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The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is causing businesses around the world to reexamine their operational structure. Companies now need to plan and prepare for employees to work remotely without any interruption to normal business functions, if they plan to stay competitive and productive.

If you find you and your company are facing these decisions, Sensible, will do everything in our capacity to help keep your business running as close to normal as possible.

This might cause some challenges for organisations that don’t have the right technology or structure to support this. It doesn’t help that, during times like these, we see a severe spike in cyber-crime activity because employees are accessing the network from personal laptops and home computers.

Companies who aren’t properly prepared during these times might suffer from possible data loss and unplanned downtime with more associates working remotely, but having a few simple steps in place can help prevent this.

Step 1 – Develop a Remote Workforce Plan To Fit Your Organisation’s Unique Needs

World-wise health pandemics can jeopardise and possibly damage the operations and future of any company, so it's critical to develop a Remote Workforce Plan to help ensure ongoing business processes in a crisis.

IT Professionals and Cloud Solution Strategists can help provide a roadmap that organisations can follow and implement to ensure sustainability, as we have the ability and responsibility to help local organisations, our peers, and our employees survive and thrive in these difficult times.

A professional IT organisation, like Sensible, can help rapidly adjust your business model towards remote work, as well as set up a consistent and effective line of communication with your employees and clients.

You can schedule your Remote Workforce Plan.

 

Step 2 – Implement a Remote Workforce Plan With a Trusted IT Partner

In the rush to provide remote access, don’t sacrifice cybersecurity or the ability to manage systems and devices in order to get employees up a running. The ability to support users remotely will be essential to ensure smooth operations, especially if users become quarantined due to health concerns. Remote workers need to have clear communication protocols for IT support and for crisis management if they encounter unusual or suspect issues that could be the result of a breach.

Therefore, you not only need a detailed Remote Workforce Plan, but a trusted IT partner to help facilitate that plan and manage all users and networks.

Here is a quick list of items an IT company, like Sensible, can help organisations facilitate a Work From Home (WFH) environment and continue to operate productively:

Organisations with an Office 365 subscription:

  • Implement Teams, Sharepoint and OneDrive for secure communication and collaboration with cloud file storage and anywhere access on any device:
  • Teams can be used for team-based chat, as well as, voice and video communication.
  • Sharepoint can be a repository for shared documents (replaces file server)
  • OneDrive is to able to be used for cloud storage of your own documents.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication to secure access to resources.
  • Implement device management policies on smartphones, tablets and other BYOD devices such as home computers.  This will allow the ability to control where corporate data is stored and provide the ability to wipe data if needed.  Device encryption can also be enabled on these devices to ensure that data is not exposed in case the device is lost or stolen.
  • Provide training on how to use these tools to employees that don’t have experience in using them.

Organisations with onsite servers:

  • Setup secure remote access directly to employee desktops.
  • Setup access to Remote Desktop Servers for all employees (if one exists).  We will need to ensure there is enough “horsepower” on the server(s) as most companies with a remote server typically don’t have all employees working on them simultaneously.
  • Discuss options to transition to cloud servers and WVD (windows virtual desktops) to enable a WFH (work from home) workforce.
  • Discuss options to transition to Office 365 to remove reliance on the onsite systems and provide employees to work from anywhere at any time.

Telecommunications:

  • Setup VoIP phone systems to allow phone calls to be received on employee smartphone apps or softphone apps installed on a laptop.

Step 3 - Audit Employee Environments

In addition to helping organisations get set up with appropriate Work From Home (WFH) resources, Sensible can provide assistance with assessing and auditing employee environments

There are continual disclosures regarding vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and this is an excellent time for employees to take action on securing them with strong passwords and updating their firmware/software to the latest versions.

Consider promoting, or even mandating, the use of a connected home monitoring app before allowing work devices to be connected to home networks. The scan or monitoring will highlight devices with known vulnerabilities, outdated software or firmware, or default passwords that need to be changed.

If your staff are going to use their own home computers, consider mandating CyberSecurity Essentials to protect your systems from malware, etc.

This is a stressful time for all of us, employees and business owners alike. Be the calming and supportive voice in your community. Working closely with your team and a steady IT resource can help you keep operating and keep your team employed. It’s the best case for everyone.

