All too often, especially if disaster recovery (DR) is driven and pushed by the IT department, organizations can fall into the common mistake of assuming that they are “good to go” in the event disaster hits. While IT departments can certainly handle the technical side of things, ensuring services are up and running if production goes down, they are not necessarily the key stakeholder in ensuring that business processes and services can also be maintained. These business processes and activities can really be summed up in one key term that goes hand in hand with DR - business continuity (BC). Essentially, business continuity oversees the processes and procedures that are carried out in the event of a disaster to help ensure that business functions continue to operate as normal – the key here being business functions. Sure, following the procedures with our disaster recovery plan is a very big piece of our business continuity plan (BCP), but true BCP’s will encompass much more in terms of dealing with a disaster.
BCP: Just a bunch of little DR plans!
When organizations embark on tackling business continuity, it's sometimes easier to break it all down into a bunch of little disaster recovery plans – think DR for IT, DR for accounting, DR for human resources, DR for payroll, etc. The whole point of business continuity is to keep the business running. Sometimes, if it is IT pushing for this, we fall into the trap of just looking at the technical aspects, when really it needs to involve the whole organization! So, with that said, what should really be included in a BCP? Below, we will look at what I feel are four major components that a solid BCP should consider.
Where to go?
Our DR plan does a great job of ensuring that our data and services are up and running in the event disaster hits. However, often what we don’t consider is how employees will access that data. Our employees are used to coming in, sitting down, and logging into a secure internal network. Now that we have restored operations, does a secondary location offer the same benefit that's available to our end-users? Are there enough seats, DHCP, switches to handle all of this? Or, if we have utilized some sort of DRaaS, do they offer seats or labs in the event we need them? Furthermore, depending on the type of disaster incurred, for instance, say it is was a flood, will our employees even be able to travel to alternate locations at all?
We know we need to get our servers back up and running. That’s a no brainer! But what about everything else our organization uses to carry out its day-to-day business? It’s the items we take for granted that tend to be forgotten. Photocopiers, fax machines, desks, chairs, etc. Can ALL essential departments maintain their “business as usual” at our secondary site, either fully or in some sort of limited fashion? And aside from equipment, do we need to think of the infrastructure within our secondary site, as well? Are there phone lines installed? And can that be expanded in the event of long-term use of the facility? Even if these items are not readily available, having a plan on how to obtain them will save valuable time in the restoration process. Have a look around you at all the things on your desk and ask yourself if the same is available at your designated DR facility.
Here’s the reality: your building is gone, along with everything that was inside of it! Do you have plans on how to keep in touch with key stakeholders during this time? A good BCP will have lists upon lists of key employees with their contact information, both current and emergency. Even if it is as simple of having employees home/cell phone numbers listed, and possibly, if you host your own email servers, alternate email addresses that are checked on a regular basis. The last thing you want to have is a delay in the process of executing your BCP because you can’t get the go-ahead from someone because you are simply unable to contact them.
Updated Organizational Charts
While having an updated org chart is great to include within a BCP, it is equally, or perhaps even more important, to have alternate versions of these charts in the event that someone is not available. We may not want to think about it, but the possibility of losing someone within the disaster itself is not far-fetched. And since the key function of the BCP is to maintain business processes, we will need to know exactly who to contact if someone else is unavailable. The last thing we need at times like these is staff arguing, or worse, not knowing who will make certain key decisions. Having alternate org charts prepared and ready is critical to ensuring that recovery personnel has the information they need to proceed.
These four items are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to properly grafting a BCP. But there is much more out there that needs to be considered. Paper records, back-up locations, insurance contacts, emergency contacts, vendor contacts, payroll, banking; essentially every single aspect of our business needs to have a Plan B to ensure that you have an effective, holistic, and more importantly, successful Business Continuity Plan in place. While we as IT professionals might not find these things as “sexy” as implanting SAN replication and metro clusters, the fact of the matter is that we are often called upon when businesses begin their planning around BC and DR. That’s not to say that BC is an IT-related function, because it most certainly is not. But due to our major role in the technical portion of it, we really need to be able to push BC back onto other departments and organizations to ensure that the lights aren’t just on, but that there are people working below them as well.
I’d love to hear from some of you that do have a successful BCP in place. Was it driven by IT to begin with, or was IT just called upon as a portion of it? How detailed (or not) is your plan? Is it simply, “Employees shall report to a certain location,” or does it go as far as prioritizing the employees who gain access? What else might you have inside your plan that isn’t covered here? If you don’t have a plan, why not? Budget? Time? Resources?
Thank you so much for all of the recent comments on the first two articles. Let's keep this conversation going!