Survival tips for firms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am


Many businesses fail to prepare for emergency situations. However, we only have to look at the chain of disasters that hit the world last year - the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Middle East uprisings, the Christchurch earthquake and the floods in Bangkok - to realise the urgency for companies to think ahead.

According to a survey by serviced office provider Regus, 41 per cent of Hong Kong businesses have no disaster recovery (DR) plans to resume their information technology services within 24 hours, and 63 per cent have no continuity plans. The global average for the above is 45 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. The survey canvassed 12,000 businesspeople in 85 countries.

Globally, financial services and information and communication technology firms are the best prepared. At 71 and 66 per cent, respectively, they are more likely to have a business continuity plan, but more than 40 per cent of these firms have no workplace disaster recovery arrangement.

'All companies should have a disaster recovery plan and test it at least every six months,' says Andy Cocks, chief technology officer of global systems integrator Dimension Data. 'They should have a back-up facility at least for the key employees or the ability to work from home, and large multinationals should have a full-time risk officer who can draw up back-up plans and look at how risk can affect customers.' Drawing up a full plan may take three to six months, depending on the size of the company and its business, he adds.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), for example, has had a business continuity strategy for the firm in Hong Kong and the mainland, and separate plans for each office for nearly 10 years. The professional services firm runs crisis-simulation workshops on an annual basis to test the plans, while providing training to leaders on how to recover the business in a major disaster.

The firm has a back-up of all its systems and the tapes are stored off-site. There are also sophisticated remote access and back-up server arrangements at different locations. The plans are reviewed annually by internal and external audits.

With offices in 16 cities across the mainland and in Hong Kong, should business at one PwC office be interrupted, other offices would provide core services, only causing minimal delay.

About one-third of Hong Kong businesses find DR plans too costly, according to the Regus survey. However, Cocks believes plans are a form of business continuity insurance.

'While they're sometimes seen as expensive or even unnecessary, they can make the difference between surviving or going out of business if disaster strikes,' he says.

Hans Leijten, regional vice-president for Regus in East Asia, notes that more than half of Hong Kong companies have indicated a willingness to pay a monthly fee to access a workplace disaster recovery facility in case of emergency. 'This is a telling sign that, while too many businesses are taking a gamble, attitudes are changing and it is likely that more businesses will finally stop hoping for the best and seriously start planning for the worst,' he says.