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Magazine Issues » November 2009

BACK OFFICE VIEW: business as usual

Data management allows investment managers to better understand their clients, see the inflows and outflows of their investments, and understand the impact of the decisions they make ... Joe Sluys comments.

sluys.jpgThere was a time when business continuity for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) was viewed simply as a tick in a box; a set of desks in an alternative site for about a quarter of the workforce. Most likely the owner of the business knew where it was and roughly how much it cost, but that was all. However, heightened concerns over terrorism threats, natural disasters, increasing reliance on IT systems and ever-diminishing levels of supplier loyalty have forced not just larger institutions but SMEs to think again.

With regulators such as the Financial Services Authority in the UK conducting more and more arrow checks, there is no doubt the issue is making its way up the list of priorities within small to medium businesses.

Despite all this, the issue of business continuity has historically been a thorny one with owners and managers, who have been known to view it as an extra expense that may never be used. However, times are changing. SMEs are now waking up to the realisation that much of the technology implemented for the initial purpose of disaster recovery can also significantly improve their day-to-day operations. For example, remote access methods being hosted on a server at the disaster recovery site in case of a disruption can also be used to offer flexible working to employees with a long commute, families or the disabled. Having a live replica server off-site at a disaster recovery facility can allow you to immediately continue accessing email, data and applications seamlessly, in the event of server failure in your production environment. 

Despite business owners’ growing awareness of the technological benefits that a good business continuity plan can provide, the issue can still often be a ‘hot potato’ within SMEs who do not have the resources to have personnel dedicated to the problem. Arguments can often ensue over whether it should come under the umbrella of IT, management or operations. Regardless of the answer, the hard working staff of SMEs rarely have time to devote to overseeing such a complex operation and can often begin to feel resentful of the extra workload.

In truth, business continuity is an amalgamation of several different parts of a business, requiring specialist IT knowledge, management skills, risk assessment and an in-depth knowledge of the industry. This is why SMEs attempting a ‘DIY’ solution, such as paying for seats but creating their own plan, often proves foolhardy.

As a result, the business continuity industry, particularly in the SME market, is seeing a migration away from straightforward seating and hosting, with managed service providers reaping the rewards.

Where simple seating providers fall down in the SME market is the lack of advice and guidance they provide. While large institutions have trained compliance officers with knowledge of the industry and what is required, SMEs will likely nominate an existing member of staff to oversee the process. Managed service providers flourish in their willingness to spend time within a business in order to assess its risks and establish factors such as the key business systems and technical requirements needed in the event of a disruption.

In today’s environment it is more important than ever to ensure business continuity information is communicated effectively and that plans are regularly updated to reflect the true nature of the business. This is extremely pertinent in the SME market, within which the growth of a business can often be so aggressive. Businesses who do not acknowledge this can often end up with a business continuity plan gathering dust in a filing cabinet and, in the event of a disruption, finding it completely inadequate at a crucial moment. 

With the number of both physical and systems risks posed to all companies seeming to increase by the day and with IT systems forming such a crucial component for doing business in our 24-hour society, more and more SMEs are finally waking up to the necessity for a contingency plan that will really deliver when it matters most.  

 • Joe Sluys is the managing director of Sentronex

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