Lessons learned in small- and medium-sized businesses for ensuring efficient and resilient IT that is able to react quickly to external crises
In early 2020, the unexpected happened: An airborne virus emerged that conquered the world within weeks. It resulted in a widespread pandemic — and on its destructive path, it uprooted established business workflows worldwide. Konica Minolta immediately shifted its operations from working in the office to complete remote working within days — this affected more than 9,000 employees in Europe alone. Businesses around the world were forced to do the same, and some—like Konica Minolta—fared better than others. The pandemic was a stark reminder of how volatile our everyday work reality can be in the wake of external crises and disruptions. They do not have to come in the form of a global crisis, however; local incidents limited to a region, an industry, a single company, or even individuals within a team are in fact far more likely. Such incidents nonetheless also have the potential to cause significant disruptions to large, medium-sized and small businesses alike. With such a multitude of potentially disrupting scenarios, is it even possible to prepare for such events? When it comes to IT, the short answer is: yes, if you have a resilient, secure and flexible IT and a trusted partner that provides quick and swift reaction. Another added benefit: As well as preparing businesses for crises, these measures can also help achieve efficiency gains.
"There are external shocks that you can see coming in advance and that allow for some 'last-minute preparations' — but others strike completely out of the blue", says Olaf Lorenz, Senior General Manager Digital Transformation Division, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe: "In either case, when it comes to IT, being generally prepared for potential issues is the best way to secure a more favourable outcome.
Scenarios for such disruptions can also have a large geographic fallout, for example natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, wildfires — or the recent pandemic. They can also come in the form of political unrest, or basic service interruptions such as large black outs. The common factor for all of these scenarios is that they tend to disrupt entire value creation chains rather than just affect one specific business. Other external crises can be limited to a specific area or business: These include accidents such as fires, network interruptions and criminal activities like theft, cyber-attacks, vandalism or blackmail. Disruption can also have its roots in personal, individual crises — an accident made by a decision maker, a sudden need for an employee to change their working pattern due to having to take care of a sick relative, and so on.
Resisting pessimistic fatalism and embracing prepared optimism
"Making yourself aware of all the potential threats to your business can be disheartening", says Yoann Fortini, IT Services Go-To-Market Senior Manager, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe — especially for small- and medium-sized companies: "Yet, it is necessary to analyse the risks, determine potential outcomes and then find solutions to prepare for them in an appropriate and intelligent way. Pessimistic fatalism is neither helpful nor necessary." For IT experts, identifying the potential outcomes of these external crises is the next crucial step.
One of the most common results of these incidents is data loss, whether temporary or permanent. Other results include not being able to access physical offices, workplaces or networks, stolen or destroyed equipment, breaches of data confidentiality or privacy, sudden unavailability of skilled (IT) team members, or an unexpected need for employees to work remotely. "It is at this level of analysis that many sceptical clients realise the potential for preparation: While you may not be able to prevent most catastrophes from happening, you can easily ensure that some negative consequences do not materialise — or mitigate their impact. This allows for a more optimistic approach — it shows you that you can stay in control", says Konica Minolta's IT Services Go-To-Market Senior Manager.
Preparing: Setting up efficient and shock resilient IT
Yoann Fortini highlights that this does necessitate extra costs. "Efficiency and efficacy are key to not unnecessarily burdening your organisation". In many cases, synergies can be achieved by using modern digital processes to help improve an organisation's efficiency and prepare it for potential crises at the same time.
Being prepared for remote working is a perfect example: Not only does it allow employees to flexibly work from any external location—be it from home or from a customer’s premises—it also makes it possible for them to continue working even if the office is inaccessible for any reason. "Had the current pandemic struck a mere decade earlier, its impact on businesses around the world would have been far more devastating", says Olaf Lorenz. Luckily, many organisations like Konica Minolta already had remote workplace solutions that allowed for their knowledge workers to seamlessly continue their work from home, with no or only minor interruptions. It does not take a full-blown global pandemic for businesses to imagine the value of remote work with regard to external shocks — examples can be as mundane as a hefty snowstorm or a workers' strike in public transportation. In addition, the ability to work remotely can provide highly valuable flexibility if personal circumstances require an employee to change work routines. If the employee is suddenly required to take care of a relative, for example, remote work can help them bring together personal responsibilities and work. "Unfortunately, such a scenario is not uncommon and can in fact cause significant disruptions in organisations. Here, the ability to work remotely can be a huge relief both for the employee and the company. As there is an ongoing shortage of skilled labour, this benefits the company by allowing it to keep a valuable employee working", Olaf Lorenz explains.
In a similar way to remote working, cloud-based solutions for data storage and information management can provide both efficiency and security advantages. They can replace costly and inflexible on-premises servers with pay-per-use models, ensuring better flexibility both financially and in terms of capacity. It also makes the organisation's valuable data less vulnerable to localised incidents, from fires, to floods, to hardware theft. Providers such as Konica Minolta have strong protective measures in place for securing their customers' data that are simply not feasible for smaller companies to take for their own servers. If data needs to be stored on-site, however, hybrid IT solutions or automated and managed backup services help protect businesses from catastrophic data loss. This can be the case when local storage has benefits with regard to processing speeds or legal requirements, for example. These measures ensure that business-critical data can quickly be recovered and made accessible with very limited process interruptions.
