A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing ? Part 3

Strengthens business continuity/disaster recovery capabilities

Today’s business landscape calls for companies to have reliable business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities. After all, when the system goes down, customers and even employees would rarely ask ‘why‘ or ‘what happened‘ but instead go directly to the ‘how soon can we get back up‘ part.

So unless they’ve been struck by the same unforeseen disaster your business is also experiencing, a couple of hours downtime is plenty enough for most of these people. What’s worse is when they simply don’t wait until they get access again and just go to other providers that can offer the same services. In short, your inability to provide continuous IT and business services could translate to lost opportunities which your competition would only be too willing to gain. And that’s not even counting the possibility of losing essential data and other potential negative impact that critical IT failure can bring about.

The answer to avoiding such a scenario is of course, having a sound business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place. But this is actually easier said than done.

Traditionally, setting up a business continuity plan entailed some tedious procedures in addition to very costly infrastructure. We’re talking here about acquiring and maintaining practically a replication of the hardware infrastructure and environments currently existing for business-critical systems and data. Note that these mirror systems should be set-up, housed, and maintained in a remote facility or location.

Making the deployment even more complex is the constant need to update the data in storage as well as keep software applications in sync between the system in use and the one on standby mode. This process would involve the physical transfer of data and syncing of applications, which is cumbersome and again, expensive.

While large enterprises would not even think twice about having to spend so much to ensure that operations would never come to a grinding halt, most small and mid-sized organisations would not have the required financial means for them to even start considering this option. Often, the bulk of their disaster recovery plan would simply consist of some tape backups, and a lot of hoping that they would never have to suffer from any outage or IT failure.

But all that can be changed with the arrival of cloud computing.

A cloud strategy offers an affordable solution for business continuity and disaster recovery for SMBs with limited resources and even big companies trying to minimise expenses by looking for alternative options.

A reliable service provider would already have the required infrastructure and software vital to a viable BC/DR plan and complete with the appropriate security measures. Organisations need not spend upfront for these facilities, but get to benefit from having updated data backup and a virtualised mirror system that would allow them to quickly get back up in the event of an outage or catastrophic disaster.

When looking to the cloud for a cost-effective BC/DR plan however, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all cloud providers are created equal. That’s why businesses also have many important factors to take into account before signing cloud contracts.

Yes, provision for continuity and and taking necessary precautions against outages are inherent in the cloud service itself, but you’d be surprised how many of these providers don’t actually take responsibility for service interruption. To give organisations some assurance of the cloud company’s capacity for continued service, contracts should stipulate availability guarantees and liability for downtime that the provider is willing to answer for.

Once these relevant issues are ironed out however, it’s easy for business to see how cloud-based data storage and computing can significantly lower the costs involved for SMB BC/DR while greatly improving efficiency, mobility, and collaboration capabilities.

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2015 ESOS Guidelines Chapter 7, 8 & 9 – Sign-Off, Compliance & Appeals

This is the final chapter in our series of short posts summarising the quite complex ESOS guidelines (click on ?Comply with ESOS? to see the details). This one addresses the legalities to follow to complete your report – and how to appeal if you are not happy with any of the Environment Agency?s decisions.

  1. Director Sign-Off

This is by no means an easy ride. Confirmation of the work at individual or lead assessor level locks the company into the penalty cycle in the event there are significant irregularities. By signing off the assessment, the board level director(s) # agree that they have

  • Reviewed the enterprise?s ESOS recommendations
  • Believe the enterprise is within the scope of the scheme
  • Believe the enterprise is compliant with the scheme
  • Believe the information provided is correct

Having an internal assessor requires a second board-level signature.

  1. Compliance

You report compliance on the internet. This is free and you can do it at any time within the deadline. You can dip in and out of the process as many times as you wish, but must use the link in the receipting email. While this is something a board member must do, there is no reason why the lead assessor should not complete the basics. The online compliance notification addresses the following topics:

  • The ESOS contact person in the enterprise
  • Any aggregation / dis-aggregation during the period
  • The names and contact details of the lead assessor
  • The proportion of energy consumption per compliance route

The Environment Agency will acknowledge receipt. This does not constitute acceptance. You should keep the ESOS evidence pack in a safe place with at least one backup elsewhere.

  1. Compliance & Enforcement Issues

In the event the Environment Agency decides your enterprise has not met ESOS requirements, it may either (a) issue a compliance notice with instructions, or (b) apply one of the following civil penalties:

  • A fine of up to ?5,000 for failure to maintain records
  • A fine of up to ?50,000 for failure to undertake an energy audit
  • A fine of up to ?50,000 for a false or misleading statement

Any enterprise has the right of appeal against government decisions. In the case of ESOS, this is via:

  • The First-Tier Tribunal if your enterprise is England, Wales or off-shore based
  • The Scottish Minister if your enterprise is based in Scotland
  • The Planning Commission if your enterprise is Northern Ireland-based

The notice you appeal against will supply details of the appeal steps to take.

This blog and its companion chapters concerning the ESOS Guidelines as amended 2015 are with compliments of ecoVaro. We are the people who break ESOS data into manageable chunks of information, so that board-level directors have greater confidence in what they sign.

Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

Fraudulent manipulations in company Excel files have already resulted in Billion-Dollar losses. The main underlying reason behind this spreadsheet vulnerability is the inherent lack of controls, which makes it so easy to alter either formulas, values, or dependencies without being detected.


