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Preparing for Winter Weather: Remote Access & BCP Strategies

By Kaleigh Alessandro | Thursday, December 15th, 2011

When preparing for any type of disaster situation, many hedge funds and investment firms will focus on preparing their technology: making sure data is backed up, files are secure, and access to market data remains intact. But oftentimes, firms forget about the business and operations aspect that is equally as important to keeping a firm operational through a disaster.

DR planning guidebookIn any type of disaster situation, it becomes a necessity to have a business continuity plan in place. You’ll need to ensure your employees know how to access their technology and how to communicate with each other if they are unable to get to the office during bad weather. There are a variety of potential scenarios that could ensue with the winter season approaching. You can learn more about these scenarios and how to respond to them here (when your hedge fund office is not accessible) and here (when your office is accessible).

Regardless of the specific scenario, there are certain business continuity best practices that your firm should follow in order to ensure your business processes are not interrupted when the first snowstorm hits. 

The Importance of Communication

The reality is, you can have all the processes and procedures in place to prepare for a disaster, but if they are not properly communicated to your employees and external parties, then their effect will be minimal.

Start by determining who needs to be notified during a disaster, both internally and externally. In addition to employees and their families, you’ll want to consider the third-parties you work with regularly including investors, fund administrators, and other vendors. Once you know who to identify, the question is how to identify them. Consider using an automated messaging system that will send SMS (text) messages to all identified parties. Another good strategy is the use of wallet cards, which can be distributed to all internal parties and include information on alternate work locations and other business continuity instructions.

The key is remembering to start the communication process before you actually need to – while your technology is still available. Create a calling tree in advance of a disaster so each person understands who is responsible for notifying whom.

Finally, in order to ensure these messages are properly communicated, consider holding employee information sessions and conducting tabletop exercises internally to walk through formal processes and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Remote Access Technologies

When a winter disaster strikes, it’s very possible that employees will be forced to work from home or an alternative work location if they are unable to get into the office or the building is closed to tenants. But ensuring your employees actually know how to work remotely will go a long way in validating the effectiveness of your BCP plan.

There are a few different options for remote access, notably Virtual Private Network (VPN), Citrix, and Outlook Web Access (OWA).

  • VPN: IPSec or SSL VPN technologies work by connecting your home computer to that which resides in your office. You are able to “remote desktop” and run all of the applications which live on your work computer’s server.

  • Citrix: With a Citrix server, you are able to log into a website via any computer and get access to the applications that live on the Citrix server in your office. When you click any application icon, it will appear as if it is running locally despite being housed on your office server.

  • OWA: For those companies who use Microsoft Outlook for email, you can log into OWA to access your email account from an external computer.

Whichever technology or combination of technologies your firm decides to employ for remote access, the key is ensuring your employees know how to properly use them and test them prior to a disaster.

When talking about remote access, another consideration to keep in mind is licensing. SSL VPN and Citrix are both licensed by concurrent users, meaning the number of users accessing the technology at any given moment. As your firm adds new employees and users, remember to add licenses according. Unfortunately, you won’t realize you have fewer licenses than you need until a potential disaster hits.

Remote Test Plans

A remote test plan is an effective means of ensuring your employees can remain functional during a disaster and that your business will not be negatively affected. Following are steps your employees should take to ensure they can use remote access technology successfully during a winter disaster:

  • Validate successful communication to internal and external dependencies

  • Confirm full functionality of required applications

  • Perform all business functions

  • Confirm access to vital records

  • Redirect phones to home/mobile phone

You can also read our article on what is involved in a DR test

Ultimately, your business will remain operational and successful during any winter weather disaster that strikes if you ensure you have the proper processes and procedures in place, you communicate those procedures thoroughly to your employees and you encourage all personnel to test their remote access capabilities.

If you would like to learn more about the BCP process or to speak with an Eze Castle Certified Business Continuity Professional, please contact us.

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