If you need any help or assistance getting your team up and running remotely, please reach out to the Sensible Team at 1300-SENSIBLE (1300-736-742) or you can book some time for chat on our calendar

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing lots of organisations to implement Social Distancing practices.

Employees are being forced to Work From Home (WFH).

Is your business ready to continue to operate in this environment so you can continue to serve your clients?

To help with this , we have developed a FREE COVID-19 Remote Work Readiness Self Assessment Tool for Australian businesses so you can work out how ready you are to implement Work From Home.

This will help keep people your employed, which is good for everyone involved.

Also, check out our other free information about Disaster Recovery Planning !

2020 has already proven itself to be a tough year, particularly here “Down Under” in Sydney, Australia. We’ve dealt with widespread and devastating bushfires, floods, and now the global pandemic of the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus. Not just businesses, but entire nations are being shut down to contain the virus and minimise the death toll.

Many organisations may be forced to lay off employees to survive, or shut down entirely, which will hurt both the business and the employees. There’s a way for your organisation to continue operating amidst this crisis, and keep people employed, which is good for everyone involved.

Fortunately, there is a way to do that for many industries. Remote work has been a growing trend worldwide, and has now become a necessity. Social distancing recommendations given to us by our governments and the World Health Organisation disallow communal gatherings in the name of safety :  in-person workspaces may be next. The answer, then, is to work from home. Facilitating a remote workforce gives more flexibility to both the business and the employee, and it keeps both safe in this time of crisis. Many companies may not have the infrastructure built up for this yet, but we’ve been helping organisations improve their technology for over 35 years; and is something we can help you with.

Modern IT Best Practices

Modern IT Best Practices make a huge difference in how a company will respond to this crisis. We’ve noticed that the organisations that follow seven specific practices are adapting to the current climate much more smoothly than others. The 7 modern IT practices are:

  1. C-Level executives directly engage multiple times a year with their business-savvy IT provider to ensure their IT systems properly deliver their business requirements.
  2. They no longer have onsite IT departments who are not geared for providing uninterrupted remote support.
  3. They have provided secure systems for their staff to perform all their major functions from anywhere
  4. They have already carefully migrated a large part of their systems to securely configured cloud based systems.
  5. They have migrated to cloud-based communication systems.
  6. Their IT Support team are already experienced in the (more complex) back-end world of the cloud.
  7. They have invested in regularly training their staff to properly use their technologies and measuring these productivity gains.

If you examine your organisation, how many of those seven things do you do or have done?

We can help you get these policies in place, and adapt to the current reality. Swift action might be the thing that minimises the damage to, or outright saves, your business in this trying time. Schedule an introductory chat via our calendar.

You wouldn't have known, but we had our own fire disaster last week!

Early last Tuesday, we received a call that a fire was blazing in our building. Naturally we rushed down there but like all the occupants, we were not allowed access to our office at all. Later, that day we found out a tenant on the floor below us had an electrical failure in their computer room which was the start of the whole disaster.

Thankfully, there were no personal injuries, and only damage to a few units (not ours). However, many businesses did suffer. The fire department rightly blocked off access due to the poisonous fumes, not to mention that the power was cut off for most of the day. Outside, hundreds of people milled around wondering what do next. Comments overhead were:

"All my files are there - I need to get to them !"

"I need to finish something urgently for a client - now what ?"

"This is costing me a fortune - my staff can't do anything productive. I can't even get remote access.."

Privately,we smiled - We never ceased normal business operations at all !

We Had No Downtime
Our Business Continuity Plan kicked in and we didn't miss a beat! In fact, I don't think most of our clients even knew this had occurred.

We lost no sales, we missed no service calls, we continued to deliver the same service, we lost no data and there was minimal impact on the organisational productivity. We dod not lose a single cent.

How is this possible?

  1. We already had a Written Continuity Plan (we could continue keep normal business operations whilst the disaster was occurring, and as it was already written down - we knew what we had to do without missing important steps in the early panic).
  2. Most of our systems are cloud-based (doesn't matter where you work from).
  3. Our cloud-based software systems are the "right type" of cloud (works on any device, secure, runs all of our apps and is optimised for slow internet connections if staff work from home).
  4. Our communications systems were cloud-based so we could still receive client calls (not perfect, but we know what to refine for next time).

