How much downtime can your business tolerate and still survive? It's a question far too many small business owners fail to consider. Individual company needs vary depending on a variety of factors, but contingency planning is one of the most important conversations a small business owner can have with his or her technology provider.
And it's not that SMBs aren't interested or concerned about the subject. Qwest, a leading provider of voice, video and data services surveyed its small-business customer base about their security, continuity and disaster recovery concerns.
"We asked them the very same questions we ask our enterprise customers," said Ken Smith, Qwest's vice-president of business marketing. "We found that small businesses are every bit as interested in the subject as big businesses. They just don't have the staff and budget to develop business continuity and disaster recovery solutions," he said.
Qwest consults with prospective clients to determine their specific needs. That conversation covers a range of topics, Smith said, such as the number of locations and the types of communications with customers and employees; whether the business conducts e-commerce, and if bandwidth is a concern; how to integrate voice and data onto one platform like VoIP, or how to support mobility and remote access.
Smith recommends that small business owners discuss these issues with their IT providers. It's especially important that small businesses think about what they'll do in the event of outages, Smith said. Aspects to consider: what to do if the power fails, the network goes down or you're suddenly faced with a fire or flood.
"It could be as basic as a hosted VoIP solution that forwards calls to employees' cell phones so they can continue to work, whether from home or some other location," Smith said. "Solutions to these issues can be very simple or more complex depending on a client's specific needs and budget."
The Real World: Reliability Counts
ParentLink is the leading provider of school-to-home communications for grades K-12. The nation-wide, Utah-based company has 50 employees and provides phone and Internet-based services to more than 200 school districts coast-to-coast. Schools use ParentLink to
- Notify parents if a child misses a class
- Provide access to assignments and grades
- Notify parents of any change in school schedules
- Alert parents to emergency situations such as weather conditions, school fights, Amber alerts or bomb threats
- Allow teachers to record calls to parents
In this type of business, uptime is critical. According to Steve Ostler, director of marketing at ParentLink, network reliability is crucial to their business and the main reason the company was shopping around for a new provider.
"We've doubled in size in the last two years, and we were looking for a company that could provide always-on reliability that was a huge concern for us. If the network goes down, we have to reallocate traffic, and that puts more strain on our data centers," he said.
ParentLink had prior experience with Qwest running its telephony and data in its Utah headquarters, so they started a conversation. "They could provide more services and better facilities. They also sat down and discussed out disaster recovery needs, redundancy, how fast they could get back up and running all of these were key components in our moving to Qwest," said Ostler.
The company currently provides ParentLink with phone service connectivity and a redundant Internet connection. Ostler added that the biggest benefits are Qwest's secure data center, reliability and high-quality service.
"We can't ever be in a position where our hands are tied," he said. "Qwest gives us the ability to offer our customers the best service available."