In the middle of a crisis during which most of us are working from home, IT teams have really been put to the test. However, if we want to guarantee business continuity in the future, we must also learn lessons from the experience. Planning effectively for when we are next thrown a curveball by unexpected events should now be at the top of the agenda for businesses across the world.
We are in the middle of a massive wake-up call for business continuity and a shift in the approach to IT will be required by many companies.
As the Director for Global Infrastructure and IP services at Expereo, I am responsible for keeping the core infrastructure and services for our customers up and running, together with three global teams based in Singapore, Amsterdam, and the US.
I joined Expereo 4 years ago and so much has changed since then. When I started, we used to have servers and data in the office. We have evolved to a point where we centralized all our offers and business-critical applications in an off-site Amsterdam data center and in cloud-based solutions. All our ISP services that we offer today are in multiple secure and well-controlled locations called Hubs - which are at different sites all across the globe.
This set-up has made it easier for us to adapt to the new working conditions caused by the current global pandemic and transition from working in the office to working from home. Yes, we still have firewalls in the office. Yes, we still have network devices to connect everything to a wireless connection - they will remain for now. I’m not saying forever, but they will not disappear any time soon.
The current crisis has shown that companies with a cloud setup are at a clear advantage compared to those who operate with a central server based in the office. It is clear that there are decisions to be taken and investments to be made, and there is a lot to learn from this crisis.
Business continuity and disaster recovery plans
It’s much easier to be wise after the fact and you never know what you truly need, until you need it. After experiencing this quarantine and working from home, I would advise any company to review their business continuity and disaster recovery plans. The key difference between the two is when the plan for each comes into play. For example, business continuity requires you to keep operations functioning during the event and immediately after. Disaster recovery focuses on how you respond after the event has completed and you need to return to normal operating procedures.
Go through your plans thoroughly, step by step. Once you have done that, test them at least once a year. See if your infrastructure can handle it and carry out proper maintenance and updates. Include all critical departments and functions that are required to make both plans work. Don’t forget to train staff so they understand how it works when they need to relocate to home.
It’s all about testing to ensure you get everything right, and then informing and teaching every invested party about the processes involved.
In some cases, business continuity risks are easy to point out. For example, natural disasters can be more easily identified compared to cyber events. Increasingly, business continuity strategies need to focus on IT risks.
Helpful questions to ask when preparing business continuity plans are:
- What information, software, and systems are critical?
- Where is this information stored and who needs to be able to access it?
- What are the networks you rely on?
- What are the controls in place to prevent different types of risks?
From a financial perspective, if we all start shifting to a work from home mentality, there’s going to be a capital expense. Do you want to wait until you’ve amortized all your investments? Or do you want to make a transition earlier and faster? There are pros and cons to both. Cons are you might lose part of your investment, but on the other hand, you will be getting a lot of efficiency from remote workers.
My advice to those who haven’t started this process yet is to take a close look at your infrastructure, consider what can be in a centralized location or in a cloud service, and see if you can implement the working from home solution. I also can’t stress enough the importance of running through your business continuity and disaster recovery plans. It’s hugely important to have the bandwidth and flexibility to adapt for when you’re next hit by an unexpected turn of events.
Stay safe and healthy.