You’d think the whole world had come to a standstill.
A few weeks ago, when both Google Drive and Google Docs suddenly went AWOL for an afternoon, knowledge workers had no idea what to do. Since all of their data was stored online and the app they use for normal word processing was not available, they had little recourse but to switch to WordPad and, in some cases, try to remember where they left off in a business document. When it comes to mission-critical enterprise apps, not being able to connect makes it harder to complete projects, communicate with coworkers and stay productive.
And, it’s costly. One IDC estimate said the average cost of mission critical application failure can run as high as $500,000 to $1M per hour for Fortune 1000 companies.
Several experts have weighed in on how IT can handle this situation, other than just telling employees to move to a better Wi-Fi connection. In speaking to CIO.com, they relayed some best practices that, surprisingly, many organizations tend to ignore.
Note: None of these strategies are an indictment of cloud computing. The advantages of scaling an infrastructure, working anywhere, and managed/hosted services outweigh some of the inconvenience described below. The main point, according to the experts, is that you need a plan for how to deal with those occasional access snafus.
1. Develop a contingency plan
One of the keys to keeping employees productive is to develop a contingency plan. IT consultant Chris Gerhardt says that every application in your Software-as-a-Service portfolio should have an alternate option. For example, if workers depend on Google Drive for their sales presentation, they should have an on-premises file storage option that still allows them to access mission critical files. This should include apps like Microsoft Office 365, Google for Work, GitHub, Azure and even Amazon Web Services. It should be treated like a disaster recovery plan.
Part of this is a business process, he says. The sales person who relies on Google Drive should keep a backup copy of the same presentation on a corporate network storage location.
“If you are running SaaS it is rather complicated,” he says. “You are very dependent on provider and an outage of the network or service makes it almost impossible to failover, thus you need to align with the provider's disaster recovery plans or have some contingency plans in place.”
Kalpesh Rathod, the CEO and founder of the cloud content-storage app Cubes, says part of a contingency plan might involve finding a different connection, going back to the office where there is a promise of uptime over Wi-Fi, or having a workflow that always has some element of local storage in mind, even if it is syncing your files to Dropbox.
2. Make sure you use the premium versions of apps with offline sync
Many knowledge workers tend to grab the free version of an app like Evernote without realizing there is a premium version of these apps that provides offline syncing. If the Internet is down or there’s a network problem, the user can keep working locally. When the access is restored, the app will automatically sync the files. The premium version if usually not that expensive. For example, Evernote Premium costs $50 per year to use the offline mode.
Michael Starostin, the CTO of managed hosting company PlexHosted, said it’s important to investigate which apps have offline modes. Gmail has an offline mode that’s in beta. If the employee connects to an Exchange server using Outlook, there’s a simple button that switches from online to offline mode. The SharePoint Workspace lets you continue working on projects even when you are not connected to the network and then syncs later.
The two most prevalent business productivity and collaboration tools – Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps – now enable offline functionality in their desktop applications, enabling document creation and editing with transparent syncing of files when connected,” adds Sumeet Sabharwal, vice president and general manager of NaviSite. “These same offline features also extended into their mobile application which also enable a rich user experience on tablets and smartphone devices while providing the users the convenience of portability.”
3. Train employees on how to stay productive
Many employees go into a panic mode when they can’t access their files or use Google Docs. There’s even a tendency to freeze up and don’t know how to keep working.
Jonathan Levine, the CTO at cloud hosting provider Intermedia, says employees sometimes don’t realize they can continue working and access files locally. He says their file storage app SecuriSync, for example, syncs files locally. When the employee makes changes to local files, they are synced once the access is restored. Employees sometimes don’t realize they have an offline mode for files, email, scheduling and other functions.
Of course, IT plays a major role here in selecting apps and services that do offer an offline mode. And, it’s a cost control issue – even for an app like Evernote Premium that costs $50 per year, that cost can add up quickly when there are hundreds or thousands of employees.
“The rules are changing quickly and companies must move beyond basic Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies to enable mobility in a more comprehensive manner while taking offline access into account,” says NaviSite’s Sabharwal. “This implies making this an explicit selection criteria when evaluating and selecting key productivity tools, and providing employees with a comprehensive set of instructions to enable offline access across each of these applications.”
In the end, employees should understand it’s likely they already have a way to keep working, but the experts noted that in many cases they don’t know about the offline modes or don’t have a good contingency plan. That’s partly a technology solution and partly a trainable process.