“Last year was the worst year we’ve had in the history of disasters.” – Al Berman, Disaster Recovery Institute.

That sounds pretty ominous, but what exactly does it mean?

Organizations have been facing costly downtime and the frustrating task of getting systems back online and operations up and running in the aftermath of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. A disaster can be as simple as a single building power failure or severe and horrific as the Japanese tsunami. Even if the event is isolated, the after effects can permeate throughout an organization, especially if employees are dispersed and required to collaborate remotely.

What’s alarming though is that countless organizations do not have a business continuity plan in place. These plans outline the processes and procedures needed to react quickly in situations and limit the amount of disaster recovery efforts needed in the aftermath.

So what is the best way to go about preparing for a disaster?

Redundancy is Key
A business continuity plan must be defined and agreed upon by all stakeholders and have well-defined IT strategy that includes redundant systems housed in multiple locations. If the organization relies on cloud hosting providers, ensure those data centers are geographically dispersed. For example, if your host is 10 miles up the road and the entire region is hit by a massive hurricane, the redundancy of the cloud will be null and void.

Enable Collaboration
Communication is perhaps the highest priority during disaster situations; therefore, any plan should include how to maintain contact with all employees. Unified communications technology plays a critical role as it keeps employees connected throughout day-to-day operations. In addition, these systems are essential to keeping the lines of communication open during a crisis. It’s far better to have employees doing their jobs during these times than spending the time trying to figure out how to do their jobs.

Harness the Power of Video
Most organizations know the power of video conferencing along with its application during normal business operations. However, video becomes even more powerful in times of duress. It can enable face-to-face collaboration in situations where people cannot meet due to crisis circumstances, such as the volcanic eruption in Iceland that stalled air travel. Keeping people connected and communicating face-to-face will facilitate better operations in addition to relieving some of the stress of the situation.

Don’t Forget the Customer
As always, the customer is paramount. An organization can do a great job keeping the business running but if they forget about the customer their efforts may be useless. Most customers will be sensitive to the situation but they are still going to expect to be served. When defining a continuity plan ensure customer communications and service are a top priority. If customers are communicating to the organization primarily via voice, the phone system must have multiple redundancies. Also, it is critical to be able to redirect voice traffic when employees can’t make it to the office.

With a well-defined business continuity plan in place, organizations can continue to function at the highest level possible while still serving their customers. A plan that takes internal and external communication and collaboration into account will not only benefit the organization but also its employees, customers and ultimately its well-being.

The prevalence of cloud services has begun a heated debate among IT professionals and spurred two different types of thinking. One side consists of professionals that prefer to handle all IT components in-house and more or less resist the cloud. The other side consists of professionals who are embracing the cloud and prefer to outsource certain components to different experts.

This leads to the challenge most IT professionals face; should we continue to do everything ourselves or embrace the cloud? Let’s start by further defining the two different positions.

While some IT professionals fear the cloud because they believe it will steal part of, if not their entire job; the majority oppose the cloud due to a loss of control over their entire IT environment. This position often stems from a distrust of things they cannot control directly and the security associated with keeping the power in the hands of people located within the organization.

As a result, these professions prefer to keep all IT aspects in-house to maintain order. If anything goes wrong, these IT directors know exactly who is responsible and whom to go to; allowing them to monitor the situation until it has been fixed. With the cloud, all they can do is call their service provider and pray for a speedy resolution which leads to frustration.

But, the cliché “jack of all trades, master of none” still holds true. What happens when those people don’t know how to fix the situation in an efficient or effective manner?

This has led to a new school of thought among IT professionals; built on open minds and forward thinking, as the concept of IT has changed almost as rapidly as the technology itself. IT is no longer a range of similar tasks applied to similar technologies, but a sprawling universe of ever-changing technologies that is so vast and fluid it is nearly impossible to master all of its intricacies. Visual collaboration, unified communications, cloud computing, digital signage and content distribution make up only a fraction of the technologies organizations use to conduct business today.

Ongoing innovations in these fields change on a monthly basis and the rate of progression will only continue to increase. The best organizations are able to stay ahead of the technology curve creating a competitive advantage while organizations that fail to adapt fall further and further behind.

The bottom line is IT for the modern corporation is not what it was five years ago. Failing to stay on top of the latest trends and innovation can mark the death of your IT career faster than outsourcing or the cloud.  Therefore, if you decide to keep everything in-house, invest not only in certified professionals but in their continued training and development.

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Will the Cloud Really Kill Your IT Career?

In a recent InfoWorld article, Adopt the Cloud Kill Your IT Career, Paul Vezina makes a handful of arguments. General ideas include adopting the cloud leads to integration issues, causes security concerns and most importantly, leaves organizations susceptible to a monstrous disaster that is waiting in the wings. While some of these arguments hold true in certain situations, many do not apply for visual collaboration and unified communications technologies.

More often than not, integrating the cloud does not produce more problems than it solves. As with anything, a lack of experience or expertise can cause major problems and organizations should do their research when selecting a cloud service provider. While there certainly may be cloud providers that do not have high levels of expertise, many distinguished service providers have highly trained, expertly certified engineering teams.

Of course, this does not lead to infallibility as there are always different challenges or unexpected events that can occur during implementation. It is like completely overhauling your bathroom or kitchen, you never know what to expect until you get behind the walls. However, the chances of a major integration issue, extended downtime or complete disaster is far less when left to specialized professionals.

The experience and expertise distinguished cloud service providers have obtained allows them to not only resolve potential issues quickly, but proactively address problems before they arise. Take major software revisions for example; several organizations will simply upgrade the software on their video conferencing unit or UC client not realizing the potential effects on the rest of their environment. Distinguished service provides will thoroughly test any new updates that are released to ensure compatibility and a seamless transition. Many IT departments within an organization simply do not have the time or resources to do this.

Organizations must find a balance between IT activities to keep in house and IT activities to outsource. For example, issues regarding an employee’s phone, email or computer would be handled by an in-house IT representative and not be directed to a highly specialized engineer. Similarly, point-to-point video conferencing calls can most likely be managed end users or local IT staff. However, multi-platform video bridging and firewall traversal are better left to specialized professionals because of the sheer volume of intricacies required.

Sure, there are some people who will be able to handle these situations but in the long run it’s going to pull them from other, more productive, activities. IT departments should be able to focus on what’s most important to their organization; developing and maintaining the systems to keep the operation running efficiently.

Even if an organization is budgeting video troubleshooting, management and support into their daily agenda they are pulling resources from the areas that they can have the most impact and drive the most effective outcomes.