The above questions are not new – they have been asked as long as the topic of disaster recovery / business continuity has been an issue. In today’s economy with the push for reductions of costs across all types and lines of business the above questions are more relevant and are being asked more often. Those questions should not be answered in a vacuum. Answered and solutions implemented incorrectly could be fatal to the organization. The solutions put in place to address acceptable downtime must be effective, AND cost sufficient – putting your real dollars where they really NEED to be spent. I’m talking the full-meal-deal here – data backup strategies, technology strategies, and work area solutions.
In order to determine acceptable downtime those needing to address the issue should consult the entire enterprise and involve the executives in the decision making process. This can be accomplished by conducting a formal business impact analysis. Impacts to stakeholders across the organization must be considered should the organization experience a major disruptive event that affects its business operations. When assessing impacts, the organization should consider those that relate to its business goals and those of its stakeholders. You should consider (per best practices) the seven impact types and emphasizes the importance of documenting all that affect – people, assets, regulation, reputation, financial stability, quality, and the environment.
Once the acceptable downtime is determined and approved only then can you assess and / or implement the proper and cost sufficient solution that will ensure your organizations ability to resume its critical business functions and recovery the business over time. You need to spend only what needs to be spent for your recovery solution – overkill means over spending. Under spending or not spending at all could be fatal to the organization from a business resumption perspective.
For those of you that have taken the time and spent real dollars to develop your business continuity plan here is a tough question for you. How usable would that plan be at-time-of-event? As I travel from prospect to prospect or conduct plan audits for small to medium sized organizations there seems to be a common thread between those that have chosen to use specialized business continuity planning software. That common thread is “frustration”. Most indicate it has proven to be more of a hindrance then a help — especially during an event.
Ask yourself the following questions. What does the content of your documentation reveal? How is the document organized? Can you (or someone other than the planner) follow the defined path for response, resumption and recovery? Just how effective would the documentation be if you actually had to utilize it?
I once had an consultant from one of the larger insurance organizations define the use of specialized business continuity planning software by small and medium sized organizations to develop their plan documentation, “like hunting squirrels with an elephant gun.” You really only need to develop basic documentation – a team roster, employee information, basic tasks and responsibilities, internal and external contact information, and some basic information regarding your resource needs. Word and Excel and other like tools work great for developing “exactly” what you need at-time-of-event. By keeping the documentation simple and uniform for your team(s) and business units it will ensure usability. Years ago I saw a quote in Computerworld regarding business continuity plans – “Business continuity plans that are generated by people within the department with known software like MS Word or Excel have proven to be more successful in a real disaster.” There are pros and cons for each solution – you need to determine what works best for you and your organization.
If you are just beginning the planning process and analyzing how you will document the process ask yourself — should I use specialized business continuity planning software or something more “friendly” to ensure plan viability. Choose the one that will work best for you and your organization. A well organized, yet simple plan document can save a lot of time when it’s needed!