Winter weather stretches business continuity plans

After weeks of snow, ice and salt shortages creating the worst conditions for three decades, the plans that businesses around the country had put in place to ensure that they could continue to operate were called into action.

The rail networks and major roads have been severely impacted and hundreds of schools were closed, with the winter weather creating travel chaos for many and forcing thousands of people to stay at home.

Back in February 2009 heavy snow highlighted the inadequacy of many business continuity plans and so in theory nearly 12 months later better systems for allowing staff to work at home should be active.

Russell Price, who chairs the Continuity Forum, said that small businesses were still unprepared for situations in which staff could not get to work.

Mr Price also said that larger businesses have fared much better this year, with firms including British Gas operating with a skeleton crew in customer services by sending customers to their automated online helpdesk with any problems.

It is thought that 10 per cent of UK businesses have actually implemented continuity plans, with the credit crunch making financial backing for further precautions impossible for the smallest enterprises.

Tim Thaxter, who collaborates with businesses for Siemens, believes that unbroken continuity is perfectly possible if the right planning is put in place before major disruption occurs. Mr Thaxter said that even small businesses could use web conferencing and a unified platform to remotely access and manipulate documents when working from home.

Andrew McGrath of ntl:Telewest agrees, suggesting that with home broadband connections available it is possible to avoid any revenue loss regardless of the conditions outside.

Many believe that cloud computing provides the perfect solution for small businesses, enabling them to create an online workspace at relatively low cost which can be accessed remotely from the homes of staff members who cannot get into work.

The main barrier standing between small businesses and the effective use of cloud computing is that many are not aware of its existence, say experts. But with the likelihood of harsh winter weather becoming more prevalent in the future, businesses will doubtless be allocating further funds towards continuity planning and cloud computing.

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