Steve Ross: Forth crossing chaos hurting small business

Shackleton Technologies managing director Steve Ross
Shackleton Technologies managing director Steve Ross
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While the Forth Road Bridge was closed during December, small businesses felt the squeeze – but remote IT networks helped to keep the wheels of business turning.

While the Forth Road Bridge may have re-opened to cars, the storm around its closure rages on – failures to prepare, disruptions to businesses and the promise of a robust government inquiry. With over 24 million vehicles using the bridge annually, the tiny fracture found in one of the supports is causing chaos.

READ MORE: Delays ease as Forth Road Bridge reopens to traffic

While MSPs struggled to work out what went wrong and who to blame, tailbacks either side of the Forth created an army of angry commuters unable to reach work, and put small businesses across Scotland in jeopardy. December is crucial for small businesses that rely on the Christmas period to pick up the shortfall from the rest of the year. Organisations missing employees have few options: reduce or suspend services, or close up and wait for the storm to pass.

Remote possibilities

The disruption caused by the Forth Road Bridge closure is similar to the kind of scenarios business continuity plans (BCP) are put in place to deal with. Whether it be fire, flood or earthquake (less likely in Scotland), when an incident prevents employees reaching their workplace, BCPs may call for remote home-working – if an organisation’s IT infrastructure supports that.

Admittedly, it’s a little melodramatic to equate the bridge closure to disasters that shut businesses down, but the squeeze may have already had an impact – with cashflow issues and the absence of key personnel. A week or two of reduced cashflow can be devastating to a small business and, with problems mounting, the fact is, organisations adapted to remote work are better placed to maintain operational services through to the re-opening.

Numerous networking applications give Enterprise employees remote access to their workplace IT systems but this kind of infrastructure may be beyond the means of smaller organisations. Fortunately, viable home-working options are available to maintain your small business’ operational capacity during this kind of event.

Cloud power

For small businesses, cloud computing services are by far the most accessible platforms to facilitate remote work – and can be extended to personal mobiles and tablets. Services like Google Docs, Office 365 and LibreOffice allow for the storage, creation and editing of a range of professional documents – Office 365 in particular hosts impressive sharing and collaboration tools, meaning employees can remain productive as a team outside the office.

Similarly, apps – like Slack, Dropbox and Trello – offer their own remote functionality which can keep everyday work processes ticking over.

Not every business will be able to incorporate remote work into its everyday IT processes – at least, not at such short notice. While fingers are crossed across Scotland that the bridge repairs are swift and successful, small businesses should use this as a wake-up call to ensure that future disruption to normal service isn’t a lethal blow.

• Steve Ross is managing director of Shackleton Technologies