British weather has always been unpredictable during winter, but no one foresaw the additional burden on Scottish commuters and businesses affected by the recent Forth Road Bridge closure. For the 100,000+ daily commuters who travel into Edinburgh for work, their 30-minute trip over the bridge into the Scottish capital now takes even longer than usual, despite the Scottish government and bus and coach services putting on extra modes of transport to help ease congestion.

Many of Edinburgh’s companies have been adversely affected by this structural failure, and are suffering unplanned business downtime. Others, however, are already back at work thanks to having a business continuity plan in place. Business continuity is a company’s ability to deliver services or products even if unplanned circumstances occur that might disrupt business.

A managed service provider (MSP), such as IT Specialists (ITS), can help you start to develop a business continuity plan, as MSPs remotely manage IT infrastructure and proactively mitigate business downtime. ITS has over 40 field engineers across the UK so customers have on-the-ground support wherever they are located. But what are the other main considerations in a business continuity plan? For starters, you must ensure your employees have an alternate work location that is accessible.

Here are five top tips for a business continuity plan that all businesses – no matter their size – should have in place before disaster strikes.

Alternate working arrangements

Unforeseen incidents like the Forth Road Bridge closure can cause immense disruption for commuters and companies but for those businesses that are prepared, business continuity plans help ensure work is uninterrupted, no matter what occurs. Relocating operations without advanced notice would be ideal so operations could continue, even if they are a bit disrupted. Unfortunately this is rarely possible unless your business has several sites, so mobile connectivity is a must.

No matter what devices your employees are working from, they need to have a decent Internet connection to send and receive data without any interruption or risk of being disconnected in the middle of viewing, downloading or sending customer data or secure account information. Your employees’ Internet connection has a large impact on how quickly they can work and whether they can do so as efficiently as if they were in the office.

Remote network access

By accessing a network remotely, employees who are unable to physically get in to the office can continue to work. This is especially useful in the case of e-commerce companies, so that the warehouse employees and travelling employees can keep couriers updated about road closures or detours.

Backup Internet connectivity

Many organisations may be unprepared for a sudden bandwidth demand from people working remotely, and any downtime on core IT systems and lack of network access from anywhere can rapidly unravel workflows and potentially damage business relationships. If there is a lead time to get the bandwidth approved, employees may attempt to use personal devices for work purposes, making security a vital consideration.

An increasing number of businesses are now turning to the cloud as it provides the ability torecover key IT systems and data quickly, which is crucial to ensuring that your business suffers minimal downtime. Cloud solutions allow your employees to resume operations quickly, since you can access the environment from anywhere with a suitable Internet connection.

Using personal devices

Virtual secure networking from remote computers is advisable for core systems, such as accounts and customer data. ITS provides a service to deliver laptops to customers in a crisis, but many companies may not have that option. In such a case, it is therefore crucial that you establish a bring your own device (BYOD) policy that addresses issues such as data security, remote management, data transfer, backups, data wipe and technical support (office or field based). Once you’ve addressed those concerns, ensure your employees have easy access to virtual machines matching the business’ so they can continue working seamlessly.

Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solutions are the answer here as their centralised management capabilities allow the provider to assist with restoring business data, as well as the entire IT environment, including applications, operating systems and systems configurations. DRaaS also allows organisations to have the ability to control business data stored on employees’ personal devices, such as by performing a remote data wipe.

Backup telephony solutions

The Forth Road Bridge closure in December could have a devastating effect on the Christmas financial period for e-commerce businesses if they do not have a business continuity plan in place that allows remote employees to access customer data and continue receiving calls. If using landlines, the business should consult its MSP about rerouting numbers. Companies with a voice over IP (VoIP) telephony solution can remotely deploy pre-recorded greetings and redirect calls to employees’ mobile or home phones or to an alternate office location altogether.

Recognising the dilemma of providing outstanding scalability and security in disaster recovery services, ITS launched two complementary cloud-based solutions, BlackCloud and BlackVault, that businesses can use to store and recover data for faster local area recovery and comprehensive off-site DR capabilities.

BlackCloud is a cloud-based data backup and recovery service and BlackVault is a managed recovery platform that is fully monitored to alert businesses to any problems before they arise. Together, these products provide a cloud-based hybrid infrastructure that makes it easy to transfer data between environments. If your office is closed or you’re working from home, you can access data wherever you are, and if help is needed, engineers will be touch either remotely or on-site, depending on what support is required.

With the bridge operator currently working on a repair plan for the section which cracked and forced the route into Edinburgh to close until the New Year, many businesses are hopeful that the metal splints solution works and the bridge reopens before Hogmanay. For those companiesusing cloud services, remote network access solutions, provisions for backup Internet connectivity, guidelines for using personal devices and backup telephony solutions as part of a larger business continuity plan, business will continue and revenue loss will be miminised however long the bridge is down.

[su_box title=”Matt Kingswood – Head of Managed Services, IT Specialists” style=”noise” box_color=”#336588″]Matt KingswoodMatt Kingswood is the Head of Managed Services of Midlands and London-based ITS, a nationwide Managed IT services provider. ITS is part of the US Reynolds and Reynolds company which has a strong heritage in data backup and recovery services. In his position, Matt is responsible for developing Managed IT services within the UK and is currently focused on the next generation of cloud and recovery products, BlackCloud and BlackVault.

Matt has more than 20 years of experience in the information technology industry, and was formerly CEO of The IT Solution – a full service IT Supplier acquired by ITS. Since joining ITS, he has led efforts to introduce a range of managed services based on the new ITS cloud platform. Previously Matt had a career in technology for several top tier investment banks before founding and selling several companies in the IT services industry.

Matt has an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s in computer science from Cambridge University.[/su_box]

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