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Disaster recovery: does your management get it?

Disaster recovery: does your management get it?
By David Almquist and Lane F. Cooper

Prevention is always a hard sell for people and organizations that are going flat out to meet the demands of the day. This may help explain why researchers at UK-based Chartered Management Institute (CMI) find that less than half of over 750 companies surveyed have disaster recovery and business continuity strategies in place. (In a touch of irony, CMI found that on average disaster recovery and business continuity strategies are pursued in lower numbers among IT organizations).

And even among those who do have a plan in place, 75 percent report that efforts are likely to be "haphazard" and "untested".

Honestly speaking, however, business resilience is not simple a proposition. Like an insurance policy, many executives conceptually realize its importance. Unlike a policy, however, disaster recovery and business continuity require time and effort from a cross-disciplinary team of talented executives and staff. Experts have concluded that if a disaster recovery is not universally understood and practiced…then it is probably not terribly more than a fig leaf.

“Many business continuity and disaster recovery plans have traditionally focused on technology and a small group of people,” says Patrick Corcoran, Global Client Solutions Executive at IBM. “What we’ve learned over the years is that you can’t depend on one core set of people. When something happens, those people may not be available, physically or emotionally. If there’s a local emergency, for example, they will understandably be thinking of their families first. So you need to have multiple teams at multiple locations, and you need to document your plan in such a way that it’s very simple.”

There is also a growing recognition of the need for commitment to business continuity planning from the executive team. Without C-level support that goes beyond lip service, there will not be enough people or the right people allocated to the planning effort.

“IT managers may be asked to create the plan for executives,” said Corcoran. “But do the IT people really understand the critical elements of the corporation’s key business processes?”

Emerging approaches

The best disaster recovery plans are based on a multi-disciplinary framework of priorities. “You can’t just look at the technology in isolation,” said Corcoran. “You also need to understand how your plan supports the corporate strategy/vision, organization/people, processes, applications/data and infrastructure. If you don’t integrate these, you could have unexpected vulnerabilities.”

Good planning also looks at the extended enterprise -- including outside vendors and key partners. “One company in New Orleans outsourced its website to another local company,” said Corcoran. “They asked the vendor: do you have a business continuity plan? The answer was yes. That’s all the company asked. They never validated it, understood it or tested it. When they were knocked out of business by Katrina, they realized their website was also gone. Later the vendor explained, ‘Well, we don’t really have a plan. We have insurance.’”

Key requirements

What needs to be in place depends on the organization.

“We’re seeing more focus on data, especially in financial services,” said Corcoran. “They’re looking for lower recovery time and recovery point objectives. For critical data, they’re moving from tapes to electronic media in order to recover faster. Networks are also an essential element of any disaster recovery solution. The data may be recoverable, but it has to get out to the business community.”

Another key component is work area recovery. “Some people can’t work from their homes. So you need a space for users, within a reasonable distance. Finding that can be a challenge,” said Corcoran “That’s why we -- at IBM -- have facilities for our clients scattered throughout the country around major cities. We also have virtual capabilities along with mobile capabilities through partnerships.”

In the end, it comes down to looking at risk across the organization, including the extended enterprise, and gaining commitment from the executive team. “They’ve got to recognize the value,” said Corcoran. “It’s not an insurance policy. It’s a smart way of managing your business.”

To learn more about how experts at IBM can work with your organization to plan and execute an effective disaster recovery/business continuity program, please contact:

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