Leadership

Urge consulting clients to prepare for disasters

Statistics on businesses lost to disaster are overwhelmingly oppressive. If you have a stubborn client who resists preparing for the worst, help shed some light on reality. Without a plan, the chances of recovering from a disaster are small.

 At the risk of being predictable, now is as good a time as any to consider how many of your clients are ready for a disaster. The smart ones are, but what about the know-it-all stubborn ones who refuse to face the possibility that they could lose everything? In this case, all you can do is offer your services and hope they see the light. Right? Not quite. You might want to be a bit more aggressive than that.

Most businesses, especially the small ones, aren't prepared to respond when threatened. Should disaster strike your clients, will they be able to continue vital operations or will they just surrender? According to a study by the Center for Research on Information Systems (at the University of Texas), 50 percent of businesses that lose data in a disaster close permanently after disaster. Furthermore, 50 percent of businesses who manage to reopen after losing data in a disaster are gone within two years. That's scary!

It's up to you to share that information with your client and extend it in a local way if possible. Simply prepare a report that shows the impact of disaster on local business. Start with the Chamber of Commerce. They probably won't have statistics, but they can probably guide you to someone who does. Consider contacting the Department of Homeland Security if you have an office in your area. Make friends with your local librarian. These statistics are out there.

Make the report short because this type of client doesn't want to face this issue at all. Be as dramatic as you like. Don't just give the client a pie chart. Find a devastating picture or two because a picture is worth a thousand words.

Report these statistics to your client and ask the following questions:

  • How much revenue would you lose if disaster shut you down for just one day?
  • How much revenue would you lose if disaster shut you down for one week?
  • How long could you shut your doors before you close them for good?

Be prepared to compare your client's answers with the statistics you've gleaned from your research. Emphasize that most businesses that lose data to disaster don't recover.

Assessment is the next step and this process doesn't have to be complicated or expensive -- after all, that's the real reason your client avoids the subject. Be practical, especially with the small clients. They can't pull thousands of dollars out of a magic hat to implement protection. Help them but don't overwhelm them; otherwise, you run the risk of pushing them further into the land of denial. But, here's an interesting statistic that might help: FEMA estimates that it costs 15 times more to recover from a disaster without a plan than with a plan -- that's 15 times more folks! Who could recover from that?

It's irresponsible to be passive on the subject of disaster preparedness. You won't convince everyone, but you'll at least open some eyes to the potential.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

14 comments
reisen55
reisen55

I commented on this post regarding a data collapse one of my largest medical accounts suffered two nights ago. Because of my background in the World Trade Center collapse, I am a zealot about backups. This office would have suffered enormous damage had no backups been available. Effectively, out of business totally and that is not, remember, confined to their business but let me include the 22,000 patients they see in the course of several years too and the years of litigation I would be haunted by. No, backups are PRIMARY to our trade, and so many system admins ignore it at peril, or do not do it right. One of our new accounts suffered a server collapse in November, 2007 and their consultant did not back up the right accounting data, so everything required manual reconstruct. WE fixed that one fast. Backups are dull to setup and my medical account has needed them precisely TWICE: Once in July, 2006 and the second time - two nights ago. Three years of daily backups needed just twice. Sounds awful, but when a company NEEDS the data restored, it is vital. And to a small business, this restoration IS THEIR BUSINESS. When I was in corporate IT, redundancy to a degree was built into the system by default. Not totally - but on September 11, 2001 those huge Lotus Notes email files held a ton of ready material that was utilized. A large business has capacity, generally, elsewhere and a staff that leverages that capacity to advantage. Not so a small company. Their capacity is limited and the system admin or consultant has to use that to maximum advantage and productive usage. If I was not such a zealot on the patient management backups (not to mention daily retina image backups and timecard backups and even a cardscan database backup) ..... This post is largely ignored, and it should not be.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Backups are like brushing your teeth -- if you wait until you have a cavity, it's too late.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

...was in my first IT job at the university I attended. They generated their own power (this was back in 1978) and one day when it spiked the 10- platter hard drive crashed (I can still remember the sound). Their last backup was over a month old. This was towards the end of a semester, and almost 600 CS students had their class projects on that drive. Naturally, they also had printouts (that was the only feedback they ever got back then), but all 600 of them wanted to hurry up and key their programs back in right away. For days there wasn't an available terminal. And then... The new disk crashed the same way, and they hadn't gotten around to making another backup! After that, daily backups were instituted, and the department bought a spike protector the size of a washing machine for the computer room.

reisen55
reisen55

I heard it in a small way once. At Aon one of our Dell Latitudes crashed. I was at the user's desk when it did and when it did, worst I ever heard. Heads dropped, contact made and the high rev disk SCREEEEECHED down to a halt. Happened at HSH Associates once on an old Digital PDP24 system. Platters. Awful.

