Organizations concerned with surviving a disaster have undertaken Business Continuity Planning (BCP). Studies have shown that without adequate planning, some organizations will not be able to continue operations. Indeed, BCP is should be performed by all organizations with the time and resources invested commensurate with the risks and constraints of the organization.
In cases like the Avian Flu pandemic risk or something else that would keep workers from reporting to the office, the response of many organizations is to have their personnel work from home utilizing personal, or even company-funded, high-speed Internet connections. While an intuitive approach, there are additional risks to consider as a recent experience helped highlight.
The first risk to consider is that the phone companies, hitherto referred to as “telcos,” have a policy of taking care of business customers first. This recently hit me very hard when AT&T shut my DSL down for almost two weeks due to a simple billing change request coupled with an error in AT&T’s nearby central office.
During the course of numerous phone calls, it came to light that even though my firm is a legal corporation, their customer service representative had entered my number as a residence and not a business. Even though I could show that my articles of incorporation clearly identified my home office phone number, that did not matter. I had zero recourse with AT&T and the impact of losing DSL to my business has been bad.
My savior was using my dial-up modem -– a technology I haven’t relied on for communications for several years, even during international travel. As a result of my experience, my first recommendation would be to ensure that you review your organization’s projected needs during a crisis and then review what your home workers’ needs with your telco.
My message to the telcos is to recognize that more and more people are operating from home and residential service offerings do not suitably recognize the needs of people working from home. For example, consider offering a tiered service plan to better meet the needs of people conducting business from home.
Have a Failsafe Connection Ready
Second, the episode, which, by the way, still hasn’t resolved itself, highlights that people working from home may need more than one avenue to connect to the Internet. A DSL or cable connection may be the first line and then dial-up as a failsafe. There are a number of wireless options now as well, ranging from broadband cards from cell phone companies to wireless Internet Service Providers.
An organization’s risks associated with loss of contact should drive expenditures. For example, some users may need two or even three alternatives, including a more direct connection than the public Internet, that are constantly active while others have the hardware and software and have a negotiated activation time. Again, let the risks drive the expenditures.
Third, we are all assuming that in the event of a disaster that the telcos will be operational. In fact, some may outright fail, others have degraded service or slowly come to a halt.
For example, if a pandemic were to hit, forcing people to work from home, how long could telcos, power companies and other infrastructure providers sustain operations? What are their plans? In preparing for Y2K, we asked our suppliers to share their plans — often necessitating a Non-disclosure Agreement being signed if one did not already exist. The point is that we recognized the need that the survival of our firm depended on others surviving as well.
Fourth, during my DSL loss, not only did I lose Internet access, I was even further impacted by sitting on the phone with customer service over and over. It causes one to stop and ponder that in the event of a disaster, how will support be coordinated? Given your location, resources and needs, what can be done to optimize support?
Being without DSL for almost two weeks — and it isn’t over yet — has been equally frustrating and illuminating (one of the side effects of being a prolific writer, I suppose) and given me an opportunity to think about just how important high-speed Internet has become and the potential impacts of telco prioritization rules on corporate business continuity plans.
Organizations need to ensure they have adequate continuity plans in place, that their infrastructure vendors can support the plans, and that the vendors have their own plans for that matter.
Undoubtedly it is better to do the work now and have an idea of what to expect than to have a disaster and enter not knowing the questions or the answers.