lost … whether we are sitting in the office or working 1,000 miles away.”
Device-specific management for work applications synchs data for easy use, he said.
TAKE IT SLOWLY
Off-site data storage in cloud systems is not as scary as it sounds, Hawkins said.
“It [number of cloud options] is overwhelming, but data is safer in cloud systems like Microsoft Office 365 or Google than in a [physical] server tucked in the closet,” he said.
Hawkins advised taking it slowly, especially for those averse to using advancing technology for data storage needs.
“For smaller companies, start small. Do one thing at a time,” he said. “Start with email service storage, and then advance from there to file storage.”