What is the most important asset that your business owns? Many – even most – executives would answer this question with elements of the business’s technology infrastructure: data, IT, telecommunications, manufacturing systems, and so on. To be sure, business continuity means keeping these sectors up and running under the most demanding conditions using techniques such as data backup, redundancy, and so on. Disaster recovery is a major element of this scenario and, indeed, is probably the most often mentioned functionality related to business continuity.
But, there’s more: business continuity should be considered in a broader, more holistic context. Everything from key staff succession to infrastructure acquisition policies to supply chain stability to disaster recovery should be part of the equation. The ultimate goal of business continuity is, literally, to protect the company’s ability to generate revenue. This includes protecting the goodwill that the company has built with customers or clients – goodwill that influences the likelihood that customers will buy from your company and not a competitor. Or put another way, it ensures that customers remain with the company even if the company should experience an outage or other negative event that is visible to customers – anything that could cause a negative customer experience.
A company may have a CSO (Chief Security Officer), or responsibility for business continuity may rest with the senior IT or operations executive. In any case, planning for business continuity is a function of risk management and, in most organizations, IT managers carry most of the responsibility for designing and implementing a business continuity plan. Not surprisingly, 80% of CIOs say they focus their time almost exclusively on revenue-impacting functions, as they should.
However, some critical revenue-impacting functions may be overlooked unless a “big picture” view is taken. One example is the difficulty of anticipating the progress of technology, whether it’s the company’s own operating infrastructure or technology and applications demanded by the customer. Traditionally, most companies operate on a static three-year renewal cycle with select service providers and communications and IT technologies. With these technologies rapidly evolving, three years is a lifetime to wait for the availability of new capabilities and to be held up by changes to multiple vendor contracts. Each three-year cycle results in costly delays and potential disruptions to the ongoing success of the business. This rigid system limits the agility and resilience of the business itself and is often compounded when multiple providers are involved.
Companies need to rethink their approach to communications and IT planning. The time has come to view needs and requirements flexibly and holistically: compute, network, data center, security, cloud and more. Keeping in mind the value of maintaining continuity of the business, CIOs and business owners should look to engage with one or two trusted vendors that can manage it all – IT, communications and other customer-facing technology. The right integration and support helps significantly in accommodating flexible capacity needs, solving computing challenges, achieving proper network backup, and mitigating data loss.
Fiber networks offer the highest data rates and highest reliability. Also, many companies are using cloud services for telecom and IT functions. Working with a single or primary vendor can go a long way toward ensuring business continuity, because there are simply fewer links in the chain of communication and more accountability by the provider. There is nothing worse than the finger-pointing that can take place when a vendor’s knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the problem originates with another vendor. A single-vendor solution can also provide much more freedom in implementing latest functionality when needed to meet customer demand (eliminating the three-year limitation). Another advantage of this arrangement is that communications and IT can be combined under a single vendor with a single point of contact, greatly simplifying problem resolution. And, with the prevalence of cloud-based technologies, such as VoIP and data storage, communications and IT are more closely related than ever before.
When looking for a service provider that supports your business continuity goals, here are some critical points to look for:
- Breadth of integrated services offered: communications, cloud, other services needed based on business type
- Availability of support services at the required service level agreement (SLA)
- Integration of on-net data center facilities
- Ownership of network infrastructure
- Fiber optic network for maximum data speeds, reliability, and future capability
- Simplified and efficient contact for problem resolution
- Reputation for service and support
While the term business continuity is sometimes synonymous with disaster recovery, business owners and managers should reflect on the complete and original meaning behind the term – taking responsibility for your business as a whole, ensuring that your customers have continuous, positive access – protecting the customer experience. By taking a step back to rethink communications and IT planning strategy, many businesses will find themselves in a much better, stronger and happier place.
Brad Cheedle is Senior Vice President, Business Services, WOW! Business. He brings 20 years of experience to WOW! as a senior sales and marketing executive within the telecommunications industry. He has held senior operating positions in start-ups, turnaround situations, and large corporate environments. His professional expertise includes business development, marketing, product development, mergers & acquisitions, corporate finance and sales management.
Edited by Maurice Nagle