Building Reality into Your Disaster Recovery Plan

DRI ANZ

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Do you have a written disaster recovery plan for your organisation? Putting disaster recovery procedures on paper or into a file to read on your computer or smartphone is a key part of good disaster recovery planning. But just by itself, it’s not a guarantee of DR success. For one thing, the outside world moves on whereas your plan does not (unless you make the effort to revise it). But adjusting for the reality of a changing environment is just one way that your disaster recovery plan needs to be kept real.

Ensure that your disaster recovery plan makes sense for your enterprise. Your plan must bring operations back to normal as quickly as required and in the correct order of priority. That means correctly identifying the core business of your enterprise. This may not be as easy as you think. In many organisations, even senior managers are unable to state clearly or consistently what the organisation’s objectives are. But if you’re in charge of disaster recovery planning, you must know. And if you don’t know, you must find out.

Make sure too that other people understand and can act on your disaster recovery plan. An untrained person (untrained in disaster recovery planning) must be able to use your plan to successfully manage disaster recovery, if you are not there. As a first test, try re-reading your own DR plan a week or so after you wrote it to see if you still understand it. Get an untrained person to read it. Consider blank looks and knitted eyebrows to be signs that you could improve the clarity and applicability of your plan! Likewise, in your regular testing of your disaster recovery plan, find different people to apply the plan to check that you’re continuing to write it in a way that makes sense to all.

Where Should Business Continuity Management Live?

Where in your company orgchart should you put BCM? The quick answer is ‘in the business continuity department’. However, unlike marketing, sales, production and so on, business continuity doesn’t always benefit from being a department in its own right. You could tackle the question by putting business continuity management in the department where it first started. You could put it in an area that reflects the way that BCM has grown from a technology-centric consideration to an enterprise-wide concern. You could even make it a direct responsibility of your organisation’s CEO or at least a C-level function like the CFO, CIO and so on. But which of these possibilities makes the most sense?

Business continuity management started some time ago in the IT department. Disaster recovery management that was initially centred on the data centre gave rise to new ideas. These were not just about reacting to disasters, but also preventing them from happening in the first place. The scope of continuity grew as well as organisations came to realise that interruptions could potentially happen anywhere, and not just in IT. As a result, some CIOs have seen how board-level interest in BCM has risen and have been pushing for BCM to remain within the IT remit.

In other cases, BCM has been integrated into the risk management function of the organisation. The advantage is to broaden the application of BCM to make sure that the whole enterprise benefits. However the greatest visibility for this essential function may come from having a CBCO (Chief Business Continuity Officer) at a peer level to the CIO. How many organisations are willing to take this step remains to be seen. What they should avoid however is simply positioning BCM as ‘everyone’s responsibility’ without a clearly designated manager or director to coordinate and drive BCM across the business. So choose the home for BCM that makes most sense for your situation – and is therefore not homeless.

How the Consumer IT Market is Driving Business Continuity Management

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For many aspects of IT, the business market takes its cue from developments in the consumer sector. Even if other items like servers, databases and virtualisation are still enterprise-centric, developments in tablet PCs and smartphones are driven first of all by what private users want. These mobile computing devices are accounting for an increasingly large part of IT everywhere. That means that if you want to see what will happen in the business market tomorrow, look at the consumer market today. Tablets and smartphones also open up new possibilities for effective business continuity management. But other consumer IT innovations are contributing to changes in BCM too.

Consumer IT has also given us social networks. At first they were a means for making friends, sharing news and expressing opinions. When business discovered the power of social media, it started to put them to use to run operations more effectively, share knowledge better and engage employees. It also spotted the potential for Twitter and Facebook, the two largest social networks, for keeping stakeholders and customers informed in times of crisis. Likewise, several project management software applications now offer internal Twitter-like and Facebook-like functionality for internal social networking to help project teams to better achieve their objectives.

However, that doesn’t mean that every consumer IT novelty will automatically cross over into business. Wearable computing for example may help you to keep tabs on your kids (which may be important), but business users don’t seem to have been convinced so far. One exception may be Google Glass. With its voice recognition, camera and miniature screen, it has already found its way into a number of business applications. It could also help in business continuity situations where hands-free real-time two-way information access and communication is required. And for the future? While Google makes up its mind about an official release date for Google Glass, the 3D web, mobile chips under your skin and the totally connected everywhere Internet of Things provide food for BCM thought too.

Avoiding Confusion between Technology and Business Continuity

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With technology driving so much business activity now, it’s easy to start thinking of it as the be-all and end-all of business continuity. After all, cloud and virtualisation solutions instantly move computer loads between servers and sites. Policy-defined software programs securely control access to information. Virtual desktop applications exactly reproduce the same user computing environment on any device in any location for automatic business continuity, whether or not your physical office is still standing. However, the danger is in confusing a resource with an objective.

But you have to remember what is fundamentally important about business continuity – that the business continues to operate satisfactorily. Technology can be a huge help in making a business efficient and effective, but on its own it is insufficient. Technology without useful application is like a car without a good driver. In both cases, you risk getting lost, having an accident, or both. So the ability to balance IT loads and use virtualisation can be useful, but only if the workload itself bringing in useful results for the business. Being able to log on from a completely different PC and immediately recover your own personal work environment is great, but you as an individual need to be in good shape to use it. Disasters can affect workers and families too, not just IT systems and business premises.

If you make sure that you always have the key business continuity objectives in mind, including employee safety, customer satisfaction and business income, you can measure any technology action against these objectives. If IT staff says that certain systems are more important than others, check for yourself. Sometimes things appear to be more important to people when they spend more time on them. But what you really need to know is how critical any piece of technology is for achieving those basic BC objectives. Then you’ll have a good fix on what it takes to keep the business going in the face of adversity and the right levels of priority to be given to any system or technology in particular.