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With 70% of small firms that experience a major data loss going out of business within one year, having a robust business continuity plan should be a top priority.

Business continuity usually applies to procedures that ensure essential business functions continue to operate, and there are a number of initiatives that can be undertaken to guard against risks, especially within the IT department, which underpins the operations of many companies today.

  1. Draw up a business continuity/disaster recovery plan
Even the worst case scenario should be planned for, as well as all the “minor” events that pose threats, and there really is no substitute to drawing up a business continuity plan. There is plenty of help for this from bodies like the Federation of Small Businesses and the Business Continuity Institute, where you will find free resources such as checklists, standards and guides.
  1. Assess your IT and communications systems - where are the weak links?
IT and communications form the backbone of so many companies and, with the right business continuity strategy in place, are easier to maintain during a disaster and against everyday threats, such as the corruption or failure of disk and computers, downtime in communications lines and mobile networks, viruses and hacker attacks.

Every organisation that should have an IT disaster recovery plan that takes into account the setup – server, backup, virus and security protection, communications link redundancy, home working provision and so on - as files alone aren’t enough for full business operations. It’s also important to consider security from the point of view of data theft, as well as downtime.

See also our disaster recovery checklist for planning purposes.

  1. Protect your data through backup
The most important part of your IT setup is your data – computers, servers, smartphones and application software are all readily replaceable.

Ensuring that you backup all the right material is crucial, as is keeping at least one copy of the backup away from your premises – and this can be done ‘in the cloud’, i.e. in a remote data centre, rather than taking a tape or disk out of the office as many businesses still do (or forget to do).

  1. Speed up data restoral after a disaster has struck
One way to dramatically speed up restoration is to opt for a backup that takes a complete, verified image of your system rather than just parts. With this approach, you can restore all your data, applications and system quickly, either at the office or even in a remote location should your main site be unavailable. Recent examples of companies using Datto technology for disaster recovery include a Derbyshire-based estate agent, whose main office burnt down in 2014 but was up and running next morning at another office; and a Birmingham office outfitter that suffered a server failure but restored operations from an image taken just a few hours before.

There are a lot of ways to configure backup systems, and it’s well worth examining which ones offer the most stress free experience.

  1. Moving to cloud computing for more flexibility and continuity
Sophisticated cloud backup offerings, called ‘disaster recovery as a service’ (DRaaS) provide entire ‘failover’ operations, and highlight the advantage of cloud – as you’re getting a service, not just software, and you don’t have to worry about maintaining applications or even buying them, since most cloud services are rented. In terms of data protection and security, you can specify, for example, that all your data must reside on a secure UK data centre.
  1. Choose a managed services provider
MSPs often provide a central resource, usually with a help desk, that takes responsibility for delivering a service, with predictable billing. This is great advantage in disaster recovery, as expertise will always be on hand. There’s no need to opt for remote companies on a different continent – many MSPs in the UK have regional offices to give personal service.
  1. Testing, testing…it’s a must do for all
Finally, many companies just don’t put their business continuity or disaster recovery plans to the test. A majority will test for an emergency, such as using a telephone and messaging ‘tree’ to alert staff, but others will not actually do a live test of an IT failure, or a scenario where say head office is out of action and employees need to switch to mobile and home working. All the guides on business continuity can’t really stress testing more strongly – and one other advantage of using an MSP is that you can ask the company to do the IT part of the test for you.

By Andrew Stuart, MD of Datto EMEA