Last fall’s Superstorm Sandy provided a major wake-up call for small and mid-size businesses--at least those in the Northeast Corridor. Who could have imagined the kind of disruptions and outages that shut down the entire Northeast for weeks? 

Well, hurricane season is coming up again. And while it’s unlikely that kind of event will occur two years in a row, the last few years have seen a rash of hurricanes, tornados and floods, from coast to coast and across points in between.

It doesn’t take a once-in-a-hundred-years kind of storm to trigger a power outage or disk failure. If you operate a small or mid-size business, now is the time to make sure you have the right continuity plans in place. There is good news: The emergence of cloud services now enables every business to have the kind of continuity plans that bigger companies routinely do. Thinking ahead can make all the difference in ensuring your business is ready for anything.

Take a friend of mine who runs a distribution business. His office didn’t suffer any physical damage from Sandy, but it was without power for a week. Because all of his technology was on site--including his phone system, servers, exchange servers and information storage--the business literally had to shut down until power was restored. The result was lost revenue and productivity.

Contrast that with my own company. We lost power for two full weeks when the lower half of Manhattan went dark. But our services reside off site with cloud-based solutions. Our employees quickly tracked down co-workers who had power. Email never stopped functioning, enabling everyone to communicate seamlessly between each other and clients. Data files were accessible. Launchpad was able to work in an ad hoc, distributed fashion without a single missed deadline or deliverable and clients were not impacted in any way. For two weeks we were a virtual company but fully functional.

Some basic things every business should consider that can make all the difference:

Hosted Microsoft Exchange - Let’s face it, when email is down business grinds to a halt, and having your exchange server on site is a recipe for disaster. By moving this function to the cloud you ensure that your company email, calendar sharing and contacts directory work even when your office doesn’t, while removing the cost and complexity of managing hardware. 

Hosted VoIP - If your business relies at all on getting calls from customers then strongly consider moving to a Hosted VoIP (Voice over IP) solution. Like hosted exchange, this solution moves the "smarts" of your phone system into the cloud. If something happens that take your office offline, it is easy to transfer calls to anywhere, and voicemail messages come in the form of email messages sent directly to the user. 

Cloud Storage - Imagine a fire or flood in your office. Would you lose all of your data?  A variety of studies have found that as many as 60 percent of businesses that lose their data go out of business within six months. If you haven’t already explored a cloud storage solution, start looking immediately.

Software Applications - Many software applications that used to live on each computer are now available in the cloud, and there are many advantages.  For instance as an advertising agency the Adobe Creative Suite is critical for us, and we learned during Sandy that when disaster strikes not everyone had the latest versions on their home computers. Adobe’s recent move to the cloud ensures that everyone is always working on the latest software from anywhere on any computer. Even more basic applications like QuickBooks have cloud versions. These solutions are move reliable and available than their desktop versions and easily enable businesses to function from nearly anywhere.