Business continuity equals business excellence

Proper business continuity planning requires adequate preparation, without being overly complex, if businesses are to leverage the best return on their BC efforts, says Jeroen Schlosser, managing director, Equinix MENA

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Business continuity equals business excellence Schlosser: Understanding priorities and inter-reliance between different parts of the business can help companies to identify the best approach to BCP.
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By  Jeroen Schlosser Published  September 15, 2013

Proper business continuity planning requires adequate preparation, without being overly complex, if businesses are to leverage the best return on their BC efforts, says Jeroen Schlosser, managing director, Equinix MENA

From the outside, Business Continuity Planning can appear complex and arcane. It isn’t — and complex plans tend to be a sign of over-preparation. During Equinix’ 15 years of providing business continuity management resources to organisations all over the world, the most important thing we’ve learnt is that if you prepare correctly, business continuity planning can be a straightforward process that brings with it further benefits; streamlined process, recovery sites that can double up as test and training areas, and more. One thing business continuity planning certainly should not be is a negative experience.

Three steps to success:
Perfect your preparation: There’s a lot of information and advice available on business continuity planning and management. There’s always been a temptation to oversell the risks of downtime, predicting complete business failure.

Plan for the effect, not the threat: It’s all too easy to plan against a specific threat — for example, planning for a flood that might swamp a home, rather than simply planning against losing the house. Put all your effort into planning against a flood, and the house might burn down, rot away or collapse — the end effect is the same. Planning for the effect is more effective than trying to predict each possible scenario and plan for it.

A Holistic Approach: Focusing on one aspect of planning to the expense of others is costly. In reality, the four areas — People, Information, Technology and Communications — enjoy interconnected relationships.

People: Where will people work? How will they get there? Do they know what their roles are in a crisis? Are there back-up assignments for each role? Depending on the nature of the disruption, have healthcare or trauma related services been considered?

Technology: How much of the technology infrastructure needs to be reconstituted in what kind of time frame? How will it be recovered? Will it adhere to all regulatory and compliance requirements in order to allow business operations to continue? How will access be guaranteed for staff, partners, and customers?

Information: Is all required digital and paper information currently protected and backed up so it will survive? How will the digital assets be accessed by the recovered infrastructure? How will people be able to access the paper assets if necessary?

Communications: How will voice and data communications be restored and maintained? Should one platform have priority over the other? Does your data network have diversity in routes and carriers to ensure resilience? What corrective actions can you take if the mobile network is down?

What should a buyer look for?

Services, especially in the cloud era, can be recovered rapidly if the right steps are taken, even if data, personnel or plant cannot be brought back online quickly. The growth of cloud-based services, using virtualisation, PaaS and SaaS means that companies can recover at least some services relatively quickly. Identifying dependencies like these, and ensuring that they do not interfere with the recovery of a business after an interruption, are part and parcel of what Equinix calls the Cloud Enabled Enterprises.

While services may be recovered quickly, using them is another matter. If your organisation’s work venue is destroyed or otherwise unavailable, where will it live? The organisation will require either a dedicated, private facility, a shared facility, or a temporary space.

A dedicated private facility is a low risk, fast-recovery option, but it can be expensive. Shared facilities are a good compromise, allowing your organisation to spread the cost, but an event over a wider area, or affecting a specific segment, can lead to conflict if more than one organisation needs the same venue. Temporary space is the most cost effective, yet it carries the most risk and can be more costly in the long term.

Data and voice

Having access to the organisation’s information stores and information processing capability, and communicating with both those stores and the outside world are vital. Access to multiple telecommunications providers is a good idea. Data replication to multiple locations helps retain access in the event of a local disaster.

Working out which services are a priority is worthy of significant planning with your organisation’s service providers and IT and business managers. High priority services can use instant failover to secondary replication sites; less important functions can make do with scheduled snapshotting backups, with associated recovery time and data loss.

For most organisations, the priority is customers: it’s vital that what replaces lost infrastructure provides them with the same experience they are accustomed to. In less vital areas, a like-for-like replacement of network capacity, resilience and quality of service can be a lower priority, although this secondary network infrastructure needs to be at least as resilient as the primary infrastructure.

Ten best practices for successful BCP

1. Management buy-in: Because business continuity cuts across all parts of an organisation, getting the senior staff to support Business Continuity is vital. Yet it can be a challenge, because it is something that hopefully will never be used. The answer is to also look at getting ROI for Business Continuity infrastructure by using if for training or testing.

2. Think Global: As you develop your Business Continuity Plan and design backup production facilities, it is important to also look to other markets you may operate in or plan to operate in. Can you replicate the process there? Are the same suppliers available in that market?

3. The Ecosystem is vital: Work out how best to connect your critical data sources, counterparties and service providers, preferably inside the same facility.

4. Prioritise: Work out what needs bringing back first, and then work through a priority order of processes and applications that need to come back online to support the workforce. Infrastructure recovery follows this order.

5. Make it compliant: It’s all very well recovering from a problem — but it must meet legal, regulatory and compliance requirements, too.

6. Sell it: Distribute the plan as widely as possible within the organisation. Make sure everyone is updated regularly with any changes, and an understanding of their roles in a crisis.

7. Train: Make best use of training resources, standards and trade organisations to grow and maintain your skills.

8. Test: Design and run test scenarios — practice makes perfect.

9. Plan Maintenance: Design and maintain a rigorous re-assessment schedule for people, processes, partners and plant.

10. Have a personnel Plan B: Not everyone is going to be around in the event of a disaster — they might be on vacation, unable to reach work locations or otherwise affected by the disaster. Have second and third backup staff for roles in place.

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