Pandemics, Floods and Working from Home
We understand that a multitude of potential emergency issues can occur at any time or in any city. We are located in Houston, for example. Our city floods—a lot. It can be hard getting to work after a hard rain, let alone after suffering a tropical storm.
Houston is an international melting pot of people and has one of the largest international airports in the world, making it an ideal place for a pandemic. We are a target for terrorist activity, which includes dirty bombs and bio-terrorism events. The most likely scenarios preventing many companies from properly functioning boil down to team members not being able to get to facilities and having to shelter in place from a natural disaster, pandemic, or man-made attack.
IronEdge believes that the best continuity of operations plans require no change of normal workflows and systems. We encourage primary systems for business operation be accessible from anywhere in the world. Organization should utilize an Internet-based phone solution and collocated servers in conjunction with AWS and Azure for key internal applications. Provide laptops to ALL personnel.
There should be no change in access or utilization of systems regardless of whether your employees are in the office or at home. If you resort to activating secondary continuity systems, you will likely encounter the following issues that inhibit productivity:
- Who makes the call to roll over to a secondary system?
- Who actually rolls the systems over?
- Do the employees know how to access the secondary systems?
- Are there multiple people available for each role in the plan in the event that primary personnel are unavailable?
How to Function with Failure as the Goal
IronEdge schedules days where we all work remotely. Drills are executed to surprise the team, asking them to work from home with little notice. This testing allows us to tweak our business continuity plans and processes as well as improve our response to issues.
We find that utilizing video conferencing, chat, and email is key to a successful continuity drill. We must be able to communicate with one another quickly and directly. Our team checks in and out on daily email threads during continuity exercises, providing team transparency. We execute meetings via video conference that we would normally have in-person. Almost no change to our daily work is affected; the execution and location are simply shifted.
We believe it is important to build plans around positions. We plan around a position that multiple people can fill in order to be agile. By building processes around positions, our team does not run the risk of failures during an emergency when specific individuals are not available. We have found that by sharing the responsibility for making decisions as a group, we often do not experience bottlenecks during continuity exercises.
Colocations coupled with advances in cloud infrastructure (IaaS) and online software services (SaaS) make most onsite technology unnecessary. Taking the time to map out what systems, applications, and workloads can be moved to a redundant infrastructure should be top-of-mind for any executive.
How To Get Ready
IronEdge believes most businesses can endure major disasters—from a citywide shelter-in-place to a total failure of corporate headquarters—if they follow our recommended guidelines:
- All major data and applications should be located in public and private cloud systems.
- Normal business processes should be the same as business continuity processes.
- Remote system security should be top-of-mind, including the implementation of encrypted laptops, multi-factor authentication for remote applications, and more.
- Planned and surprise testing of Businesses Continuity (BC) should happen each quarter.
- Open and excessive communication should be required during a BC event.
- You should not panic because there is no plan but rather plan so there is no panic. Our families and clients need us to be calm and make good decisions
In order for a business to execute a successful continuity plan, the plan must be tested and revised, and each employee must be immersed in the details. We find it best to align the plan as closely to normal operations as possible so the employee immersion is seamless and natural. During a stressful time with changes and issues all around, the last thing an organization should do is ask their team to run at full speed using dated instructions on systems that are never tested.