Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — the erstwhile White House chief of staff — once said that no crisis should go to waste. This mantra is perfectly suited to business continuity.
Over the past few weeks, the nation and world have suffered enough natural disasters — wildfires, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes — that you should have had plenty of opportunity to test your disaster recovery plans. And that’s even before we start talking about being in the “post-Fukushima age,” or recalling the devastation of 9/11/01.
This may sound crass, but at no other time, other than the heart of a situation that impacts your business, will you be able to fully assess the success and failure of your preparations.
The first step in any business continuity plan should be making sure that your employees are safe and that any non-essential employees are able to assist their families and communities. The entire executive team, including CFOs, should be clear which employees are considered essential. The team also should have an emergency response system in place for workers to log their status as safe or in danger.
Once you’ve accounted for your employees, you must turn your attention to your business and how you are going to stay operational during the disaster. For instance, if you have been in the path of the horrific wildfires in Texas, are you able to establish operations at another site, and support remote access? If you were in the mid-Atlantic floods, did your plans to move your data center to higher ground work? And if you were one of the millions of companies whose power went out during Hurricane Irene, were your backup generators effective?
Now is the time to gather up every team member that played a role in keeping your business running or bringing it back up from an outage. As CFO, you should lead this post mortem to understand changes are necessary and how soon. Also, you will get a clear picture of the cost vs. impact of implementing failover and recovery strategies. Perhaps you were reluctant in the past to sign off on a second data center that could act as a backup site. Now you will have the real-world perspective of the ramifications of that decision and be able to determine if supporting another location is in fact mission-critical.
Analyzing business continuity in the wake of a disaster is the only way to ensure that the consequences aren’t worse the next time around.