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Succession planning is vital for organizations of all sizes, but for small and medium sized businesses, it can be the difference between business continuity and business closure. Key to successful succession plans is managing digital legacies, but this is often a neglected area says Joe Siegrist…

Where small and medium-sized businesses and notably family-run businesses are concerned, a succession plan of sorts is often baked into long-term objectives. A large proportion of preparation is focused on making sure the person who takes over is ready for the role. But how can business owners prepare for an unexpected illness –or even worse- death?

Unsurprisingly, securing the digital legacy of the company in either eventuality is not top of the list for many business owners. While they can’t control the unexpected, it is possible to prepare for it in a relatively hassle-free manner. On the flipside, choosing not to have a business continuity plan in place should the worst happen risks causing chaos for associates and family members and can often result in the business dying with them.

The intricacies of a business’ digital life has propelled the need to prepare for the unexpected. Confidential information such as financials, healthcare policies, legal documents, supply chain companies and customer data can be rendered inaccessible to anyone trying to access them following an unexpected change in ownership. Online document storage and a plethora of communication tools has redesigned how data is accessed and it’s crucial for small business owners to preserve this digital property for the longer term: or risk the demise of everything they have spent their lives building up.

Joe Siegrist, VP and GM of LastPass has the following tips for small and medium sized business owners to prepare for their digital afterlife and ensure business continuity:

Don’t forget about a digital estate plan

When preparing for the unexpected, you want to be sure that your digital assets stay with the business and that somebody remaining with the business has the proper authority to access what you leave behind. It’s quite common for digital businesses to formulate an estate plan when they are preparing for a change. With this in mind, a digital estate plan is a single online document where a business uploads all business directives as well as trusts and wills with instructions on how to proceed. Businesses that have not given this any thought should nominate a trusted individual to be the digital heir.

Evaluate the business’ online accounts

Maintaining an inventory for business related online assets such as email accounts, social media accounts and website domain names is critical to ensuring the safe keeping of your intangible personal property. This is easier for smaller businesses as opposed to medium-sized enterprises who manage suppliers, vendors and clients and more – but both need to be prepared. Cataloguing usernames and passwords from payroll to Wi-Fi configurations is of paramount importance. A password manager is a simple and secure way to keep track of these. If the information is stored in this way and securely logged, someone will be able to pick up right where the business owner left off. Look for one which includes a ‘sharing centre’ as it makes the process a lot less painful: passwords can be easily handed down and it’s even possible to have emergency access permissions in place.

Social media accounts need a plan too

At best, it is difficult for another person to get hold of social media passwords without the consent of a business owner. At worst, personal accounts associated with the business may be deleted if network owners receive notification that a person has passed away. Facebook offers a legacy contact function while Google also has measures in place to allow a person to nominate a successor or carer to manage Gmail, Google+, YouTube and more. What is clear is there is no continuity between website offerings which makes it vitally important for businesses to create a recovery plan suited to the business.

Businesses take little risk with the day-to-day running of processes, but often leave the digital future to chance. While certain factors are out of control, foresight and preparation are the two key ingredients to creating a successful continuity plan for the business, and minimise emotional and financial consequences. The important thing is not just who will take over, but how they will do it.

The author

Joe Siegrist, VP and GM of LastPass.

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Business continuity can be defined as 'the processes, procedures, decisions and activities to ensure that an organization can continue to function through an operational interruption'. Read more about the basics of business continuity here.

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