By Russell Horton, COO, Elitetele.com

The winter months bring with them an array of potential disruptions for businesses. These can range from network capacity issues from higher call numbers, to adverse weather and travel conditions. With the recent announcement from the National Grid warning that its ability to supply electricity will be at a seven year low in 2014; the threat of a winter blackout is once again upon us. This is an issue which can cause a significant impact on a range of business operations.

Arguably the biggest impact these factors can have on a business is a data loss occurrence. With information being at the heart of businesses - the ability to access it and use it in a timely fashion is key to growth, agility and competitiveness. Data loss caused by a blackout is a serious issue businesses must plan for.

A study by Gartner concluded only six percent of all businesses survive a data loss incident, 43 percent going out of business immediately. Serious downtime in your business results in not only financial loss, but also loss of reputation, credibility and trust. However, by taking a proactive approach, businesses can protect themselves from such risks.

In order to safeguard their future I believe businesses should consider the following:

1. A better back up facility
The reality is, if a business doesn’t back up data fully and regularly it is exposed to a data loss. Considering 90 percent of businesses that lose data from a disaster are forced to http://www.londonchamber.co.uk/docimages/146.doc" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">close within two years, not backing up data can be fatal. It is also important to keep in mind that disasters can take many forms. They can be natural (storms, floods); man-made (terrorism, theft); and also technological (viruses, security breaches). That is why it is essential to create a full back up facility, to ensure businesses make it through all eventualities.

2. Back up your back up
To fool proof the safety of important data, businesses should consider at least two forms of backup. By storing data at an off-site location, if anything were to happen to the main site, for example a flood, the data remains unaffected. However if the entire country is affected by something such as the National Grid failing, then an offshore date centre can provide additional peace of mind. Having data centres in different geographical locations gives extra security so that if a problem affecting data was to occur, it wouldn’t impact those businesses. Having a full back up facility in place is not a short term fix to get you through the winter. It is a long term plan that will benefit your business well into the future.

3. Seek expert advice
Save yourself the nightmare of losing important data by seeking advice from experts. Impartial advice allows you to explore various options and find the right solution for your business. A tailored back up facility can help prevent you from wasting resources on the incorrect facilities. A disaster recovery specialist can pre-empt risk and put the appropriate actions in place from a range of solutions.

4. Provide staff with a flexible working environment
Last winter 33 percent of UK businesses were affected by employees unable to get to work because of St Jude, the storm that hit last October. That resulted in a 33 percent decline in productivity and significant disruption for businesses. This level of absenteeism can result in clients and customers not receiving the standard of service they expect which can affect future relationships and repeat business. By enabling staff to work remotely they can be productive even if they can’t get to the office. Remote working is a brilliant way for businesses to avoid losing staff time because of external obstacles. With 87 percent of employers reporting an increase in productivity of between 5-25 percent as a result of remote working, it is a logical avenue to explore. Businesses that integrate cloud and mobile working technology will be one step ahead of these with no contingency for the winter months.

5. No more voicemail
Some businesses may experience an increased number of calls in the winter months. If this is the case then those businesses should look into putting in place an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu. This stops customers reaching a voicemail and helpfully navigates them to the right department and is a solution that works very well for accommodating large call volumes.

If organisations are to thrive and remain unaffected by seasonal disruptions they must take a proactive approach. The steps outlined above can benefit a business all year round. Data loss, staff productivity and the need to seek expert advice are not winter only issues. If businesses are to remain agile and flexible they must act to address these now. Failure to do so could see them left out in the cold.