Jaqui
Jaqui

my own work habits when diong a rebuild of my own system saved me from losing 80 GigaBytes of data from a simple miskey error. I deleted a partition I wanted kept. lucky me, I habitually back up to offline media, [ dvd in this case ] before doing a rebuild and didn't lose any data. Only added the work involved in copying it from dvd onto hard drive again.

reisen55
reisen55

At Aon Group in Manhattan, an extremely attractive lawyer had her hard drive in her Dell Latitude C600 crash. The August 2001 family of Travelstar drives was a bad batch and we had about 4 laptops crashing on a single day any day of the week. So this was nothing new and in an hour I had a replacement up in her hands. She gave that awful sad face, she had a diary on it from the day her daughter was born. OK - technical challenge accepted. Took it home and for 3 nights worked on that drive, a C partition corrupted and an intact D partition. EasyRecovery spotted data on the C partition for 20 seconds before losing it entirely. Partition Magic indicated Partition C was damanged, drive D ok. Odd. Tried everything including installation of alternative OS onto the D partition for a dual boot to get to the C partition. I did not have Winternals at this time or any BART PE boot. Nothing worked. Angry - killed off the D partition entirely to see what that did ........... and it restored everything. Both partitions came back, system booted, perfect, her data was there. Copied it to the server first thing morning and proudly gave her back her laptop, everything intact. One of my better moments in IT support too.

ssharkins
ssharkins

You nearly made me cry -- I can't imagine anyone being so sweet and understanding! I'm sure your client will always remember your kindness. Years ago, I took care of my dad the last few months of his life and I kept a diary on my pc. It was a work pc, as I continued to work remotely from my dad's home. Upon returning, it needed some work and the IT guy reformated the hard disk, without saving a wit of data -- nothing -- I lost all of my work, my diary, which was the most precious loss of all. He just kind of looked at me with a blank stare like, "You expected me to copy your data?????" You're a superstar in my book!

Jaqui
Jaqui

which is why I developed my habit of backing up DATA before doing anything else. It doesn't matter is a person's home system, a single workstation, a server or what os the system is running, back up the data before doing anything to diagnose the problem(s). Just poking around on the system could crash it and wipe the data from access.

reisen55
reisen55

That Robbyn was attractive is perhaps a bad comment on my part, but her smile was more than worth the trouble. She was also divorced (I am too, ages back) so I knew how important that diary was. I was determined to get it back, I am a professional dammit and this is a challenge. As for your side of the story - HEY, YOU ALWAYS RECOVER CUSTOMER DATA. PERIOD. END OF TALE. I have a hard drive in my freezer right now that died and am going to get data off of it for another customer. Any technician who does that, in my view, should be fired immediately. We had one nimrod who did that at Aon, made a ghost image for a user and just gave it back with no data transfer AT ALL. THIS WAS THE RULE AT WORK, ALWAYS TRANSFER DATA. If I was the manager, I would have walked this idiot to the ghost station and forced him asap to image his laptop right now. No recovery, and if he complains, well TOUGH.

reisen55
reisen55

I am a survivor of the World Trade Center, 101st floor and was system admin for Aon Consulting, so this is a DEARLY IMPORTANT subject to me. I transfer my experiences to small business accounts and consider this one of the PRIMARY aspects of my trade. Large firms in the Trade Centers, such as Aon, had redundancy built into their networks in droves, such as an untouched Data Center in South Carolina and offices across the nation. BUT the small shops, those single office firms in the Center got wiped out totally, not to mention human loss (always more important). These small firms had no redundancy built into their structures, and when the towers fell, they lost it all. I use my experience to translate into a Three Tier backup and disaster plan for my clients. I consider three tiers about the most my mind can handle too. Tier 1: Original storage on the individual system. Tier 2: Standard Backup on hard drive (no tape) Tier 3: Offside redundancy backup on my systems. I carefully note down what HAS to be backed up daily, weekly, etc and maintain GHOST images of every single computer I support. I revise these images every six months or so. Servers too. So I cover my small business clients totally. I test the backups to ensure they work too. Nothing like discovering at 2am that the backups do not work right. I just got a new client this year BECAUSE of bad backups on a server crash. STUPIDITY DEFINED.

reisen55
reisen55

Within 20 min after posting the above, staff at one of my largest accounts detonated the database, blew it to pieces so I am writing this reply at 11:13 pm from the account office having restored last night's backup and am examining database structures to recover any non-corrupted data. So it goes. Good coffee here.

Jaqui
Jaqui

you had last night's backup. pity the support people who neglected to get backups done in that situation.

reisen55
reisen55

The vendor who wrote their patient management system software has been superlative this morning. They were able to analyze and extract enough data from the work done, and lost, yesterday so that my client is reconstructing on their own. I have also remote controlled a desktop and put a special version of the software on it that can be used as an ARCHIVE REFERENCE as they may need it. Very pleased. For three years I have run nightly backups of everything and twice, just twice, I have needed it but .... lifesaver when it is needed. I do not think they will EVER comment on this again.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but I sometimes have trouble even getting clients to take backups and source-control seriously.

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