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Six steps to disaster recovery.

IN RECENT YEARS THE ATTITUDE OF business management toward disaster recovery planning has changed. For many years, the only companies that did anything to ward off business interruption were those dependent on mainframe computers. Most organizations took the this-cannot-happen-to-us approach. Today, companies realize that a serious disaster can cripple a business.

As PCs, workstations, and local area networks (LANs) have become more prevalent, industry has also begun to realize that data center recovery plans alone are not enough. A comprehensive, corporate-wide approach, known as business recovery planning, is required.

Approaches to business recovery planning are as varied as the organizations that use them. Some recovery planners attempt to identify and incorporate into their plans every possible threat to an organization's welfare, including floods, fires, earthquakes, snow storms, terrorism, vandalism, and power outages. While this all-encompassing approach is frequently used, it can seem daunting when time is limited and resources are stretched. One organization that has taken a different approach to recovery planning is Textron Financial Corporation (TFC), the commercial financial service subsidiary of the $8-billion Textron, Inc., based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Dave Raspallo, director of receivable systems, is responsible for TFC's recovery planning effort. He says his organization tried to follow the multi-threat approach initially but found that managers were overwhelmed by the prospect of planning for every possible calamity. Instead, Raspallo devised a simplified approach that encompasses four levels of business interruption or consequences that could result from disasters, as follows:

* Level one--Building destroyed or unusable for business activity

* Level two--One or more floors unusable, but recovery possible within building

* Level three--A single company department lost, but recovery possible within building

* Level four--A single function or workstation lost, but recovery possible on same floor

"Whether the threat is fire, flood, or whatever, this approach takes the view that there are many threats but only a few levels of disruption," Raspallo says. "Whether we were wiped out by a fire or knocked down by an earthquake, the consequence would be the same--a level one emergency. Sure, it's possible to plan for the most likely disasters, and many organizations do it that way. But it takes a tremendous amount of time, and you can never plan for every potential threat."

Under both the threat-specific and level-of-disruption approach, business recovery planning methods should view the data processing center as a utility or service, like electricity, water telephone, and gas. These utilities, including data processing, support the critical business functions of an organization.

If a utility fails, it is the responsibility of the utility provider to restore service. However, a business is probably not going to close its doors and wait until the utility restores power. The managers will find an alternative source of power or a site that has power. The same should be true for data processing.

Viewing the data processing function as a utility puts it into perspective for recovery planning purposes. It forces an organization to look at all the business operations it supports and to design what-if scenarios that encompass these vital services.

A key part of business recovery planning is the development of an organization-wide contingency plan that takes into account every critical function of the business, including manual paper-based systems. Since many major organizations today are either true multinational corporations or have significant international ties, it is also vital to consider the geographic scope of the organization in the business recovery plan. Is the plan concerned with a disaster affecting single, multiple, regional, or even international operations?

The business recovery plan takes into account people, office space, data, and every other factor that makes the business hum. True business recovery planning can pose a monumental task, but software systems are available that can help companies determine critical business functions and develop business recovery plans that incorporate all critical areas. Six major steps are involved in the business recovery planning process.

Senior management support. While senior managers within any industry should be aware of the need for recovery planning, many avoid or overlook the issue for various reasons such as misconceptions about potential threats, planning costs, and staffing costs. Several effective methods can help a contingency planner get the commitment from management for organization-wide recovery planning. For instance, pointing out all the this-could-happen-to-us stories that appear in the newspaper may make management realize that a potential problem exists.

The recent Chicago flood is a good example of an unanticipated calamity. By relating these disaster stories to his or her company's situation, a security manager or contingency planner shows management how a major crisis can mean a loss of vital corporate assets, market share, and business momentum. The bottom-line impact of a serious disaster is guaranteed to get attention from senior management.

For those fortunate enough to obtain or who already have management commitment, the selling job is not over. An effective business recovery planner must be constantly selling the need for contingency planning and heightening the awareness of senior management, as well as front-line employees.

Impact analysis. While data center recovery planning tends to focus only on critical software applications and data, business recovery planning requires the planner to determine which business functions must be recovered following a disaster. No organization has the time or the resources to recover every functional area following a major disaster. The objective is to return to an acceptable level of business activity.

