Imagine the following scenario: your town is hit by a serious storm. Your equipment is damaged, roads are closed, and local authorities still haven’t restored power. As if that weren’t bad enough, you have customers 20 miles away who want to know where their deliveries are and why nobody is answering the phone.
The hours and days after an emergency are make-or-break moments for a business. Everything hinges on continuity: how quickly the operation resumes critical services. Crisis or no crisis, customers need to run their businesses. Late deliveries and missing orders are heavy blows to a vendor’s credibility.
Most businesses worry about how a disaster might damage their physical assets. But they’re overlooking the most vulnerable part of their operation: data. Buildings can be repaired, equipment can be replaced. But if sales and inventory records disappear, everything comes to a screeching halt.
Think this doesn’t apply to you? Go through the following scenarios and think about how long it would take your business to resume operations:
1. A fire destroys your office, including your server, computers, and paper files. You have no information about open orders, including the ones that need to be delivered in the next few days.
2. Heavy flooding closes all the roads for several days. Local customers are calling their reps, wanting to put deliveries on hold. Customers outside the area need to be notified about the delays. But because nobody can get to the building, there’s no way to access open order records or find out which customers need a call.
3. A hacker pretends to be a customer and emails Accounting with a question about the attached “invoice.” When an employee opens the attachment, it unleashes a virus that tears through your system. All your sales, inventory, purchasing, and accounting records are hopelessly scrambled.
Maybe you’re shrugging off these specific examples: you don’t need to worry about fires, floods, or email viruses. The point is business data can be damaged or lost, just like your other assets. And losing that information is devastating to an operation.
Fortunately, there are steps businesses can take to protect their records. One of the best ways to reduce risk is to move data from a private server to the cloud.
Here’s how cloud-based solutions work: businesses rent space on a giant server in a remote location. They save their business data here and access it through the internet. So when a rep creates a sales order or an accounting clerk prints an invoice, those records are saved on the remote server.
When it comes to business continuity after a crisis, cloud solutions provide several advantages.
1. Your system is safe even when your hardware isn’t.
Let’s revisit the fire scenario. If all your sales information was saved on the office computers, those records are gone and operations stop. On the other hand, if your software platform is in the cloud, it doesn’t matter what happens to the office computers. Your system is unaffected, safe on those remote servers. As soon as you plug in a new computer and connect to the internet, you’re back up and running.
2. Businesses can access their data almost anywhere.
Many private networks can only be accessed locally. In other words, if all your data is on the company server, you need a computer at the office to access it. Data in the cloud, on the other hand, isn’t tied to a local network. In fact, it can be accessed from any computer connected to the internet. So if roads are closed and you can’t get to your building, employees can set up shop in a warehouse or even log in from home.
3. Data in the cloud is much, much safer from cyber-criminals.
Some people have a hard time believing this. Using someone else’s hardware over the internet feels risky to them. In reality, private networks are much more vulnerable to attacks. Let me explain why.
Most businesses only use one tool to protect their networks: a firewall. Essentially, they put a big lock on the front door and call it good. But the door can be unlocked if employees do things such as open infected emails. Once a hacker sneaks inside, he has access to everything on the network.
Cloud-based solutions have giant locks on the front door and all the internal ones as well. In addition to firewalls and anti-virus software, they have cyber-security professionals constantly monitoring for threats. So even if a hacker sneaks through the front door, he has several more layers of security to get through.
When you are aware of your vulnerabilities, you can come up with strategies to mitigate them. Too many businesses ignore the importance of and risks to their data. If you are unsure of how quickly you could resume operation after a disaster, it’s time for a serious talk with your management team. You may never face this worst-case scenario, but you’ll sleep better at night knowing your business is prepared.
This article originally appeared in National Hardwood Magazine.