Top 10 SME IT contingency planning tips

Freezing weather conditions cost businesses millions of pounds last week. But small firms shouldn't wait for the next cold snap before putting IT continuity systems in place. Read our tips to minimise damage when the worst case scenario comes to pass.

Freezing weather conditions cost businesses millions of pounds last week. But small firms shouldn't wait for the next cold snap before putting IT continuity systems in place. Read our tips to minimise damage when the worst case scenario comes to pass.

Assess the risk

Start by identifying all critical areas that would cause the most damage if they went down. These can be anything from electronic threats such as being hacked; technical problems, like a server going down; or infrastructure failure - for example, if your business relies on your internet connection to receive orders from customers.

"The method behind business continuity is to think what are the key activities and are some less important than others? From there you can boil down to the key underlying IT structures," says Lee Glendon, head of campaigns at the Business Continuity Institute.

Back-up systems

For SMEs that rely on their stored data, it is crucial to invest in a robust back-up system. This may also involve using offsite centres through companies such as Sunguard, IBM or HP as an alternative site to your usual premises. These centres tend to provide a few desks for key staff to work at which are connected to your company's backup system.

Get flexible

Remote working is now common practice in many companies. But if this is not a policy your business is familiar with, you will need to ask if staff have the right equipment and access to files and e-mail. Once in place, it is easy to manage employees remotely with regular e-mails to provide and receive workload updates. For more information read our guide.

Video conferencing

If you are unable to make a business meeting because of adverse weather conditions then video conferencing provides a simple alternative. You can invest in some start-of-the-art technology, but all you really need is a laptop with a video camera. Sites such as ooVoo and Skype are free and easy to use.

Battle box

It may sound silly but having a 'battle box' that contains all your key information could be crucial in getting your business on its feet quickly and minimising revenue loss. The last thing you need is to be rummaging through countless drawers and files looking for access codes and insurance details. Keep one in the office and at home.

iPhone apps

Business continuity iPhone apps are now widely available. Once the business continuity plan is activated an alert system sends out texts to tell people what they need to do and to show everyone their individual responsibilities. There is sometimes a dedicated number to phone.

Cloud computing

One of the less discussed benefits for using cloud computing is that it provides an automatic disaster recovery platform, as everything is backed up anyway. So if you lose the site you can easily access company information from a different location.

Outsourced reception service

If you lose customer calls there are companies who can take that service up. You can contact them and they will activate your account so that all calls are forwarded to where you are. Companies like Moneypenny offer such a service.

Telecoms providers

To guarantee access to data back-ups, companies should also ensure that their telecommunications provider has the ability to connect to an alternative network if a main supplier goes down.

Test it

Make sure you do a test run of the plan once a year. This will measure its effectiveness and make sure everything is up-to-date with all your latest technology additions.

Read more on IT risk management

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