Process Automation Enhances Disaster Recovery Plans

As published in Lehigh Valley Business on February 29, 2016

Disasters – natural or otherwise – are hardly pleasant topics to think about. But if you’re a business owner, the time to start planning for a worst-case scenario is well before it happens.

Imagine, for instance, what would happen to your company in the event of an after-hours fire. How about a malfunctioning sprinkler system soaking your office and everything in it? Worse, a tornado?

Even assuming all your employees are safe – the highest priority, obviously – any of these instances could easily cause irreparable harm to your business. According to an Institute for Business and Home Safety study, 25 percent of companies fail to reopen after major disasters.

Fortunately, while disasters can’t be totally prevented, you can dramatically increase the odds of your business surviving one. With the right plans and processes in place, you can start to ensure the continuity of your business practices, as well as the survival of your mission-critical documents and data. Here are three ways to prepare for whatever tomorrow may bring.

1. Document Imaging and Digital Backups

Critical information stored on paper represents one of the most common disaster planning vulnerabilities for businesses. If paper burns, it’s gone. If paper gets wet, it’s expensive, or sometimes impossible, to recover the document contents. If a well-intentioned employee misfiles a paper, it’s a manual search party that may never find it. And when the paper is gone or damaged beyond repair, the information it contains is gone, too.

The answer is to remove as much paper as possible from company processes through the use of document imaging – essentially the enterprise term for scanning. Documents can be imaged as one large project as part of a “backfile conversion,” or digitized individually or in small batches within an automated workflow. Either way, the result is the same – information once locked away in a single, unsecure form moves into the secure digital realm. Stored properly there, it’s essentially indestructible.

Better yet, modern optical character recognition software can “read” documents as they’re imaged, creating editable (and searchable) text, dramatically reducing manual labor in common workflows and creating highly structured, indexed file repositories with minimal effort. Thus, in addition to being safe from a rogue sprinkler head, digitized documents can help companies significantly increase their productivity.

2. Automated Business Processes

The more business processes rely on secure technology, the less risk there is at any one location. Think, for instance, about a company with a highly automated, digitized accounts payable workflow. When an invoice arrives via email, it’s routed for approval digitally, processed on-screen, automatically associated with related documents and filed in the accounting or enterprise resource planning system. Assuming the relevant systems are either redundant or hosted in the cloud, the loss of any single location or piece of equipment doesn’t stop the workflow – all information, documents and actions remain fully functional.

This is particularly helpful if an event closes the office. Remember that three-foot snowstorm last month? If that had hit on a Monday, how much would your company have accomplished on Tuesday? The answer is probably “not much.” But if you can be productive with as little as a laptop, Wi-Fi connection and a cup of coffee, business keeps happening, regardless of the circumstances.

3. Offsite Partners

Taking process automation one step further, choosing trusted offsite partners to complete tasks further insulates your company from catastrophic loss. Many companies, for example, use third-party vendors for accounts receivable. Checks and digital cash transfers arrive at the vendor’s secure facility rather than the company itself. Checks are imaged for record-keeping purposes, deposited electronically and credited to the company’s bank account as quickly as overnight. It’s completely hands-off for the company, and labor – as well as redundancy and disaster preparedness – is handled by experts. When you can trust an offsite vendor, the time and effort required to accomplish mission-critical tasks are dramatically reduced.

Consider how business process automation could help your company be more prepared to continue operations or recover after a disaster. From flood and fire to theft and carelessness, there are any number of threats to your ability to do business. But with a few simple steps – migrating critical information to a secure digital environment, eliminating failure-prone manual steps in your processes and tapping expert third-party resources when possible – you can mitigate your risk – and make your everyday a little easier, too.

– By Tom Tripodi