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1. Vulnerable to Fraud

Of all the spreadsheet disadvantages listed here, this is perhaps the most damaging. Fraudulent manipulations in company Excel files have already resulted in Billion-Dollar losses. The main underlying reason behind this spreadsheet vulnerability is the inherent lack of controls, which makes it so easy to alter either formulas, values, or dependencies without being detected.

2. Susceptible to trivial human errors

While fraud will always be a threat to spreadsheet systems, there is a more significant threat that should make you seriously consider getting rid of these outdated systems. And that is its extreme susceptibility to even trivial human errors. Missed negative signs and misaligned rows may sound harmless.

But when they damage investor confidence or cause a considerable loss of opportunity amounting to millions of dollars (Are we serious? Google up ?spreadsheet horror stories? to find out), you should understand that it?s time to move on to better alternatives.

3. Difficult to troubleshoot or test

So how about testing spreadsheets to mitigate the risks of items 1 and 2? Good luck. Spreadsheets just aren?t built for that. It?s not uncommon to have interrelated spreadsheet data scattered across different folders, workstations, offices, or even geographical locations.

Worse, even if you are able pinpoint the locations of every related file, tracing the logic of formulas from one related cell to another can take ages. It?s pretty obvious now how you?ll also encounter a similar problem when troubleshooting questionable data.

4. Obstructive to regulatory compliance

Combine items 1, 2, and 3, and what do you get? A big headache impacting regulatory compliance. There are number of regulations that have a serious impact on the use of spreadsheets.

Some of the many regulations that impact spreadsheet systems include:

And to think it looks like regulatory bodies are just getting warmed up. Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a surge in regulations that directly affect spreadsheet-based systems. Now, you tell me that you haven?t wished there was a better way to beat regulatory compliance deadlines. Well, if you?re still using spreadsheets, then there certainly is a better way.

5. Unfit for agile business practices

We’re now in an age when major changes are shaping and reshaping the business landscape. Mergers and Acquisitions, Management Buyouts, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, uprisings, climate change, new technologies, and so on. If your business is not agile enough to adapt to such changes, it could easily be left behind or even face extinction.

Spreadsheets are normally created by individuals who have not the slightest know-how regarding software documentation. In the end, spreadsheet files become highly personalised user developed applications. So when it?s time for a new person to take over as part of a large scale business change, the newcomer may have to start from scratch.

Read further about Implementing Large-Scale Business Change

 

6. Not designed for collaborative work

Planning, forecasting, budgeting, and reporting are all collaborative activities. In other words, plans, forecasts, budgets, and reports typically require information from different individuals belonging to different departments. In addition, the final documents are a result of multiple exchanges of data, ideas, and files.

Now, if your company?s offices are scattered throughout the country or if certain team members are separated by large distances, the only way to exchange data stored in spreadsheets is through email.

Experience will tell you that such a method of exchange is susceptible to duplicate and even erroneous data. Team members will tend to find it hard to keep track of similar files going back and forth, and sometimes even end up sending the wrong version.

7. Hard to consolidate

When it comes to simple data entry and quick ad hoc data analysis tasks, spreadsheets are highly favoured by end users. This has made them one of the most ubiquitous office tools on the planet. But as a consequence, data in spreadsheet-based systems are distributed throughout the organisation.

So when it’s time to generate reports, you’ll really have to go through a slow consolidation process. In most cases, end users would have to collect data from different files, summarise them, and submit the same to their department heads through emails, portable storage media (e.g. CDs or USB flash-drives), or by copying to a commonly shared network folder.

Department heads would have to undergo a similar process before submitting them to their own superiors. This has to go on until all the information reaches their organisation’s top decision makers. Throughout the entire consolidation process, data is subjected to numerous error-prone activities such as copy-pasting, cell entry, and range specification.

8. Incapable of supporting quick decision making

In a spreadsheet-based environment, extracting data from different departments, consolidating them, and summarising the information so that it could aid the company’s top brass in making sound decisions can be very time consuming.

And because we know how susceptible spreadsheets are to errors, everyone involved in the information processing has to be ultra careful to keep the integrity of the data intact. Hence it would be prudent to enforce double-checking as much as possible.

This extra but necessary exercise can further delay the process. So, when the final information arrives at the hands of the top executive, he may not have much time to work with. (Read about Business Intelligence)

9. Unsuited for business continuity

As mentioned earlier, data in spreadsheet systems are never kept in a single place. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The worse thing about it is that they’re always in the hands of non-IT personnel, who are understandably not familiar with storage and backup best practices.

Thus, if a major disaster strikes, full data recovery can be very difficult if not impossible. As a consequence, even if the company has financial reserves, the absence of data (e.g. accounts receivable records, customer records, and inventory) to work on can prevent the company from making a quick restart.

10. Scales poorly

As an organisation grows, data in spreadsheet-based systems get more distributed; subsequently compounding the issues outlined above. It is absolutely not advisable for a large organisation to keep using spreadsheets.

 

More Spreadsheet Blogs

Spreadsheet Risks in Banks

Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry

How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud

Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence

Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?

Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment

Spreadsheet Fraud

Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework

Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations

Spreadsheet Risk Issues

Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back

Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

 

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Denizon’s Business Continuity Services

Disruptions to business operations can be as catastrophic as a Hurricane Katrina or a 9/11 or as relatively trivial as a minor power outage or a planned shutdown. What ever the gravity, scope and duration the disruption has, your company should be able to handle each situation so that you can declare “business as usual” and really mean it. (more…)

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