Are companies truly prepared for business continuity amid a global pandemic?

Nearly empty desks at the Fuze office in Boston where its 150 on site employees are asked to work from home, 10 March 2020. (PHOTO: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

By Sasanka Sahu

SINGAPORE — While businesses have shown great resilience in coping with the coronavirus pandemic, most organisations are actually far from being prepared in a crisis like this.

In recent years, the adoption of cloud has led companies to believe that cloud-based and fully-automated disaster recovery solutions are the be-all and end-all of business continuity.

While IT disaster recovery is extremely important, what is often over-looked in the whole process of business continuity is the dependency among various business units and how the organisation can run its operations and business if the disruption continues for a longer period. 

At this moment, no one knows how long the virus will persist. Hence, it is imperative that organisations factor in alternate work areas if they have not done so, as this proactive measure will go a long way to ensure business continuity. 

As the COVID-19 situation worsens, it is also important to note that remote or staggered working arrangements may not be sustainable over the next few months. 

To begin with, many businesses cannot afford to be out of service for one day or less. Many large organisations still require their workforce to be in close proximity to one another and prefer face-to-face meetings to instil stability and minimise disruption in their operations. 

Small and medium-sized enterprises with a leaner workforce and less resilient IT infrastructure face a greater challenge. Should someone in the team come into contact with the virus, the whole team can be impacted and the office would stay inaccessible to staff. 

In face of these situations, third-party sites where staff have a ready to move in office space, computing equipment and a resilient IT infrastructure have proven to be effective in ensuring continuity of operations. 

How to choose a split site

In looking for a split site (often called a work area recovery site or secondary site), organisations should take a few factors into account, such as location and security, dedicated or shared seat models as well as technology readiness. 

Location and security 

The modern workforce demands a secure and comfortable working space that is easily accessible and well-equipped. Employers would do well to choose a location that is conveniently located, has basic workplace amenities such as laptops, printers and phones, and one that comes with strong security controls.

Dedicated or shared 

Depending on budget, availability and size of workforce, split sites are reliable, flexible and cost-effective places to recover work operations. Seats can be purchased either on a shared or dedicated basis. 

Shared seats reduce the cost considerably but are offered on a first-come-first-served basis in the event of other companies experiencing a disaster at the same time, in the same location and will also have certain conditions for the operations due to the offering model. 

The dedicated model offers a guaranteed, pre-defined number of seats at any time for exclusive use even during large scale crises. They cost more but the upside is that companies do not have to worry about availability during a disaster and the duration that they need to operate from the alternate site.

Technology readiness

SS:507 is a certification that assesses a service provider’s capability in business continuity and disaster recovery and the quality of the facility’s infrastructure to meet disaster recovery needs.  

Work areas with SS:507 certification come with reliable power back up, IT infrastructure and processes, resilient network and the expertise that follow the best practices. In the event of IT system failures at the primary work site, these split sites would still allow operations to remain productive. 

Besides serving as alternative work areas, split sites also offer an avenue for companies to simulate and refine their disaster recovery plans all year round. 

As COVID-19 has now turned into a global pandemic, there is no better time for companies to relook into alternate sites as a critical component of their business continuity plans. This approach will lay the foundation for greater resilience and allow companies to take a pro-active approach and carry on, business as usual.

Sasanka Sahu is Head of Business Continuity, Acclivis Technologies and Solutions, and is a certified Business Continuity professional from the Disaster Recovery Institute International.