Preparation is also key in mitigating risks from criminal attacks or other malicious activities, whether virtual or physical. Hackers are increasingly targeting businesses large and small using ransomware. Ransomware encrypts the data storage of infected devices. The cyber criminals then demand money in return for a decryption. The number of such attacks has recently increased at an alarming rate. In 2020, 51 percent of businesses surveyed by Sophos reported that they were targeted by Ransomware attacks. "The attackers exploit the fact that in businesses, data access is worth ‘real money’, as opposed to private data, where it is often more sentimental in value. This is why it is often easier to extort businesses to transfer the requested sums, which makes them a more promising target", Yoann Fortini explains. "Whether it's contract information, shipping documents or invoices — barring access to data can cause firms significant financial losses. Smaller companies are particularly vulnerable, as many do not have the adequate precautionary measures in place that are more common in larger organisations." However, it is possible to fend off many attacks using inexpensive IT security solutions. "In fact, many of our small- and medium-sized business customers are surprised to see how a small solution can have a big impact with regard to IT security", says Konica Minolta's IT Services Go-To-Market Senior Manager from his experience with SMB customers.
Another security aspect frequently overlooked in small- and medium-sized businesses is physical premises security — this is especially common if the business is not in the customer-facing retail sector. Break-ins and theft cause two types of cost: On the one hand, there is the cost of the direct value of the stolen items themselves. On the other hand, there are the indirect costs for higher insurance fees and process disruptions due to missing hardware and the costs of replacement, with these indirect costs often being more expensive than the direct costs. These can include time-intensive new tenders, installation costs, etc.
It is possible to effectively protect premises from unauthorised access using modern, state-of-the-art smart video monitoring devices, he explains: "At Konica Minolta Supplies Manufacturing, S.A.S, our production site for toners in France, we had a problem with theft on several occasions at the facility. We were able to effectively resolve this issue with our Mobotix smart video solutions DualDome D15 and M15 thermal cameras for day and night monitoring and M25 and V25 high performance lenses. These measures significantly improved security on-site." This exemplifies the fact that break-ins and burglaries are not a risk that a business simply has to accept — there are effective counter-measures available at an affordable cost.
Resolution: What to do when an external crisis hits an SMB
A lot can be done to prepare for external crises and mitigate their impact. Yet, it is in the nature of such crises to strike at an unexpected time or take on forms that cannot be anticipated. The current pandemic is probably the best example of this. Even with capable IT, quick reaction is key to successfully navigating such incidents. Depending on the incident itself, external IT support can provide a helping hand in swiftly resolving the issue at hand. "Take disaster recovery as an example", says Yoann Fortini: "When one of our customers loses access to its data, for example due to fire in one location, a managed backup solution allows us to immediately recover the data required to quickly continue work from a different location with minimal process interruptions. Our local support teams are there to step into action immediately."
A long-term trusted IT service partner is a valuable asset, even under ordinary circumstances. In times of crisis, however, an expert partner with a profound understanding of the company, its work processes and its IT setup can make a decisive difference to the fate of the entire business. "I highly recommend finding such a partner early on. Even if a service partner such as Konica Minolta is happy to provide fast support to a new customer in need as well — in such a situation, time is of the absolute essence. I would argue that this is probably the most important preparation step of all: Having a partner you can quickly turn to in such situations", Yoann Fortini states.
This can also be the case if a team member in a company responsible for IT suddenly becomes unavailable, for example due to a sudden illness, or simply because they leave the company. With the skilled labour shortage in IT, this can quickly become a significant issue for a small- or medium-sized company, as they tend to have only one or two employees responsible for their entire IT setup. A managed service partner such as Konica Minolta can then quickly take over even business-critical IT tasks, provide an IT helpdesk for employees and so on.
Stronger together: Making the best of difficult situations
With all the hardships businesses in particular had to endure with the current pandemic, it has demonstrated the value resilient and agile IT has for a company of any size. It can keep business operational even under difficult circumstances. Arguably even more importantly, it has also shown that resilient IT and modern workflows go hand in hand. In fact, businesses that had set course for offering their employees modern, digital workplace solutions early on were those that adapted best to the changed work circumstances during the pandemic.
This is a strong example of how being prepared for a crisis must not be seen as a mere cost factor but a holistic approach for future, with crisis-proofing IT of an organisation being the best way forwards. Here, small- and medium-sized businesses can benefit most from working with a strong partner such as Konica Minolta. "Powerful IT and a trusted partner can enable small companies to make a huge leap forward", Olaf Lorenz concludes.
 Sophos, State of the ransomware Report (2020): https://secure2.sophos.com/en-us/content/state-of-ransomware.aspx#formFrame