The Future of Business Continuity

Ever since computers became a means for organisations to process their data, IT has been critical in both the recovery from – and prevention of – catastrophes that threaten to destroy that data.

Business Continuity Data Recovery (BCDR) planning has undergone a radical shift in recent years that has resulted in IT playing an increasingly wide role. Here, we take a look at how business continuity has evolved; the current trends for digital transformation; and where the future of business continuity lies.

 

 

Business continuity – then and now

 

‘Business continuity’ and ‘disaster recovery’ used to be all but synonyms. However, business continuity has changed steadily over the years. And rapidly since Covid-19. It has now evolved into a much wider, overarching paradigm of technology, people and processes (including policies, training etc) that keep an organisation going day to day. Meanwhile, disaster recovery has simply become a subset of business continuity.

It’s fair to say most companies today have some kind of data recovery plan in place. In fact, a recent study found that 95% of organisations claim they have a disaster recovery plan. What is worrying, however, is that almost a quarter (23%) admit that they have never tested their plan. An additional 14% have only tested it “every couple of years”, which, in the fast-paced industry that is IT, may as well mean ‘never’.

When looking at Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) specifically, almost a fifth (19%) admit they don’t feel adequately prepared to address and prevent unexpected downtime, with 13% of this group claiming they don’t have time to research preventative solutions. However, with studies consistently showing that the cost of downtime is linearly linked to its duration, being unprepared is no longer an excuse.

 

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What would happen if all of your company’s data suddenly disappeared? If you’re one of the 38% of SMBs who don’t know how much each hour of downtime is costing the company, it might come as a surprise to learn that they are losing anything up to £30,000 per hour, depending on the size and nature of the business.

Disaster can strike in many different ways. Traditionally, you might think of a natural disaster such as a fire or flood, or even physical theft of hardware. But a more likely scenario would be a ransomware infection on your server. Ransomware, or malware, can lock a computer screen or encrypt important, predetermined files with a password. It is often spread via phishing emails containing malicious attachments, although it can also be spread via “drive-by downloading”, when a user unwittingly visits an infected website, causing it to download and install itself without the user's knowledge.

There are many different cost implications in the event of a data disaster, including:

  • Loss of productivity and disruption to work
  • Potential loss of your key clients
  • Potential fines for non-GDPR compliance, depending on how the disaster occurred and the measures you had in place to prevent it from happening
  • Potential legal expenses resulting from the loss of your clients’ data

This means that having a robust disaster recovery plan is no longer a nice-to-have, but a financial imperative. It’s not only data security, but also data compliance, that is becoming a critical aspect to manage. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your data is backed up securely and that your plan is tested regularly. If you’re unsure of your current plan, it might be time to talk to an IT consultant who can advise on a solution that takes into account all of these aspects.

 

The new norm for business continuity

IT has become increasingly pervasive in business. Both the outbreak of the current pandemic – and the resulting social distancing – has forced companies to implement a number of new processes such as remote working, videoconferencing, remote collaboration, and remote management of human resources and devices. Although these trends were already emerging, the pandemic has accelerated the need for this type of IT within an incredibly short period of time. And since organisations increasingly rely on digital technologies, it follows that digital transformation is becoming increasingly important to business continuity.

Therefore, it is not only a case of continuing business operations, but also of driving better or more efficient processes as they arise. Only those who foster this sense of agility and transformation will survive as we navigate our way through this digitally evolving era.

 

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Digitalisation vs. digitisation

Within the scope of business continuity, digital transformation involves two broad concepts. ‘Digitisation’ simply refers to replacing a non-digital process with a digital one, e.g., switching from paper filing to saving documents on a computer. Meanwhile, ‘digitalisation’ refers to using digital technology in a new way that will improve your business, e.g., utilising cloud storage to make documents accessible from anywhere, by anyone in your team.

 

Digitisation involves continuing with the same process, but simply using a different tool, which means it could still prove to be manual and inefficient. On the other hand, digitalisation is far more powerful, when implemented correctly, as it can involve a total transformation of the way you do things. It’s what you should focus on to improve your business.

 

Digitalisation to drive efficiency

One of our clients recently sought to implement a digitalisation strategy to streamline its operations. A large part of the business involved travelling and sourcing products for a leading manufacturer. Conventionally, this would have involved in-person meetings, manual report writing, and the emailing of reports to be processed by multiple departments. With travel extremely limited during 2020, the company had to adapt.

Today, the need for staff to travel has reduced. Instead, the majority of meetings with suppliers can be carried out via Microsoft Teams. When required to travel, staff now use iPads to log information on the go, file a report within seconds of a meeting, and enable instant access to all relevant stakeholders. The company has also implemented Microsoft Power BI, a data visualisation tool which extracts and presents data according to the most relevant insights required by each team. In one fell swoop, several manual reporting processes have been eliminated, making the company’s operations far more efficient.

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The challenges of digital transformation

 

The threat of BYOD to cyber security

BOYD (Bring Your Own Device) refers to employees using their personal smartphones, tablets or computers to carry out their work. The problem is, this can lead to misuse, e.g., using software to connect to the company’s systems in a way that might not be totally secure. One preventative solution is to choose easy and effective software which staff will actually want to use (rather than being told to use), and to implement better training and awareness.

This is particularly important for businesses operating within a regulated industry, who simply can’t afford to compromise data security. As such, we work with many firms working within regulated sectors to guide them through the necessary processes for protecting their data and preserving regulatory compliance.

