'in case of emergency break glass' box
You can't prevent disasters from happening, but you can prepare for them PHOTO: basibanget

Is your business ready for a disaster?

The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey impacted many, including businesses, which in some cases will take years to remedy. The three-dozen, out-of-control wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest also are having a widespread impact.

You can't prevent disasters like these, but your business can and should plan for them.

Process Management in the Best of Times

A healthy process management discipline and a strong process culture sets the stage for teams to develop new ways to improve the customer experience. 

Organizations that contain these typically focus on the processes that impact their daily operations: financial transactions, customer engagement, employee workflow, etc. When managed well, these processes provide helpful guidance to teams, enable organizations to improve the quality and consistency of their day-to-day execution, and for some, drive innovation and competitive advantage. 

None of this is easy, even in a 'business as usual' scenario.

But do your teams know what processes they should follow if your computer systems are hacked or your phone systems go down for an extended period of time? What if half your team can’t make it to the office or a customer service center is under water?

The Poor State of Disaster Recovery

Forty percent of businesses admit they don't have a disaster recovery plan in place. This number reportedly increases to around 75 percent for smaller businesses.

While the nature and impact of the disaster may differ, certain business scenarios you can and should plan for in advance. 

Here are a few important considerations if you don’t yet have a disaster recovery plan in place for your organization (or even if you do).

Risk Management 101

The Time to Plan Is Now

The time for an organization to plan for a disaster is not as the disaster is happening. There’s too much at stake for any organization to wing it when responding to a disaster, particularly when an inadequate or ill-conceived response can mean a loss of data, money, jobs or in the case of a natural disaster, life.

Make sure you have a clear definition of what constitutes a disaster for your organization. Think about access to places of work, employee safety and business connectivity. Everyone in your organization should know when and how to trigger a disaster recovery response, as well as who is on the core disaster response team.

This team makes the decision to activate the disaster recovery plan, oversee its management and eventually deactivates it once there is some resolution.

Create Processes That Withstand the Pressure

Business process management (BPM) can play an integral role in helping organizations prepare for, deal with and recover from the numerous challenges posed by both natural and man-made disasters.

Once you’ve identified common disaster scenarios and their potential impact on your business, you’ll need to modify or create new processes for teams to follow in the event a disaster occurs. For example, how do your teams communicate with employees if they are unable to get into the office, how do you divert systems and data flows to another location if you lose a physical office site, etc?

The true test of any process is when teams are under pressure or when situations occur in which rapid decision-making and precise process execution are required. Every business should strive to have processes that are easy for teams to find and follow. This is critical in a disaster situation.

It’s like the simple checklists to cut through complexity that Atul Gawande recommends in his book "The Checklist Manifesto." As basic as it sounds, well-designed checklists have been proven to improve outcomes. This is true for airline pilots and surgeons. It’s also true for team members responding to a disaster.

Also consider where you will store this information, how employees will access it and whether it will help them respond appropriately, and quickly, in a crisis situation.

When a person or a team has to make rapid decisions under pressure, effective process management disciplines and simple process guidance can make a big difference.

Test Disaster Readiness – Regularly

Although your disaster recovery processes are one set of processes you’ll hope you never need to actually use, you’ll want to be sure they’re accurate and up-to-date if the need arises. The time to test them out is not in the midst of a disaster.

Many organizations with disaster recovery plans fail to test and update them regularly.  With today’s pace of business change, your disaster recovery processes will at best be less effective, and at worst irrelevant, if the processes have not been updated in step with changes to your business.

Your disaster recovery plan should be regularly monitored and updated. Assign process owners and experts. Schedule regular reviews, make changes to the plan as necessary and communicate those changes to all stakeholders. Make sure sufficient resources are in place to fully implement the plan should a disaster occur, and test the plan and processes internally with regular drills.

Is Your Business Ready?

With the prevalence of natural and man-made disasters, every business should have some sort of disaster recovery plan in place. It’s risk management 101. 

You can’t just hope these things won’t happen. But advance preparation and business readiness can and will make a difference to your customers, your employees and your business.