After the Storm: Social, Virtualization Allow Business as Usual

Today’s workforce never truly switches off due to the proliferation of mobile devices and the blurring line between our personal and professional lives. Some have questioned whether this “always on” mentality will ultimately cause more harm than good, both for individuals and businesses as a whole.

While the jury remains out on that question, one positive aspect of the constant availability of technology is the impact on business continuity and disaster recovery.

Despite the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in October, many businesses in the affected area were able to maintain some level of continuity throughout the storm, drawing on mobile, social and virtual technologies to maintain communications with customers, employees, partners and suppliers. Here’s a look at how new technology has fostered greater business continuity, even in the face of unexpected events.

Social Media

When you consider how quickly social networks have evolved from use by college kids to accepted platforms for business communications, it’s truly staggering. The powerful reach of these publicly hosted channels gives organizations the ability to share updates on business-critical issues when their own networks and websites are down due to a storm or other disaster.

Social networks also enable companies to disseminate information to a wider audience that may not be as easily reached via more traditional methods. In the case of Sandy, for example, many retailers used Twitter and Facebook to update shoppers on which store locations were open.

Social networks also provide an avenue for organizations to stay in touch with their employees during unexpected events — providing updates on office openings, public transportation, relief efforts for impacted colleagues and other real-time updates that were incommunicable prior to the rise of social channels.

Mobile Devices

A decade ago, it was uncommon for anyone outside of the C-suite to have email access when not physically in the office. Today it’s safe to say that the majority of employees have their smartphone or tablet hooked up to their corporate email.

And because many companies have optimized enterprise applications for the mobile platform, users can work remotely in much the same capacity as they would in the office, even if only armed with a mobile device.

Faster wireless networks and mobile hotspots also mean that employees can quickly connect to the Internet even if their work or home Wi-Fi is wiped out by a storm.

Using Virtualization

By definition, virtualization extends the traditional enterprise far beyond its physical limits. Many companies leverage server virtualization for disaster recovery, which is a much faster option for restoring systems than traditional tape backups.

In Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, many companies built virtual instances of employees’ systems so they could resume work from alternate locations. By untying software and data from physical machines, businesses can more easily relocate impacted workers and get them back up and running with all the tools and information they need to conduct business as usual.

Remote Support

Another innovation of virtual technology, remote support solutions enable IT to securely access end users’ computers, take control and troubleshoot their technology no matter where they’re located. In addition to saving IT time and money, remote support solutions can be used to remotely build systems and virtual instances (as mentioned above) following disasters. This speeds up the recovery efforts for impacted offices, as IT reps halfway around the world can use the technology to rebuild systems and support users in the affected area as if they were on site.

Of course, this is not to say that hurricanes or other natural disasters still don’t have a significant negative impact upon businesses. But technological advances have made it possible for organizations to continue operations in some capacity during unforeseen events.

For those companies that have yet to take advantage of mobile, virtualization and other innovations, one has to wonder if events like Sandy may cause them to reconsider. After all, enabling employees to be productive outside the office can also increase productivity during normal operations.

Whereas just a few years ago organizations had to start from square one following a major business interruption, today’s technology enables companies to achieve relative continuity throughout and get back to speed much more efficiently following an unforeseen disruption.

Nathan McNeill is cofounder and chief strategy officer for Bomgar.

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