Over the previous months, you’ve probably heard about new technology trends like virtual assistants, smartphones, and automation technologies. Some of these IT solutions may even be placed on top of your business priority list. However, with fires and power outages just around the corner, disaster recovery and business continuity plans should always have a place on your annual budget.

Business Continuity isn’t a huge investment
A common misconception about disaster recovery is that it’s a large, bank-breaking investment and that only large enterprises can afford it. Expensive secondary data centres, networks, and server maintenance usually come into mind when a business owner is confronted with the idea of Business Continuity or Disaster Recovery. And while that may have been true in the past, establishing a strong disaster recovery plan today is as simple -- and as cheap -- as going to a cloud-based disaster recovery provider and paying for the data and services that your business needs. Subscription pricing models are actually incredibly low, meaning you can have minimal downtime while still having enough to invest in new tech.

Onsite backups just won’t cut it
Although you might feel secure with a manual backup server down the hall, it is still susceptible to local disasters and, ultimately, does very little in minimising company downtime - especially if you can't get access to your office. When disaster recovery solutions are hosted in the right cloud  you don't have to restore critical data or applications - they are already available.

Business disasters can be man-made, too
Even if your workplace is nowhere near frequent disaster zones, cyber attacks and negligent employees can leave the same impact on your business as any natural disaster can. Setting a weak password, clicking on a suspicious link, or connecting to unsecured channels is enough to shut down a 5-, 10-, or even 50-year-old business in mere minutes.

Sure, installing adequate network security is a critical strategy against malicious actors, but last year’s barrage of data breaches suggests that having a Plan B is a must. A suitable business continuity and disaster recovery plan ensures that your data’s integrity is intact and your business can keep going, no matter the malware, worm, or denial-of-service attack.

Downtime will cost you
A business without a Business Continuity plan might come out unscathed after a brief power outage or small fire, but why risk the potential damages? Either way, downtime will cost your business. First, there’s the general loss of productivity. Every time your employees aren’t connected to the network, money goes down the drain. Then there’s the cost of corrupted company data, damaged hardware, and the inevitable customer backlash. Add all those variables together, and you end up with a business-crippling fee.

You might even have insurance, but that doesn't help if your clients go to your competition because you couldn't deliver service when they wanted.

Smaller businesses usually have "less fat" to weather such instances - it is even more important that they protect themselves,

So, if you want 2017 to be the best year for your business, make the smart choice and proactively take part in creating your company’s business continuity plan. Your business will be in a better position financially with it rather than without it..

Keep your business safe, recover from any disaster, and contact us today if you need assistance. Also, get a hold our free guide :

14 Little-Known Facts Every Business Owner Must Know About Data Backup, Security And Recovery"

“We live in a world where information equals power. With the influx of online file-sharing solutions, distributing information has become easier than ever. As a result, it is now easier for information to fall into the wrong hands intentionally or unintentionally.” -Terri McClure TechTarget.

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and an increasingly mobile workforce are putting new pressures on IT and changing the requirements for how workers want (and need) to access corporate data.

Dropbox has become the predominant leader for mobile file access. Unfortunately, what works for family pictures does not work with corporate files. In most cases, Dropbox’s quick to install, easy-to-use, consumer-grade services present unacceptable security, legal and business risk in a business environment.

Here are the top 5 reasons we now recommend only SensibleSync for businesses .

