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Building a plan to keep your business running: A “Top 5” quick guide for SMBs

Many small and midsized businesses are struggling to maintain business continuity during this difficult time. Brent Quick, Network & Infrastructure Consultant with Intelligent Technologies Inc. in Greensboro, NC, is working hard to help SMBs adapt, using technologies from a range of vendors (including Hewlett Packard Enterprise). In the spirit of sharing insights to help companies faced with unprecedented challenges, Brent kindly agreed to author this guest blog.

Brent Quick headshot.jpgAs I work with clients to help them weather the current crisis, I’m noticing the big difference that careful Business Continuity Planning (BCP) makes. Companies with such a plan in place are generally responding quite well, despite the current situation. They already had the right hardware installed; it was just a matter of getting it refreshed or updated. Of course, they may be making modifications and adjustments, but basically, they’re able to continue operations wherever their people may be.

Companies that don’t have a continuity plan have quite a bit more work to do. They're making some good moves – for example, helping employees transfer their desktop systems to their homes and setting them up with VPN connections. But it’s all taking a lot longer than they would have hoped, and there’s often some confusion about what steps to take next.

SMB IT solutions.jpgIf your company is facing this same situation, it’s important to understand that it’s not too late to build a plan that will get you to the other side of this unprecedented event. Here are my suggestions, based on what I’m seeing in small and midsize businesses:

1. Reach out to your vendors for help. Getting the right support in the current environment may be challenging, but it’s doable with a bit of persistence. Identify the people in you organization who have useful vendor contacts. In a small business people tend to wear lots of different hats, so it might be someone in finance, for example, who has a backdoor connection to your managed services provider, ISPs or software providers. Those are the people you should tap to make the contacts; that way, you’re not making a cold call. Ask them to reach out to your trusted partners and vendors: “Hey, we’re really struggling with this … Can you help us out here?” That should at least get you to the front of the queue. And it beats doing, say, an online search, where whoever you find will likely be too busy or not well qualified.

2. Look at some business continuity plan templates. BCP may seem a bit daunting if you haven’t done it before, but there’s no magical secret to it. You can find free templates, guides and checklists online. They’re a bit generic and may not exactly fit your business, but they will at least give you a framework to think about what you need to do.

3. Identify and modify your critical business processes. What are the workflows that you need to get going right now to ensure that the business survives over the next 90 days? For most companies, these will include top-of-mind processes like shipping products and billing customers, but think also about tasks like keeping management’s financial reports up to date. Review the steps involved in each one: “This is what we were doing when we could all come on-site to enable these processes: What do we need to do now that we’re in lockdown?”

Your local Covid-19 guidelines and regulations will play into this, of course; processes in certain industries will be hit harder than in others. A manufacturer, for example, may have to take radical steps in order to keep below the maximum personnel requirements and still stay in production. A financial services organization, in contrast, may not need to do much more than extend its core processes to remote locations via VPN, perhaps with additional security, such as multifactor authentication.

4. Identify the key people for each process. While SMB execs generally know exactly what the business’ key processes are, they may be less aware of who does what – especially given the flexibility of work roles in these organizations. Take the time to map out the key responsibilities for each process. Then think about who needs remote access, and who will need to be on-site – if that’s unavoidable – and how you can enable that while minimizing their exposure. Unfortunately, you may also need to think about who will be furloughed, but remember, it’s all about keeping your business running so that everybody has a job when this crisis is over.

5. Pay close attention to security. There’s no reason to think that the Covid-19 pandemic might evolve into a disaster recovery scenario for your company – but you might get something close to it if an employee clicks on something they shouldn't, and a piece of malware hits the network in ways that it normally wouldn’t. It could happen if you've enabled a remote worker on a BYO device without the proper protections in place.

I’d recommend installing full protection on your VPNs, rather than split tunneling, which is the norm in, well, normal times. Split tunneling enables users to access corporate resources while also accessing public networks – the Internet – at the same time. It conserves bandwidth, but with the trade-off somewhat higher vulnerability. There’s a strong case for forcing all traffic through the corporate VPN, where it’s subjected to all your inspection and content protection systems, reducing the chance of picking up drive-by malware.

Remember, people will browse stuff at home on their devices that they may not browse at work on their office PC. Reinforce your “acceptable use” policy and make sure everyone understands that, even though they’re working from home, the policy at home applies just as much as it does in the office. Remind employees that they should let everyone in their household know that a work machine is a work machine - and it’s not to be accessed for any other purpose.

With this groundwork in place, you will be ready to push your plan into action. If you’re feeling somewhat under the gun, remember, you’re not alone. Many of your industry peers are experiencing the same challenges and are moving in the same direction. Indeed, even large organizations with dedicated business continuity resources have been caught unprepared for the era of intense social isolation. But don’t worry, with some careful planning and determined action, you can cross this unfamiliar terrain and guide your business safely towards better times.

Stay safe,

Brent

HPE stands ready to help your business navigate the new business realities created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Let us know how we can help.

Learn more about HPE SMB IT solutions.

HPE would like to thank Brent Quick for this generous contribution to our coverage of Covid-19 response strategies for our readership.

Brent Quick headshot.jpgBrent Quick is a Network & Infrastructure Consultant with Intelligent Technologies Inc. He has been doing business process and systems consulting for over twenty years with businesses ranging from Fortune 100 companies to organizations with fewer than 20 employees. His strengths include the ability to solve problems via creative solutions and the resolve to find the best outcome for the client. Contact Brent on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

 

Related links

Security checklist for working at home from Enterprise.nxt
Rapid shift to working from home creates new IT challenges from Enterprise.nxt

 

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