Auto dealers' must-do list in preparation for a natural disaster sure became longer because of what happened to the Gulf Coast states this year.
Let's focus on one area that is easily overlooked: data system security and recovery.
Even if you aren't in a hurricane zone, perform a periodic full-system “save” on your computer servers. Performing a nightly back-up is a good practice, but it's not the same as a full-system save, which ensures that you have all of the data and programs preserved on tape or disc.
Also, when conducting full-system saves and nightly back-ups, make a special effort not to leave the tapes or discs in the system or even in the building when the task has been completed.
I have spoken with clients affected by the hurricanes who told me that it took weeks to get back into their damaged dealerships. When I asked where the back-up tapes or discs were stored, most of them told me they were left on or near the server.
In almost every case, we found that the backed-up data, as well as the CPU, had been inundated with water and rendered useless.
You probably think your IT manager would never make such a simple mistake. To be on the safe side, ask your system administrator to show you where he stored last night's back-up tape and your last full-system save.
If you find these items are stored anywhere within the four walls of your store, you need to be concerned.
In addition to backing-up and saving data from your main dealership management system server, protect data and programs on all of your PCs.
Do you have PCs in use that house critical business information such as factory financial statements, bank records, employee information, scanned images, correspondence and other records?
Is there a person at your store responsible for backing up these systems down to the document level, including the operating system?
When I visit dealerships, I am often amazed at the lack of attention that is given to backing up computer data. In most stores I visit, no nightly back-up has been run to protect the previous day's business. Nor has there been a system save of the main servers.
In the stores that do carry-out routine back-ups, more often than not I can literally touch the tapes or discs while keeping one hand on the server itself.
In the case of a disaster like the ones we've recently witnessed, having all of your backed-up data stored at a separate facility is vital.
Fortunately, many dealerships have started to outsource these responsibilities by using an ASP (application service provider) with off-site storage.
This relieves some of the burden, but does not completely minimize your risk. Just as important is the backing up of data and programs from employees' individual PCs.
To see how devastating it would be to lose data and applications from a single PC, try the following test. On a slow morning, tell your comptroller he or she cannot use a PC for the rest of the day.
At lunch, sit down with your comptroller and list the functions he or she couldn't perform without a PC. Determine which ones rely upon data or information that was solely stored on that PC. You will realize that backing up PCs is as critical as backing up your servers. (And give the PC back after lunch.)
System providers can provide data back-up support to your server as well as PCs on a daily basis. In the event of a failure or disaster, this guarantees full restoration with all of the programs and files.
Matt Parsons is vice president of sales, marketing and portfolio management for the Automotive Retail Group of ADP Dealer Services.