  1. Data Theft. Business owners are simply unaware when an instance of Dropbox is installed and are unable to control which employee devices can or cannot sync with a corporate PC. Use of Dropbox can exponentially increase the chance of data being stolen or shared with the wrong parties.
  2. Data Loss. When managers cannot manage and monitor file sync activities across an organisation, they risk losing critical data. Any employee may adopt Dropbox and starts using it to sync and share sensitive files without proper oversight. You cannot manage data sprawl, initiate remote wipes in the case of lost devices, and are unable to guarantee that files are properly shared with only the right people.
  3. Lawsuits. Dropbox gives carte blanche power to employees over the ability to permanently delete and share files. This can result in the permanent loss of critical business documents as well as the sharing of confidential information, which can break privacy agreements in place with clients and third parties.
  4. Compliance Violations. Many compliance policies require that files be held for a specific time and only be accessed by certain people (or have to stay in Australia). In these cases, it is imperative to employ strict control over how long files are kept and who can access them. Since Dropbox has loose (or non-existent) file retention and file access controls, businesses that use Dropbox are risking a compliance violation. (Dropbox doesn’t disclose where its data is stored).
  5. Loss of Accountability. Managers whose employees use Dropbox do not have access to detailed reports and alerts over system-level activity. As a result managers don’t have control of or visibility into how files have been edited, shared, or deleted. Business-grade, admin-controlled file sync services allow managers to view a comprehensive audit trail that details who touched or modified a file at any given point and even restrict which devices can be used.
  6. Loss of File Access. Dropbox does not track which users and machines touched a file and at which times. This can be a big problem if you are trying to determine the events leading up to a file creation, modification, or deletion. The best way for business to handle this is to deploy a company-approved application that will allow IT to control the data, yet grants employees the access and functionality they need to be productive wherever they are. Employees whose companies provide them with a secure, easy-to-use file sync service will see no need to bring Dropbox into the workplace.
  7. Productivity Losses. Businesses need to be as productive as possible. Consumer-grade file sync services do not enable corporate file servers to be synced to the cloud. Users have to double-handle files they need to share (from central server into/out of dropbox) or they have to use cumbersome VPN methods or even work on the wrong version of a document. By deploying SensibleSync, managers can authorise network documents to be automatically synced for both Head Office and remote workers.

If you would like more information on SensibleSync :

Phone: 1300-SENSIBLE (736-742)

Web: www.sensiblesync.com

Even a single second of downtime at your business can cause a ripple effect that sees operations become unhinged. While most Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) take into account longer power outages, short ones can be just as dangerous to your company. An Oakley Greenwood report showed that 58.9% of outages in NSW were for less than 2 hours. It is important that you and your employees be prepared should a power outage strike. We’ve prepared some information to help you do just that.

Power outages are one of the only disasters that can strike just about anywhere in Australia. If you are in Blacktown, chances are tropical cyclones are not going to be an issue and ipower_outage

A US Department of Energy report noted that power outages cost businesses nearly $150 billion in 2014 and added that increasing demand for energy coupled with an aging infrastructure could see the number of blackouts increase. When a power failure disrupts IT systems, 1/3 of companies lose AU$18,500-$465,000 per incident. While weather-related events are the most common cause of power outages in Australia, it is far from the only thing that can disrupt energy service.

Since this is a problem that will continue to plague businesses, especially those ones that are unprepared, it’s important to be ready should a blackout strike. Here are a few things you should consider when it comes to power outages.

POWER OUTAGES HURT IN MORE WAYS THAN YOU THINK

The most notable issue a business faces when a power outage occurs is an inability to work. Employees often will sit around unable to do anything until the power is turned back on. Once the power does return, additional time is needed to safely turn everything back on and to check if all your files are still there.

There are also numerous indirect consequences that your business may face either during or after a power outage. These include a loss of revenue from potential sales, a decrease in customer satisfaction and a drop in your company’s reputation. The more your company is prepared for a power outage, the better continuity you will see and the less damage will be done. While it may be impossible to completely avoid issues caused by blackouts, you can minimize their impact.

BE READY IN CASE OF AN OUTAGE

One of the biggest sources of frustration for employees during a blackout is losing files they had been working on. Autosave features do help prevent this but sometimes you’ll still lose that one important note or sentence you didn’t have the chance to save. Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are one way to buy your employees a little extra time should the power go out. You're able to plug your computer into these devices and they will operate as a battery when the power goes out. The life of these power stations is anywhere from ten minutes to an hour for some models which should give you enough time to save your work and properly shutdown your computer.

If you want to stay in business during a power outage, a standby commercial generator can help. These normally run on petrol or natural gas and immediately switch on as soon as your main power supply goes out.

If you aren’t concerned about the lights but want to keep your employees productive, equipping them with 4G enabled laptops and tablets with the right cloud vendor will let them continue to work on files and even your database systems that have been saved and stored or running virtually in the cloud. The better cloud systems will even enable you to send employees home or some other location (where power is available) and work one everything exactly as if they were in the office.

