State of emergency

The question is not whether to have business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR), it is how to put one in place. In the first of a two-part series, NME puts together some of the crucial information that IT managers should keep in mind while formulating a comprehensive BC/DR plan.

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  September 1, 2007

The question is not whether to have business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR), it is how to put one in place. In the first of a two-part series, NME puts together some of the crucial information that IT managers should keep in mind while formulating a comprehensive BC/DR plan.

How can I assess when my firm needs a BC/DR programme?

Business continuity and disaster recovery has become a crucial element for most large enterprises, and the Middle East is no exception. Assessing when exactly a business needs a BC/DR option and getting together a business continuity plan (BCP) are, however, easier said than done.

"In simple terms if your business process downtime affects your profits and customers, and the cost to avoid this is less than the losses or penalties resulting from lost customer contracts or not adhering to regulations, you need a business continuity plan for the organisation," says Mohammed Fouz, CEO of eHosting Datafort (EHDF).

Rohit Kumar, business head for the Middle East at Paladion Networks believes that companies have to ask themselves critical questions and answer them honestly before planning for BC/DR.

"Do you have time based service level agreements and penalty clauses with your customers? For example, we will respond to customer service requests within two hours. Does your organisation depend upon centralised IT systems, application and data for your day to day business operations? Does your organisation manufacture goods and lose revenue significantly due to production downtime? Is loss of reputation (public image and standing with customers/vendors/partners) due to business/system down time significant? If the answer to one or more of these questions is a yes then you would want to consider a BCP," says Kumar.

NME recommends:
The major consideration is data loss and the impact it would have on your organisation. If downtime at the network and infrastructure level could affect your company's operations adversely and cause damage in financial and reputation terms then its already time to create a business continuity plan.

How can I convince my management to invest in a BC/DR facility?

"Show them the business benefits of having a BC/DR capability and indicate how the examination of impact and risk can help them better manage and ensure continued availability of the business, brand protection and company image," says Norbert Stevens, business unit manager for BCRS MEMA CEE and Germany at HP.

Fouz says that results of past disasters, reports on downtime and financial losses as well as competitor initiatives and any existing audit or BCP reports can help in getting the management to understand the need for BC and DR.

NME recommends: Analyse your business thoroughly and be sure of why you believe the company needs a BC/DR plan. Ensure that you cover potential threats and possible calamities as well as the financial impacts of these on your business. Present these to your management after you believe it to be comprehensive enough to support the case in question.

What organisational resources have to be in place for creating a BC/DR plan?

For DR planning and IT continuity, it is necessary to understand what IT services are needed, in what timeframe (Recovery Time Objective) and with what level of data currency (RPO) and priority order, says Stevens. BCP requires a similar understanding of all business processes to ensure that service to customers is maintained.

"Develop a strategy for recovering your most critical business operations and systems in the least possible time. You will require good templates and tools to carry out these exercises effectively in a time bound manner. Active participation from business owners for business impact analysis (BIA) and visible commitment from the management are important to ensure the success of any BC/DR plan," suggests Kumar.

Most standards, such as the ones proposed by DRII, the institute for continuity management, provide a set of templates to guide the BCP. However, most organisations may find this too complicated and would be well advised to customise templates as per their requirements while creating a plan for BC/DR.

While all of the BCP need not be outsourced to third party providers, consultants can be used wisely to ensure that all elements are covered in the organisational plan, especially if this is being done for the first time.

NME recommends:
Ensure that you have management buy-in for the BC/DR activity. Some of the other resources you should keep in mind are people, processes and premises or workplaces. Refer to templates - there are a whole lot of ones you can find on the net - as well as the standards as often as possible. They can provide an initial ground to base your plan structure on.

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