Beef up your BCP with blogs, podcasts

A business continuity or disaster recovery plan can be further supported by several IT-enabled components which include a specially-designed BCP Web site, blog and even podcast.

The world today is increasingly unpredictable. The volatile natural, and unnatural, disasters of the Dec 26 Asian tsunami and July 7 London bombings, serve as reminders that organizations must always be prepared for the unexpected and ensure their business can remain operational amid the chaos.

A well-thought out business continuity plan (BCP) is a must-have for all companies today. Here are seven IT-enabled components that can help beef up your BC strategy.

BCP Web site
After an event like the London bombings in July, the average telephone traffic typically increases by up to 300 percent or by four-fold, as people call to find out or provide information on what happened, and to ensure their loved ones are safe.

If those calls are coming to your company's call centre or receptionist, should an incident affect your company, your staff and phone system will be quickly overwhelmed. Setting up a BCP Web site can help. For example, Alaska Airlines created a disaster Web site after a crash in January, 2000, that allowed visitors to self-select their relationship to the company and the event.

Your BCP Web site can have sub-sections for:

•  employees and their next-of-kin;
•  media enquiries;
•  stakeholders; and
•  the general public.

The IT department can prepare a layout and page templates in advance, and content can be provided by your corporate communications and human resources departments.

BCP blog
One of the best ways to disseminate written information quickly to large numbers of people is via a Web log, or blog. Unlike e-mail messages which a recipient must "pull" into his PC by checking the inbox, blog messages are "pushed" to subscribers automatically by an XML (Extensible Markup Language) RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. [Editor's note: RSS is a format commonly used to deliver news broadcast and bulletins.] Headlines can pop up in a corner of the recipient's screen.

A blog can also remain published even if your company's Internet access crashes in a disaster because the server, on which the blog is hosted, is located outside your data centre.

The IT department can create one internal BCP blog for employees and one, or more, external BCP blogs for customers, vendors or other shareholders. Companies should then encourage intended recipients to subscribe to the service immediately--before a disaster occurs. Use this platform regularly--say, once a fortnight--to send even just one item, so recipients will become accustomed to getting information from your company this way. If necessary, you can also choose to password-protect a blog. Ensure your BCP blog is part of your BCP Web site.

BCP podcast
Why are business continuity plans only done in writing? Many people learn and remember better if they hear something, rather than if they read something. Podcasting, which enables the publishing of portable audio, consists of a microphone and software that comes with the Microsoft Windows platform.

This technology can be used to record instructions during an emergency in MP3 audio format. Employees can listen via their PCs and carry the instructions with them on their MP3 players, too.

To do the first podcast, companies can record evacuation (fire drill) instructions which should include details about what critical items to grab, which escape route to take and where to assemble. Limit the audio recording to about 90 seconds, and post it on the company's BCP blog and Web site.

BCP conference call
BCP Web sites, blogs and podcasts all rely on Internet access which can be intermittent, jammed or cut off in a disaster. A BCP-specific teleconference is still the simplest way to talk to many people simultaneously without leaving the emergency operations center. An IT manager can help set up a permanent, BCP-specific conference.

Why do that? In a disaster, managers will want to communicate with many people inside and outside the company with whom they don't normally, or regularly interact. A BCP conference allows for this without compromising the security of the teleconferencing system. Ask the company's corporate communications personnel to lead a BCP teleconference, perhaps once each quarter. For those unfamiliar with teleconferences, companies can record brief instructions (again, limit it to 90 seconds long) on conference calls in a BCP podcast which should be posted on the BCP blog or Web site.

BCP Emergency Notification System (ENS)
Perhaps your company already has a notification "call tree" which details the people who need to be notified in an emergency, but if one person can't make his or her calls, entire departments could be missed out.

Instead, select and recommend an ENS to automate and speed up this critical process. ENS software can be installed on an in-house server, or hosted on the Web. Either way, speed of notification depends on the number of phone lines you connect to the system. These are cost-benefit decisions an IT department should help the business make. One caveat: communication costs can go up if you use a service based in North America.

I've never seen anyone running out of a burning building carrying a BCP notebook, which means they won't have the company's BCP when it's needed the most.

BCP Phone Number
Establish a dedicated telephone number for employees to call in a disaster. This number is for your company's Crisis Management Team (CMT) to periodically record updates regarding the well-being of employees, who can also call the number from anywhere, any time. The number must allow a CMT member or the corporate communications department to record messages remotely, from anywhere.

Have the company's human resources department give all new employees the BCP Phone Number on the day they are hired. Publish the number in your BCP blog and Web site.

Mobile BCP
I've never seen anyone running out of a burning building carrying a BCP notebook, which means they won't have the company's BCP when it's needed the most. However, everyone seems to have a mobile phone or a PDA, and these devices are the first things people grab when the fire alarm goes off. There are ways to use mobile devices to support a company's BCP.

Organizations can start by creating IT disaster recovery checklists as Outlook Tasks, if the company runs Microsoft Exchange, or as Adobe Acrobat PDF documents, and make these available to the IT staff. These documents can then be synchronized to the IT executive's Windows Mobile or Palm-enabled devices.

After the company has developed confidence in this method of distributing its BCP, it can then rope in the rest of the company.

Choose any one of these innovations and lead your company to a better BCP.

Nathaniel Forbes is the director of Singapore-based Forbes Calamity Prevention, which specializes in contingency planning.