As a business headquartered in California, disaster preparedness has been a must since our earliest days in operation. Yesterday’s tragic earthquake in China and the spate of recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Taiwan, Turkey, Indonesia and Mexico—not to mention the blizzards, extreme weather and power outages that affected nearly every part of the U.S. during the winter—are reminders that every company should have a plan for how to continue its most critical operations in the event of a natural or other type of disaster.
Many companies already know what they’d need to do to ensure continuous operations, but if yours doesn’t, the best way to start is to identify your most important priorities and figure out what steps you can take to make sure no disaster will prevent you from delivering on them.
As an example, at Arena we provide software for capturing product data and managing product development. After the safety of our people, what’s most important is making the Arena service continuously available, and we’ve gone to great effort to make sure this happens. Our primary site has full internal redundancy with automated recovery mechanisms, and we maintain a full-capacity disaster recovery site. We choose vendors carefully and fully qualify their products before relying on them in production. (Our collocation providers, for example, are officially designated as “critical infrastructure” and thus have priority for resupply in a disaster.) The bonus is that by building a system to withstand a catastrophic occurrence, we’ve built a system that’s largely immune to minor incidents and as a result has had 99.98% lifetime uptime.
If manufactured products are your business, your first priority is most likely being able to continue supplying those products to your customers. You should have a detailed business continuity plan that’s specific to your company’s situation, but here are some fairly universal steps that can help you mitigate, avoid and/or overcome several of the major causes of disruption. Even better, you can start benefiting from these measures long before any disaster occurs.
Make sure your engineers and designers can access their work-in-progress even if they can’t get to their desks. You can do this by managing drawings, models and other CAD files in a vault (for instance, a product data management (PDM) system) and standardizing the configuration of your desktop machines. New product introduction schedules rarely have room for delays, and you don’t want your global launch threatened by a local disaster.
Bonus: When the lead designer’s hard drive crashes, you won’t lose weeks of work or fall weeks behind in development.
Know which critical components of your product are difficult to source, know which ones have long lead times—and know at least one alternate supplier for each. You don’t want to have to stop the manufacturing line just because a supplier’s operations are knocked out or its regional transportation systems are compromised.
Bonus: You may identify new sources that can provide critical components faster or less expensively.
Make sure your product information can’t get wiped out if a single facility is wiped out. Yes, not a surprise that we recommend managing mission-critical data in an on-demand (SaaS) tool like Arena, which has fully redundant systems and multiple sites backed up with its own continuity plan. But if you’re managing the data yourself, make sure you have the hardware and processes in place to regularly perform full backups, store them offsite and use them to periodically run test restores.
Bonus: When the power goes out at the office, your team can access information managed in the cloud from anywhere.
Have your bills of materials (BOMs) and assembly instructions in order in case your contract manufacturer (CM) or another critical supplier is hit by a disaster and you need to move production to another location. Again, Arena makes this easy by collecting information in a central location and allowing you to invite multiple partners in to get it, but you can also try to replicate this centralization with shared servers, a well-organized (and well-labeled) system of web folders and a designated person whose role is to consolidate the pieces and keep them updated as changes are made.
Bonus: When business is good and demand is high, you can quickly and painlessly bring on an additional CM or supplier to increase capacity.
In a true disaster, a well-constructed, well-executed business continuity plan can mean the difference between success and failure. These suggestions are not a substitute for that plan, but they’re relatively simple measures that will help position your company to withstand a disaster. And when you’re prepared for the big problems, you’ll find that the disruption and inefficiency caused by the small ones are dramatically reduced.