Residents of New Orleans walked through Hurricane Katrina

The Importance of Cloud-Based Document Management Solutions for Disaster Preparation

A robust risk management policy and a multi-layer disaster recovery plan are essential to safe operations in disaster-prone areas.

Jim Tucci's voice is heavy with regret as he recounts the loss he suffered during Hurricane Katrina. The 34-year-old owner of a construction company returned to his New Orleans headquarters only to find every computer and filing cabinet under 5 feet of water. While data backup services were able to recover about 65 percent of his company's data, the data that remained unrecoverable included a record of longstanding client dues and promissory notes -- representing an opportunity loss of nearly $1.5 million. "I wish I had a copy of those notes. Now I have to rely on my memory to recreate that list, and I'm not sure how many will pay without a promissory note," he said.

Across town, Josh Zhukovsky sits back in his refurbished office in the city's central business district. "Two days before the hurricane struck, I emailed most of our personnel records, collection notes, and critical documents to an email address I had created in anticipation of the disaster to come. Gas fires around the city rendered our magnetic tapes and DVDs completely useless. While backing up our critical documentation online saved us a lot of trouble, we now need to back up every new file we create. It's a tedious task that takes my staff an entire day to decide what data is relevant and then make sure every employee's official data is emailed to that address every week."

In the case of Tucci's construction company, storing critical files or documents on local systems did nothing to protect his company's data. While Zhukovsky's firm managed to make copies of its business-critical documents, employees now waste a lot of time creating backups through email. Data backup can solve only one part of the problem and, more often than not, it forces you to decide which documents need to stay and what must be deleted. This process is neither time-efficient nor cost-efficient and is an expensive method of mitigating risk.

Today, more than ever before, companies are beginning to realize the value of "business uptime" -- the percentage of time that their services are accessible to all of a company's stakeholders, whether they are clients, end customers, vendors, or employees. Consistency and infrastructure uptime forms a large part of business uptime and is the first area to be affected during a natural disaster or any form of critical service interruption.

Creating the Backup-Free Business
As organizations, we rely on data security a lot more than we'd like to admit. Most organizations go to great lengths to protect their data from unauthorized access, tampering, and pilferage. Multiple passwords, sophisticated firewalls, and local backup copies of critical data are widely adopted as part of a company's data security policy. When natural disasters strike and result in prolonged power outages, fire, and water damage, most businesses are unprepared for the complete destruction of all locally stored data. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes bring large-scale devastation that can destroy entire offices, backup tapes, and hard disk drives. Damage from secondary causes, including fire, water, lightning, and blackouts, has the potential to cripple operations severely and, in extreme cases, to prevent any form of data recovery.

A robust risk management policy and a multi-layer disaster recovery plan are essential to safe operations in disaster-prone areas. While insurance can replace the hardware and equipment your business uses, the documentation you use is not as easily recovered after a natural disaster. A comprehensive disaster recovery plan should provide precise details about the location of all relevant backup network hardware and precise instructions to restore all documents and applications needed to resume operations.

From Dependence to Freedom: The Next Step
The use of cloud-based document management and cloud storage vaults represents the next step in creating the risk-free data environment. The concept of cloud storage has been around for more than a decade, but using the web for applications and storage has taken off during the past five years. With the advent of better cloud encryption protocols and the increased safety of distributed networks, the Internet has become one of the safest and most reliable stores of corporate data. Paperless office systems and file-sharing systems rely on a complex network of servers to host and share data that may be accessed from anywhere in the world. Importantly, cloud-based file storage and sharing frees a company from the challenges and costs of maintaining internal servers and hiring the IT support staff to manage this infrastructure. The CFO of any enterprise can confirm that the money spent on IT infrastructure and the personnel required to manage it represent a significant percentage of a company's spending.

Accessibility: The Power to Connect from Anywhere in the World
In the event of a natural disaster, cloud storage mitigates the risk of business downtime by making digital files accessible from anywhere in the world.

Specialized cloud file-sharing and document management software solutions allow a company's files to be accessed from a smartphone or tablet, through appropriate security and access protocols. For example, an accounting firm in Oklahoma City continued operations after a weekend that saw tornadoes and flash floods by accessing the company's cloud-based file sharing and document management software. Their spokesman had this to say: "Though the worst of the storms had passed, we urged employees to stay indoors; the last thing we expected was for them to log in to work, but they did -- some even from their tornado shelters. Over the next few days, we could communicate with clients, hold virtual meetings, and collaborate on several important projects because our data was available to us."

Cloud storage and solutions store data across multiple-redundancy servers located across the country and, if required, in several countries. Data accessibility through cloud storage can save your company thousands of dollars by enabling your team to access their files and work information even in the aftermath of a disaster from the safety of their own homes.

Affordability: Keeping Company Data Safe and Secure for Less
The traditional reliance on VPN networks, file servers, and backup servers is an expensive proposition for companies looking to optimize their spending on IT and IT infrastructure. The large-scale adoption of cloud storage and file synchronization platforms ensures that the rising cost of IT hardware does not have to have an adverse effect on a company's balance sheet. Cloud platform providers offer customized storage, sharing, and workflow solutions that small and medium-sized business can afford. In addition to the cost arbitrage, an Internet storage solution is also far more scalable, allowing the addition of thousands of concurrent users. This has several practical applications during or after a natural disaster, such as allowing employees from affected locations to transfer their workload to staff elsewhere.

Cloud document management software and file-sharing platforms continue to evolve to meet the dynamic needs of growing organizations. A cloud-based document management software or file-sharing platform can empower your business to face natural disasters with the assurance of continued operations and services.

Matt Peterson is the president and CEO of Lehi, Utah-based eFileCabinet, Inc.

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