After working out of a Starbucks for most of the past two weeks, it's safe to say that without the mega coffee chain, my work life would have been much more difficult following superstorm Sandy. Starbucks and other similar chains, such as Panera Bread, have become business continuity (BC) providers for many professionals in the New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. In a way, they are unofficial "cloud" BC providers.
In full disclosure, my home in northern New Jersey was without power until last weekend and it still remains without cable service, which includes my internet access. Like many of my neighbors, a Starbucks a few miles away that never lost power or internet connectivity has served as a lifeline -- both to our respective offices, but also to our increasingly wired lives (online banking, services, news and basically everything).
[For a tale of how customer experience matters even more during times of crisis, read Cash Still Rules: 2 Sandy Tales of Customer Service.]
In the days I've camped out at Starbucks, I've shared a table with a mortgage broker, software developer, HR professional, small business owner, financial advisors and an attorney, to name a few. One web designer even brought his Mac Mini Server along with him so his coworkers at other locations could connect.
There were times at this particular Starbucks location when people sat on the floor because all of the seats were filled. Patrons, like myself, brought power strips to allow our more of our new coworkers to power up cell phones and continue to run their laptops.
At the recent Insurance & Technology Executive Summit, which allowed me to get out of Starbucks for a few days, a number of attendees from the tristate area told similar stories about using Starbucks or a local library branch as makeshift office following the storm.
In all, these business continuity plans are pretty good arrangements. Most of us would at least by a cup of coffee, although there was no requirement to do so. So Starbucks was happy. Yes, the web would slow to a crawl at times when too many of us were downloading large files or streaming too much digital content. But for the most part, it hasn't been all that bad.
The best part of this type of business continuity plan is that it is almost like a cloud service. By that, I mean that I can go to any Starbucks location to receive the same level of service and I can move to a different location if one loses power or connectivity, much like how a cloud provider can shift load to different facilities based on demand.
But could a larger organization rely on free wifi at local establishments as part of a BC plan? Likely not, although small shops -- such as the independent financial advisor who sat at my table -- could do it temporarily.