What happens to your business when the crap hits the fan? The sort of trouble I am talking about is fire, flood, terrorism, earthquake – nature and man-made disasters that could kill your business stone dead, especially if you run a conventional company with all your computers, server system, backup facilities in one place. Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place if the takeaway food shop on the ground floor goes up in smoke and takes your first floor office with it? Will your entire business be vapourised?

Few SME companies have a disaster recovery plan in place and I suspect even fewer have ever carried out a risk analysis. But help is at hand.

Let’s assume that yours is one of several trillion companies that have never carried out a risk analysis, rarely backs up its data, those backups are on a tape or DVD in your top drawer and your entire staff works at one building that has just been torched. You can avoid the inevitable business meltdown by building a business continuity plan based on cloud computing.

This relies on all workstations having Internet access or having the ability to feed your server onto the Internet. If you are self employed or a business with less than 10 direct Net access is easily sorted. Any larger and you probably have an IT guy who should have sorted this out for you anyway!

If you use Microsoft Office then you should look at it’s Live Office service which links your deskbound suite with a mirror image webside. All Word documents and Excel spreadsheets when saved are “beamed” webside to the Live Office account.

Virtual Offices – Zoho and Google Apps

The alternative is a virtual office facility such as Zoho or Google Apps, let’s take the latter as I will be create a series of posts on setting up and using Google Apps in the not too distant future. If you are a true SME Google Apps is free up to 50 users and there are email limitations per email account of 500 external mails but you can upgrade to the premium edition.

A full explanation of the difference is on the Google Apps pages. The beauty of going through Google Apps is that you can retain the your.name@yourcompany.,com address style and maintain a proper business image rather than relying on staff to use their college webmail address with some embarrassing nom de plume.

The point of all this is that if your bricks and mortar disappear in a puff of smoke then your employees can work from their home PCs and access all the important documents in the cloud. If relocation could be a lengthy process you may need to consider buying computers and an Internet service for those staff who do not have them. If staff feel unhappy about using home or private mobile phones for business go and buy the cheapest deal you can for voice services.

Online Collaboration Services

The beauty of cloud based office working is that you can share documents. If Joe is working on a project with Mary and they live 25 miles apart they can work on the same documents in real time.

Consolidate that office atmosphere by using an online collaboration service such as DeskAway or WizeHive which will enable your staff to keep track of what is going on, who is doing what, share information, update each other and even have online chats depending on the service you choose. Another option for real time online communication is Google Wave which is still very much in its infancy but does work in a basic manner. All this will help with keeping the business going while the guy from the insurance company kicks the ashes and clears the way for a cheque to be signed to get you re-housed.

Backing up your data is essential and to store it in the cloud makes a heck of a lot of sense even if you use a belt and braces approach and use two service providers. The two I’d recommend you have a look at are Mozy and SugarSync. Mozy is a backup service plain and simple whereas SugarSync also allows file sharing and a lot more besides.

This post just skims the surface. More information can be found at Wikibon and at Davepress.net. There is also a series of articles on homeworking on The Anywhere Office run by Phil Montero.