ALWAYS TEST YOUR OUTAGE PLANS

Regardless of what your company's plans are during a power outage, you will need to test them on a regular basis to ensure everything runs smoothly when the real thing does happen. If you utilise a UPS or standby generator, you will want to test these out every six months at the very least to make sure they function properly. If your business has special plans for what employees need to do during a power outage, you should run a practice drill on a yearly basis to ensure everyone is up to speed on their duties. You should also document what steps everyone should take - so nothing is forgotten in the panic of responding to the outage.

They key to business continuity is preparation. Let our team of experts help prepare your business for anything thrown its way in 2016 and beyond.

Some content published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source

Developing strategies for business growth is a cornerstone of the modern organisation. Developing strategies to help avoid business loss is just as important, which means business continuity plans are critical. These documents provide detailed plans on how to keep essential operations running during an emergency in order to minimise losses.

Some organisations call these documents "disaster recovery plans."  Regardless of the terminology that your company uses, you need a system in place for getting through a crisis.

Here are four steps for creating a business continuity plan:

1. Perform a Business Impact Analysis

The first step in creating a business continuity plan is to perform a business impact analysis. To begin, list the processes that you use to deliver your products and services to customers. Then, catalogue the resources needed to power those processes. The resources often include employees, business partners, office buildings, IT infrastructure and other technology assets, and office supplies.

After completing this inventorying process, ask yourself how a crisis would impact your business. If a critical disk failure causes you to lose a week's worth of work, would you still be able to deliver your products and services? If a fire destroys your building or your computer system fails, how long would you be able to function without it?

To answer questions like these, you need to find out how long you would be able to operate in an emergency if you were cut off from your resources. This timeframe is known as the Maximum Tolerable Period Of Disruption (MTPOD). It represents how much time you have to either fix a problem or find an alternative solution. If you are unable to recover in time, you could be held liable for failing to give your customers the service or product that you agreed to provide them. For this reason, you should address legal liabilities and similar issues in your business impact analysis.

2. Prepare Specific Recovery Plans for Employees and Departments

Now that you know your MTPOD, you can set a goal for how long it will take you to recover. This is known as the recovery time objective (RTO). With the RTO in mind, you can start writing recovery plans for each department, team, and senior manager in your organisation.

These plans must list all the tasks that need to get done in a crisis and assign each task to a specific person. For example, in a plan that relates to a power failure, one employee might have the task of contacting the power company. Another employee might be in charge of checking the backup generator. A third might be responsible for maintaining the lines of communication between team leaders. After they have carried out these tasks, they can move on to the second job on their lists.

If your business contains many employees or departmental groups, make sure that your plans explain the departmental chain of command in an emergency. It is also a good idea to cross-train employees in the emergency tasks. That way, if one person is absent, busy, or incapacitated, a second staff member will be able to take that person's place.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to carry out your primary recovery plan because of some unforeseen detail or series of events. This is why you need to create a set of backup recovery plans as well. These secondary plans might assign the tasks to different people or carry out the tasks in a different order. The secondary plans might even have employees perform the tasks from an alternate location in the event that the office is out of commission.

3. Create a Battle Box

Battle boxes contain equipment and documents that companies need during emergencies. Your battle box should contain all the documentation for your business continuity plan, as well as the plans for each department and senior manager. Plus, it must include key pieces of information about your company's IT infrastructure, such as product serial numbers. Since communicating during a crisis is important, you also need to include contact information for all your employees and outside partners.

While these business-specific items are important, don't forget to include practical items such as a torch, a mobile phone, a laptop, a first aid kit, and a few bottles of water. For small companies, a single battle box should be fine. If your company is large, you might want to provide battle boxes for each department.

4. Practice for the Real Thing

When it comes to your business continuity plan, practice makes perfect. Running crisis simulations as part of your training program will help you determine how well your plan will work in real life. These exercises also let your employees feel what it is like to be in an emergency. That way they will be less likely to panic if an actual crisis occurs.

Some overseas companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix take practice runs to the next level. They often surprise their emergency response teams by performing crisis simulations without any warning. While some businesses have in-house teams run and monitor crisis simulations, many other companies hire third-party facilitators for this job. These experts record a response team's actions during a simulation, analyze the results after the fact, and offer suggestions about ways to improve the team's reactions.

Besides performing emergency response drills, these professionals can help you develop your business continuity plan. Talk to your IT service provider about the ways in which an their disaster recovery specialist can help your business.

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