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Disaster? It’ll Never Happen to Us…Yeah, Right!

By Mike Esposito, President and CEO of Auto/Mate Dealership Systems
About a month ago I was woken up one night at 1 am with a phone call that nobody wants to get. I was told the sprinkler system in our office building had activated and a minor ‘flood’ was in progress. I asked if there was a fire, but the answer was no. No fire. For some reason the sprinkler system just decided to short-circuit and go off.
I immediately headed towards our office, but before I even got there our disaster recovery plan went into effect. Despite the fact that our building had been deluged with four inches of water, by 6 am, when our customers first began arriving at their dealerships and sitting down to their computers, we were fully operational. Our employees were not physically in their offices, back-up servers were functioning and everyone worked either from some of the dry offices or from home that day. Customers, and even our salespeople who called in from various parts of the country, had no idea that a disaster had just occurred.
Like many people, I thought this would never happen to our company. You hear about it happening to others, but to us? Never. Yeah, right!
So I highly recommend that if you don’t have a disaster recovery plan in place, you should put this on the top of your priority list. I am so grateful that we did. Since we just experienced this, I thought I would share a few tips:

1)    First, understand the difference between a disaster recovery plan and having an insurance policy. Insurance policies for fire, tornadoes and floods are meant for after the fact. Once the damage is done, insurance policies are great for helping you get everything back to the way it was. But all that takes time. A disaster recovery plan is designed to keep your business running in the midst of a disaster. That is, when disaster strikes, how do you stay operational so you don’t suffer loss of business or create problems for your customers?

2)    Most businesses these days are tied to the Internet, the data on their servers and to their telephone system. Physical damage to a place of business can be repaired, but lost data cannot be retrieved. If your customers can’t get through to you with questions or to make or re-schedule an appointment, or place an order, those opportunities may never be recovered. So have a back-up plan. We have servers in our building, but we also have duplicate servers running in the cloud. Our employees have IP phones they can use to connect with our computer system so they can work from home.

3)    Have a disaster recovery plan for every scenario. We had one for floods, fire, and in case we couldn’t get into our building. If your power goes out, a plan might be as simple as having a generator that runs temporarily until your power comes back on. So what is the plan for that? Do you have a generator? Who is responsible for starting it and ensuring that once installed, it stays functional? (i.e. maybe once a month it needs to be started and you should have enough fuel on hand for a day or two)

4)    If your dealership has a disaster recovery plan, everyone on your staff should know what their responsibilities are. Who calls emergency services? Who is responsible for evacuating the building if necessary, and making sure everyone is out? Who is responsible for flipping the PBX to a back up PBX? Who activates the back-up servers? The person responsible for calling the power company should have that number programmed into their cell phone. So when disaster occurs, it’s not a fire drill. Everybody knows exactly what they have to do and what protocols are being followed; as opposed to asking, what do we do now? Who’s in charge of what?

5)    In case of physical damage, i.e. an extensive storm or fire, I recommend having a back-up PBX in another location. The phone tends to be the life blood of most companies. A lot of companies have a reciprocity arrangement; Company A installs a back-up PBX at Company B’s location, and in exchange, Company B has their back-up PBX system at Company A’s location. Obviously these two companies should not be neighbors; preferably they should be in different areas of the country. Try approaching a company that you have a great relationship with; whether it’s another dealership or a vendor. Another good way is to contract with a Virtual PBX company. This is where your PBX is actually in the cloud. No hardware to maintain. You pay a small monthly fee to have it available then when you need it you pay the usage.
So what’s your disaster recovery plan? Have you ever suffered a disaster and how did it affect your business? What recommendations would you add to these?

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