When power is out, company data is hard to get

Community | October 24, 2019

A trio of power outages in June produced the proof: Firms must plan ahead to keep key information available when nothing else will work

By Jack Skinner

President and Founder

Oversee My IT

  • It’s tougher than it sounds to get back in business fast when calamity forces a halt — which is why prior planning can pay off big time.
  • Business owners assume that all will be fine in disaster if they back up their data nightly.
  • Yet a dentist, say, who needs to reschedule patients can learn that finding his or her contact information may not be as easy as trading in an iPhone for an upgrade.
  • Back-ups of that person’s business information can help get their practice back on its feet – something called “disaster recovery.”
  • But those back-ups may not give the dentist quick access to people’s phone numbers – creating a reason for customers to go elsewhere if they have toothaches.
  • Operating a business as it recovers from misfortune is called “business continuity.”
Why data gets lost
  • The issue in small businesses is typically determining what information and software are stored where among a hodge-podge of gadgets, some on-site and some elsewhere.
  • Doctors, lawyers and other entrepreneurs may add or change technologies as they go, leaving them unaware of everything they have and where it’s located.
  • An earthquake, tornado, flood or even a virus can destroy in-house computers, forcing proprietors to hope that they have copies somewhere of what was on those machines.
  • While businesses can reduce risk by storing data in a vendor’s off-site computers – called “the cloud” – this can also create a host of issues.
  • For instance, the cloud vendors’ technology may not work with the small fry’s software or in-house computers.
  • Large cloud companies may not support technologies the entrepreneur has already purchased from other vendors.
  • Doctors, dentists and lawyers may find services they use for sharing large files, such as Dropbox, do not meet security requirements that regulators require.
First step in planning for problems: Learn what’s where
  • Getting ready for Murphy’s Law starts with a review of all the hardware and software a business uses, where it’s located and who controls it.
  • Whether it’s done by a vendor or an in-house technology chieftain, the assessment must determine:
    • All information the business has.
    • The hardware and software on which it’s stored.
    • What it takes to:
      • Operate that hardware and software.
      • Retrieve data from it.
  • If, say, corporate email is on Gmail accounts, the review may find that no business-continuity planning is necessary for that part
    • That’s because Google’s email offering is accessible from most any device and wireless service.
Next, set expectations and budget
  • Once the entrepreneur has a clear view of the technologies and data they rely on, the next question becomes what the person expects when given disruptions happen.
  • If our dentist loses power for a day, they may not expect to treat patients – but their staffers will need to reach those folks to re-schedule appointments.
  • The dentist must also decide how much they’re willing to spend for how much peace of mind.
    • For instance, storing off-site data in another state may cost more.
    • But it reduces risk because catastrophe is less likely to happen simultaneously in two divergent locations.
  • Though planning may involve an up-front expense for help from technology vendors and upgrading tech, the good news is maintaining the finished product can be inexpensive.
  • After creating and implementing business-continuity plans, small and mid-sized businesses may pay as little as a few hundred dollars a month to keep it ready.
One bite at a time
  • In DFW, tornadoes can wipe out an entrepreneur’s headquarters. Extended power outages, while problematic, usually end in a few days.
  • To avoid being overwhelmed with everything that can go wrong, entrepreneurs should start by forging plans for the most likely interruptions.
  • Once every quarter after that, they can determine contingencies for problems that may be less likely or that pose fewer business-continuity challenges.
  • It’s also important to regularly review the company’s technology set-up to ensure its both cost-effective and will meet business needs as new devices along.
  • This check-up should cover:
    • Prices its vendors are charging.
    • Services they’re delivering.
    • Changes in the corporate technology budget.
    • Tweaks to accommodate forthcoming changes in hardware, software and connectivity.
The hazards of procrastination
  • The silver lining of June’s blackouts is they may teach entrepreneurs the need for business-continuity plans – but without losing their businesses as part of the lesson.
  • In addition to natural disasters to which a given geographic region is prone, small firms can be forced into bankruptcy by computer viruses.
  • Whether they spring from an employee unknowingly clicking on a malicious link or something deliberate, it’s no fun trying to improvise one’s way through such a crisis.
  • Especially for professionals in highly-regulated fields, one’s business, and career, can be at stake.

Contact Jack Skinner at

About Jack:
  • President and Founder of Oversee My IT, an Irving-based company that works with small and mid-sized businesses make their technology trains run on time.
  • Launched in 2007, Oversee helps organizations with 10 to 200 employees to run their computers, secure their data and handle compliance.