Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan

Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data | 12/5/2011 | 8 comments

Mary E. Shacklett
Companies have recognized that they need to function 24/7 in a global economy -- and that they can ill afford to experience disasters and outages. This has given some "lift" to disaster recovery as a corporate priority -- but there still are transformations of thinking that need to occur within organizations when it comes to disaster recovery (DR) and business continuation.

This starts with the fact that most organizations still regard IT as the custodian of the plan. True enough: IT probably plays the most major of roles in DRs -- but there are also other areas that need to be addressed in disaster recovery planning that IT alone cannot fulfill. Two of these key areas are:

Customers, investors, the board of directors, and other stakeholders want immediate word from the organization when something happens. This is before a problem is diagnosed and a fix and recovery are underway. The parties that coordinate these corporate communications are the CEO, other C-level executives, and corporate public relations. It is their job to communicate to stakeholders, customers, and the media exactly what is going on -- and to reassure interested (and anxious!) parties that the business is OK. The communications plan (i.e., who talks to the press, etc.) should be part of the disaster recovery plan -- and those who carry it out should be in close contact with IT so they have a thorough understanding of the size of a disaster or an outage and receive regular status updates on restoration.

Operational failovers
When systems don't work, it doesn't mean that the business can't. Bank tellers can manually log transactions if they have to. Clerks in stores can deliver the goods for check or cash, even if they can't process your credit or debit card. Nevertheless and regardless of the situation, those on the operations side have to know what the manual procedures and checkpoints are for doing work when a system fails. This is where it becomes imperative for operational groups to develop their own business continuation plans that can work around systems when those systems aren't available.

It is often up to the CIO to educate other C-level executives and high-ranking managers on the importance of developing a comprehensive plan for disasters and business continuation that covers not only IT but also the business operations and communications to stakeholders and the general public. Initially, the CIO might encounter resistance -- because even in today's 24/7 environment, with its demand for constant uptime, disaster recovery is still not a popular project.

Ultimately, though, others in the organization realize that disaster recovery and business continuation must be executed along every front in the business, and not just IT. What they might not realize is that you just don't write a set of operating procedures for an outage once, and then stick them in a drawer or on a server.

Like IT resources, operational contingencies in DR and failover times have to be periodically tested and revised. They also have to be synchronized when systems, regulations, or the business environment changes. Most organizations do not have the luxury to perform full tests of their DR plans each year -- but they arrange to systematically test key pieces of the plan on a quarterly or semi-annual basis.

Organizations that have been most successful in getting their DR plans in gear for 24/7 business usually have thoughtful C-level executives, including the CIO, leading the charge.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Mary E. Shacklett   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/6/2011 5:52:58 PM
Re: Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan

We used to do this in an organization I was in, and it worked fantastically well.

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tekedge   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/6/2011 3:06:19 PM
Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan
DR is like a fire drill. It needs to be tested on a regular basis. In one organization I have seen DR simulations are set up and done on a regular basis. After the dril  there are a couple of  "Lessons learned" sessions set up to highlight what they did not do correctly. 
Mary E. Shacklett   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/6/2011 6:34:50 AM
Re: DR vs. BC
You're right, Curtis.

Having been through a couple of earthquake-induced disasters, what I have noticed is that people  are stressed and they aren't always operating with the same state of mind (and judgment) that they are in non-emergency situations. That's why written scripts on what to do become so important.
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CurtisFranklin   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/5/2011 9:27:18 PM
Re: DR vs. BC
@Mary E Shacklett wrote:

...most of the DR preparation is about using technology...

Mary, I've taken many business disaster recovery (and broader business continuity) lessons from state and federal Simulated Emergency Test (SET) operations. There, technology is subservient to human factors and organizational redundancy. We too often forget that technology is a means to an end -- keeping the end in mind is critical if we want our organizations (rather than just our systems) to survive disasters.
Mary E. Shacklett   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/5/2011 5:24:07 PM
Re: DR vs. BC
No, Dave, I have not seen where that matters.


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David Wagner   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/5/2011 2:59:26 PM
Re: DR vs. BC
Mary, interesting post. I know different companies have different attitudes about where they put their data centers. Some are in dedicated buildings. Some are in with other business units. Do you find either one changes how much non-IT folks participate in DR plans?
Mary E. Shacklett   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/5/2011 12:37:54 PM
Re: DR vs. BC
Hi Sara,

I have often thought about this, too.

I think what happens is that most of the DR preparation is about using technology--or finding ways to recover from tech outages, if they occur.

The reality is, many times companies have to resort to manual measures in their operations when the tech is down.

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Sara Peters   Ensuring the Right Kind of Participation in Your DR Plan   12/5/2011 11:11:31 AM
DR vs. BC
Thanks for the post Mary, and for discussing both the business continuation side -- having low-tech ways at hand to accomplish the tasks normally done by high-tech tools -- and the disaster recovery side of things -- communicating, getting everything back to normal, etc. Maybe I'm imagining this, but it seems like lately we focus mostly on the DR side of things, and when we talk about BC we generally discuss how to continue business by using more technology, not making do with less technology... am I making that up, or is there some truth to that perception?

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