By Michael P. Binko, APR
President and CEO, Kaulkin Information Systems
Just like Hurricane Katrina did in 2005, the recent wildfires in southern California have garnered national attention and have caused many to ask; “How prepared am I for an emergency?”
For small to mid-size businesses, principals and management teams must consider what core assets beyond the physical site need to be protected in instances of emergency, and how is that protection best accomplished. Unfortunately, after site security and staff safety concerns are addressed, discussions and strategy sessions rarely move beyond reactive plans and hefty insurance premiums. This places companies at considerable risk in instances of emergency or natural disaster.
Insurance policies can certainly buy peace-of-mind, however, it is best to infuse disaster recovery and business continuity into a proactive campaign that can be tied into the daily business routine. This can be accomplished by developing best-practices and business processes that empower employees to participate in asset protection and risk mitigation. In this arena, technology is available to help.
Let’s look at one area of business as an example – critical business documents.
During the recent southern California wildfires, we received a staggering number of calls from proprietors who were concerned about the volume of hard-copy documents they stored on site. These documents included partner agreements, signed customer contracts, accounting spreadsheets, customer relationship archives, human resource materials, legal files, and most importantly, materials related to critical intellectual property and methodologies.
If you use file cabinets, personal computers, and standard off-the-shelf office productivity software to store your documents and distribute information, you’re not alone. The further truth is that this infrastructure will be relied upon for disaster recovery and business continuity after an emergency or natural disaster – that is, if it still exists.
The good news is that there are technologies available that mitigate risk of critical data loss during or after emergencies – and these technologies are not cost-prohibitive or difficult to implement.
Until recently, mid-sized companies had few options other than working with off-the-shelf software applications that were primarily developed and packaged in a manner best suited to larger companies with big budgets and properly staffed IT departments.
Over the past couple of years however, one technology concept has emerged as a viable solution: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). In this scenario, the software is not purchased and physically installed on a company’s server or on individual employee computers, but rather, it is accessed through the Internet using a secure website where users log in to use the technology. SaaS has been changing the software industry at fundamental levels. It offers a tremendous benefit to small and medium-sized companies because the basic benefits include:
- Simplicity & Mobility
- Security & Recovery
- Scalability & Predictable Costs
Simplicity & Mobility
Simplicity is a fundamental element of SaaS. In essence, your employees need a computer, a web browser, and their username and password to have immediate access to their critical software applications – no matter if they are in the office or on the road. If a company office is no longer operable after a disaster, employees would be able to conduct their work from a remote location with minimal disruption.
This mobility is one example where simplicity fuses with reliability, recovery, and accessibility – and is the basis for SaaS as a viable and affordable platform for disaster recovery and business continuity.
Security & Recovery
While ease-of-use and data management benefits are readily apparent, many companies are hesitant to adopt SaaS because of perceived security risks. The fact is that SaaS is just as safe, and often more secure, than traditional client-server or distributed “gold-disk” software. A few reasons for this include continued enhancements in data center security, and the fact that updates to SaaS applications can be automated and immediate, with built-in assurance that all users are operating with the most up-to-date versions.
This can be a tremendous time and budget saving aspect of SaaS for bootstrap and growing businesses alike. Furthermore, for companies operating in heavily-regulated or litigation-prone industries such as ARM, most SaaS services incorporate baseline compliance factors (such as data privacy, audit trails and user authentication) as a part of doing business.
In disaster recovery situations, having a secure, off-site data repository for critical documents and information has the additional benefit of being secured from damage, should the physical office become destroyed.
Scalability & Predictable Costs
Predictable total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) are also two critical components that make SaaS a no-brainer for small to mid-sized companies.
To start, pricing models for SaaS typically have low points of entry and only increase as a company increases its use of the SaaS application. After signing on, SaaS offers better cost management, because there is no need to schedule an onsite update of users’ computers each time there is a security patch or other software update. With SaaS applications, edits to user profiles and upgrades to the applications are all completed automatically and remotely as a part of the service. This alone can mean a reduction in IT consulting expenses and can free up internal IT teams to concentrate on addressing other strategic needs.
In addition, the true TCO and ROI benefits shine through with the simple fact that hard-costs of application server equipment and data center infrastructure are managed directly by the SaaS provider and not at risk if disaster strikes the place-of-business.
In short, there is little risk in testing the SaaS waters and managing deployments as well as the associated costs in a very scalable manner. Even though the story of SaaS is in its early chapters, small and mid-sized companies across a wide variety of industries are realizing that using the technology – particularly for the purposes of disaster planning, recovery and business continuity – is decidedly in their best interest.
“Two out of five enterprises that experience a disaster go out of business within five years. Business continuity plans and disaster recovery services ensure continuing viability.”
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to developing business continuity management strategies and plans.”
“Using someone else’s requirements, which might turn out to be based on limitations or regulations that your company doesn’t have, could spell disaster of another type.”
— March 2005, Gartner Group
Mike Binko is President and CEO of Kaulkin Information Systems (KIS), a leading provider of secure, affordable document management, workflow, and compliance technologies and solutions services. Mike can be reached by email, or at 240-499-3830.
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