 

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As part of its commitment to preserving and strengthening data security, the UK Government’s National Cyber Security Centre offers a scheme called “Cyber Essentials”. The scheme is designed to help SMBs implement simple steps to protect against the most common cyber security vulnerabilities. Accreditation also demonstrates to others that your business has a guaranteed level of security, which could be a competitive edge when tendering for new clients. If you’re not sure how to prepare for Cyber Essentials certification, this is also something on which your IT consultant can advise.


 

A dearth of digital dexterity

Another common obstacle of digital transformation is insufficient ‘digital dexterity’ throughout the organisation. Digital dexterity describes the general desire and ability of certain employees to embrace new or emerging technology, which in turn can help fellow team members to drive efficiency. However, this depends on their innate technological aptitude (the ability to learn and take advantage of digital tools); open-mindedness (the receptiveness needed to develop an authentic interest in developing the business in this way); and clarity of understanding (why the digital shift benefits them and the business).

To cultivate digital dexterity, companies need to focus on assessing technical ability in the hiring process (to ensure their business teams have a complementary range of skills), carefully onboard staff, and better train them using effective mentors (either internal stakeholders or external consultants). It’s worth bearing in mind that enterprise software is not innately understood by many – even if they’re tech savvy – so onboarding and training are particularly important for these types of systems.

Introducing Digital Champions

We recently helped a pharmaceutical company cultivate digital dexterity. Before the pandemic, the company's salesforce relied upon in-person meetings with hospitals and clinicians. During lockdown this became difficult due to the increasing time demands on hospital staff, as well as heightened safety procedures such as temperature checks and social distancing. The introduction of video conferences required a whole new way of working for a team with limited confidence in using the technology. We soon established ‘digital champions’ – digitally dextrous staff who adapted well and not only became advocates of the video call software, controls, etiquette, etc, but also, the first line support for fellow sales team members.

On the collaboration side, staff now use tools such as Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Whiteboard to brainstorm. The benefits to the company’s bottom line include reduced mileage and travel costs.

Part of a modern business continuity plan should include training teams on how to use this kind of technology, since video calling is likely to be adopted as part of the daily operations of most businesses going forward, even after social distancing restrictions are eased. 

So how much is all this digital transformation going to cost? You might not realise it, but much of the technology is already included in your existing subscriptions, e.g., Microsoft Teams, Planner, and Whiteboard are already included in Microsoft 365 Premium. Google also offers similar applications that are either included in G Suite, or free, e.g. Meet, Tasks, and Sketchboard. You don’t necessarily need to invest a great deal in new technology to leverage digitalisation.

Moreover, having a cost-effective and efficient digital infrastructure makes a difference to your bottom line by actually reducing costs. Eliminating manual processes saves time (person-hours), while reducing physical materials (e.g. paper and stationery) saves money. A 2020 Deloitte survey found that digital maturity positively correlated with better financial performance, with over two-fifths (43%) of companies classified as “higher maturity” achieving an above-average net profit margin, compared to only 15% of “lower maturity” companies.

Most companies are only scratching the surface of what these digital technologies can do. The challenge lies in ensuring their security, standardising them within the organisation, and implementing the policies. In order to leverage digitalisation, staff need to know what the tools are, why they’re beneficial, and how to use them.

 

Building an agile infrastructure for the future

 

So, what will your business look like when it reaches ‘digital maturity’? What’s the endpoint of digital transformation? The answer, currently, is that there isn’t one. Technology is continuously evolving, and the only constant is change itself. Therefore, if your business is to remain competitive, there needs to be ongoing awareness and understanding of technological developments, as well as continual review of your infrastructure.

Given this reality of constantly shifting technology, successful businesses need to adapt quickly and take advantage of lightweight deployment. This broad concept is known as ‘agile infrastructure’.

 

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There are several principles of agile infrastructure:

  • Reduce complexity and streamline processes
  • Automate as much as possible. This will become increasingly important in order to leverage AI as it becomes more reliable at processing highly complex tasks at scale.
  • Use modular components which are easily controlled, rather than a single customised software solution with obscure controls. Take advantage of SaaS (Software as a Service), e.g. Microsoft apps, and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), e.g. cloud-based virtual servers instead of endless racks of hardware on-site.
  • Use flexible and scalable solutions, g. ensure software users or licenses can be increased or decreased easily to meet fluctuating needs and optimise cost.
  • Form cross-functional teams responsible for end-to-end delivery of infrastructure components, rather than specialised staff working in rigid departments. In cross-functional teams each person typically has a more diverse skill set including some level of IT.

Ultimately, keeping pace with digital technology is no longer a choice for business continuity. History has shown us that companies which lag behind the times will eventually cease to exist. However, being agile and dedicated to continued digital transformation will put your business ahead of the curve, with substantial financial payoff.

 

From digital laggard to digital leader

Many companies assign a CIO who understands digital transformation and has the expertise to identify important upcoming technology, but this expertise comes at a cost which is prohibitive for many SMBs. Another option is to outsource your CIO function. Services such as ‘My CIO’ or ‘My Insights’, for instance, provide the same expertise – using a holistic and tailored approach to help understand your business and develop an effective digital strategy – without having to employ a full-time member of staff.

Embracing digital transformation as part of your BCDR plan may seem daunting, but there are several cost-effective ways to achieve this. And with much of the technology likely already included in your existing software solutions – ready to transform your business and protect against future threats to your data – this potential just needs to be unlocked.

If you’re unsure whether you have an effective Disaster Recovery procedure in place, or whether your infrastructure is nimble enough to adapt to future needs, speak to one of our team today on 01494 976939 or send us a message.

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Gary Swanwick

Written by Gary Swanwick

I lead Epoq-IT to deliver strategic IT service management, building strong relationships with SMEs to manage IT systems and services that support growth and align with business objectives.