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September 29, 2009

Seven Reasons You Should Blueprint Your Organization’s Dependencies

Written by  Tom Normand
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When you imagine the organization you're working to protect, how do you see it in your mind's eye?  How do you develop a sense for this complex set of buildings, people, computers, software, vendors and more?  And once you see the big picture, how do you record it and share it with others to improve reliability and recoverability?  In this short article I want to make the case for blueprinting your organization's dependencies, and explain how this consistent approach to understanding and documenting is key to successful planning and response.

A firefighter sees a mountain in terms of tinder, canyons, and prevailing winds by which a wildfire might spread.  Within a business, the impact of an event spreads via critical dependencies between such resources as people, business processes, and services.  Lose a datacenter, and the fire spreads up the chain of dependencies.  Unavailable servers mean downed applications and downed business processes.  Without functional business processes, the ability to conduct business goes up in smoke.  Like the firefighter assessing the mountain, the DR planner must grasp the critical dependencies that could hamstring an organization and use this knowledge to increase reliability and recoverability.

Fortunately, understanding and documenting dependencies, though not a small task, is consistent, repeatable, and produces tangible blueprints used by anyone in the organization who wants to "see" the business more clearly.

It's as simple as asking yourself (and the business units), "What does that need?" and documenting the answers.  If you do this graphically and consistently while keeping the results together, you're on your way to compiling dependency blueprints.  Use that same single-minded focus of recording what needs what, and the big picture reveals itself.  You can start anywhere, though it's wise to begin with higher level abstractions first, like critical business processes.  Record a business process by naming it and asking, "What does this process need?"  Record all the answers: people, hardware, computer applications, vendor provided services, or other business processes.  Then take it further and ask what those resources need.  Keep walking down the chain of dependencies and build a diagram detailing everything involved in supporting that high level business process.

Like a web crawler following links among web pages, tracing and blueprinting dependencies is a simple strategy for searching out important resources of a company and putting them into a greater context.  The blueprints detail what an individual resource of the company requires to function, as well as why that resource is necessary to the company.  

Here are seven reasons why you should consider blueprinting your organization’s dependencies:

1.A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words:
Cliché or not, the statement really does characterize the goals of visualization where large amounts of data must be absorbed quickly. Traditional textual BC/DR plans are insufficient. This is especially important when the information must be dissected and discussed within groups of people. The visual representation of an organization allows experts to agree that dependencies are accurately documented.

2.Bridge the Gap Between Business and IT:

A large disconnect exists between business units and IT workers in most companies that creates communication challenges between the users of IT services and the IT service providers. A critical function of the BC/DR planner is to bridge this gap between business and IT ends of the organization. The blueprint connects the business process to the IT resources.

3.Resource Planning:
Comprehensive blueprints allow for intelligent resource planning. During a rebuild they detail the order of restoration and help parties involved divide the work. The blueprints reveal gaps in understanding of the current environment. Blueprints enable planners to easily identify critical sub-resources such as backups, vendors, software keys, etcetera by clearly linking to critical business processes.

4.Consistency of Information:

Consistent presentation aids understanding. During crisis when minds are already overwhelmed, you don’t want inconsistencies in the way critical documentation is presented and interpreted.

5.Accurate Impact Analysis

A visual blueprint enables accurate “what-if” analysis of IT reliability, environmental hazards, and both intentional and unintentional human-caused events.

6.Less Downtime:

Staying up when others may be down is good business – not to mention good public relations. Comprehensive blueprints allow organizations to reduce downtime during routine events through dramatically better troubleshooting.

7.Rebuilding at a Hot Site
Much like a craftsman needs a good set of plans to work from when building a house; your organization needs a comprehensive set of dependency blueprints to rebuild from at a hot site following an event.

Tom Normand is the CEO of Pathway Systems. Tom has recently been elected to serve on DRJ’s Editorial Advisory Board. Tom can be reached at tnormand@pathwaysystems.com.

Read 4200 times Last modified on October 11, 2012