While the data center is an important element of the business recovery plan, it is not the only consideration. Each functional area must be evaluated to determine how its loss would affect the company's legal exposure, revenues, customer service, or other operational considerations. This analysis is known as the business impact analysis. Each area should be rated as critical, necessary, or optional in terms of recovery following a disaster.

Recovery strategies. Once critical business functions have been identified, a company must determine the minimal inventory of resources required by these critical areas. The resources include personnel, equipment, working space, forms and supplies, telecommunications requirements, software, vital records and data, and vendors. Recovery planners must take measures to prevent disaster from affecting the resources needed by critical areas.

A company must also establish one or more locations that will be used following a crisis. These include a command center, where all critical personnel will assemble following a disaster, and adequate space in which to recover all critical business functions. Often, a company's real estate specialist or broker can be enlisted to identify and keep current a list of vacant offices in the area. These offices can be rented for limited periods of time.

Preparation. With initial research completed, the contingency planner must now focus on creating the written business recovery plan. This can be a daunting task. Business recovery planning software can help speed plan preparation. Numerous consulting companies are also available.

Software tools, especially those based around a relational database system, can be used to capture the dynamic information necessary to document the plan. This information may include lengthy inventory lists. For instance, every piece of critical equipment in data processing may be inventoried and prioritized. An inventory may also be created for a company's required voice and data telecommunications equipment, including a list of every line and its purpose. This kind of detailed and ever-changing information is best managed via a flexible relational database, which cross-references new entries so information that belongs to more than one group only needs to be entered once. As information is collected via the relational database, the model plan is automatically customized to meet the organization's needs.

A good automated tool will also have an integrated text processor so that the recovery document can be easily created, edited, and published. For instance, one of Canada's largest banks--Toronto Dominion Bank--is using business recovery planning software to speed development of recovery plans for eighty to ninety bank departments.

According to Des O'Callaghan, the bank's manager of recovery planning, the planning software has allowed the bank to complete plans at a pace of about one a month. "We needed a planning system that would provide a standardized means of evaluating departmental criticality, provide audit trails, and be easy and flexible to use," O'Callaghan says. "In addition to its obvious benefits, we also see our recovery planning effort as a valuable marketing tool. We can tell our customers that we have plans in place to protect our operation and assets. Many of our competitors cannot make the same claim."

A written plan must also include instructions on how recovery operations will be directed and performed. It is a widely accepted practice for companies to develop team structures with specific recovery duties. The contingency planner will need to develop procedures for team notification, control center operation, damage, assessment, and recovery tasks.

Realistic testing. Once the written plan is complete, it should be fully tested in a realistic simulated disaster. In the case of a comprehensive business recovery plan, it may be next to impossible to test every facet of the plan. However, it is usually possible to at least conduct passive tests of each plan element.

In many organizations, each department of a company can be isolated and tested on recovery procedures. One testing method is to pull the plug on a department's computer link and have the department recover as it would in a real disaster. Another method is to test the failure of a paper-based application. Not only does testing confirm that the plan will work, but it acts to bolster the confidence of front-line workers and management alike.

Plan refinement. Even after the written plan has been distributed and tested, it is not complete. The plan is never done. It is a living document that must be continually updated.

As it is developed, the planner must remember that the organization is dynamic. Maintenance is a major concern. People move, new equipment is brought in, and mergers occur. As changes take place they should be factored into the plan. Account information, personnel changes, and procedural modifications should all be noted. Once a change is made, a new plan document should be quickly generated and distributed.

Customer service, payroll, public relations, data processing, and many other functional areas are vital to an organization following a significant disaster. Data center recovery plans have never provided adequate protection against a full-blown disaster. Now more than ever, companies need a comprehensive business recovery plan. While these plans certainly include recovery data processing resources, they also cover many other critical functions that comprise a successful organization. Whether it is mandated by law, as in the case of the U.S. banking industry, or simply good business practice, a business recovery plan makes sense for every organization.

Randall Coleman is co-founder and president of Recovery Management, Inc. of Littleton, Massachusetts.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Disaster Management
Author:Coleman, Randall
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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