When Disaster Strikes ...

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By Bill Kennedy - We were just discussing how to apply credit notes to invoices when the lights went out. Everything was dark in the office except the computer screen. I knew I had 20 minutes until the UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) batteries ran out. I decided to use this as a teaching moment and explained to the client how it's better to power down the servers gracefully than just have them stop when the power is cut. On the way to the server room, I glanced out the window and saw the people across the street leaving their buildings. It didn't look like the power would be restored soon, so I told the client I'd see him tomorrow and left.

It wasn't until I turned on the radio that I realized the extent of the damage. Parts of the Northeastern United States and Canada had been knocked out. Far from the normal half hour interruption, it lasted several days. For some companies it was a real disaster.

How long can your business go without power? If you lost all of your computer systems right now, what would you do? If a fire ripped through your files, how would you recover? As my client found out there comes a time when the disaster plan is no longer a theoretical exercise.

Identify which systems are critical and which are not. Often accounting is not that critical. Things can wait a few days while you get a new computer set up. One client had a simple plan for his payroll system, just instruct the bank to pay the same thing as last month until the system was back up. There are lots of resources on the web to help you, for example go here.

Sometimes it pays just to ask your staff those what-if questions, e.g. what if the accounting system goes down? One of my clients was spitting mad. He had gone on vacation for a week and the head office computer system had been down for two days. Without the order entry system, his customer orders didn't get sent into the back for production. He lost two whole days. "The system may have been down, but the photocopier still worked. Why didn't they just slap a shop order number onto a copy of the customer purchase order and send it into the back?" he fumed. But he knew the answer: because nobody had thought about what to do when disaster strikes.

Bill Kennedy
Energized Accounting


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