By Jonathan Grant, CEO, NewVoiceMedia

Many Small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK are already coping with limited resources to run their businesses as they try to work their way out of recession. Staff levels may be reduced, operational expenditure is low, and every sale is vital to keep the business afloat. For this reason, many small businesses won't even be thinking about incorporating any form of disaster recovery provision into their forward-planning.

It’ll never happen to me

The day-to-day priority is keeping the company’s head above water and not spending money on something that will probably 'never happen to us.' A common view is that disaster recovery is only for victims of terrorism or earthquakes, which is understandable, perhaps, if your company is situated somewhere quiet and remote, like the Lake District....

Business who suffered from the flooding in Cumbria, or the snow nationwide this year, will probably already be reviewing their contingency plans. But it doesn't take a massive disaster for SMEs to benefit from incorporating some flexibility and agility in their tactical approach. In fact, rather than a disaster, it may even be a peak in business activity that a company needs to respond to, or otherwise lose out to the competition.

The basics

So what are the basic tools that a small business requires to keep things ticking over when the office is shut down in extreme circumstances or when staff can’t get in to work? Or, on a more positive note, the business might actually need more help in managing an unpredictable upsurge in orders. What is the one technology that operations rely on and that companies should protect at all costs?

It might be easy to assume that internet and email service is the key to keeping business afloat. It’s true that email is an easy way to manage communications remotely, and buying a quarter rack of server space in an offsite data centre might be just enough to keep this going in the event of disaster. But can an email truly replace the value of a conversation with a client, prospect, or supplier?

Particularly in a consultative business, where customers might need help with a purchasing decision, or the company is providing a significant ‘value-add’, can email communication effectively substitute the interaction of a verbal exchange?

Getting on the phone

Despite rapid advances in technology, few communications channels can replace the immediacy and power of the telephone for doing business in the modern age. The telephone provides a line in and line out to the rest of the world and is the most effective way of maintaining customer relationships. If that point of contact can remain constant in an ever-changing environment, your customers will have continuing faith in the reliability of your service. Far more than email, an open phone line has the ability to convey a ‘presence’ — the impression that the caller is dialling in to a busy office with people in it — even if those people are actually working remotely from their living rooms.

So how can an SME benefit from a ‘virtual’ call handling service? At first glance, the concept might seem alien and prohibitively expensive for a smaller company to even consider. However, this is where the much-mooted ‘cloud’ part of ‘cloud computing’ comes into its own. Any application that can be accessed from the internet (like Google, for example) is hosted in an external data centre (the ‘cloud’) and cloud-based telephony solutions work in the very same way. Users can access their very own platform from any web browser, re-route calls, manage settings, and ensure that their business is fully operational, regardless of where its staff is working from on any given day.

The economies of scale make cloud-based telephony a very affordable solution for SME customers. With no requirement for onsite equipment, it’s also very easy to manage if your business doesn’t have the resource for dedicated IT staff, providing the SME with the flexibility to scale up as the business grows.

Of course, one option is to ‘do nothing’ and rely on your traditional telephony system. But effective business management is rooted in the long term view, and considering the financial impact of disaster — or even the inability to manage an upsurge in sales as the recession begins to fade -improving and protecting your telephony system is something you just can’t afford not to do.