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Volume 27, Issue 4

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October 29, 2007

Turning Your Disaster Recovery Expense Into a Corporate Asset

Written by  Michael B. Pearce
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It has often been said that we are entering an age that will have perhaps the most profound and rapid change ever in history. A time so unique in the breadth and depth of the changes that will occur that there are no historical models from which we can learn. This change has been hinted at by those who see yet in this century the possibilities of 500 channels available on our TV sets; TV/PCs that allow us to interactively work, play, selectively view, pay, order, etc. all from our favorite family room chair; cars getting 80 miles per gallon and weighing less than 1,500 pounds, while safer than today’s cars; software so powerful it virtually imitates reality - hence the name. Business will face reinvention no less pervasive and daunting.

Some organizations may speculate that their business won’t be radically impacted, but the reality of the market dictates differently. We are entering an age where all organizations will be quality driven and extraordinarily cost effective. Those able to respond quickly and provide customized products/solutions uniquely able to meet their customer’s requirements will have the edge over their competitors and improve their odds of winning the competition for business.

It has also been said that we are entering the time age, where perhaps the most precious of all commodities will be time. The marketplace is already responding to this by demanding hassle-free buying. The company that can provide the most hassle-free purchasing environment, eliminating those hurdles and organizational constraints that make it less than easy to do business with them will win orders, especially since high quality and low cost are the basic minimums for entry onto the playing field.

We have all seen, perhaps even participated in, the current movement to reduce middle management staff which has typically been driven by the desire to reduce costs. This theory of swift, hurdle-free and hassle-free response will drive corporations to even flatter, more empowered organizations able to respond quickly to each customer’s requirements and making each department’s ability to respond swiftly to these customer requirements a corporate mandate. Meeting these demands will impact our organizations, both technologically and organizationally.

Technological Impact. Hardware is becoming a commodity (or has become one!) as a result of the way vendors price it, and the way the market views it and buys it. At the same time, companies are realizing that they rarely, if ever, develop “insanely great” software internally. In fact, software developed internally is almost always built to a time schedule, not to a quality, service-level agreement based design standard. This “get it done on time” mentality virtually dooms the software design/build teams from their very first day. These two phenomena: a market based on hardware manufacturers’ need to find a marketing strategy that allows them to add value (e.g., increase profit margins) and to differentiate themselves (e.g., increase market share); combined with companies realizing that they can’t effectively build systems internally will change the way we buy and sell hardware and software. It will likely result in even more sophisticated and specialized solution selling.

Companies may very well have to continue to invest in their mainframe as the large centralized database is the only effective way to implement just-in-time inventory control, quickly assess market movements, analyze customer trends and have access to all of the other cross-functional data necessary to support decision processes based on sound empirical data and meeting corporate objectives.

The mainframe is also necessary to support an ever-growing, distributed processing capability supporting sophisticated LANs, WANs and advanced telecommunications as they become the organization’s method to ensure that while employees are given evermore decision-making capability and authority, with ever-less management review and oversight, the decisions they make will not violate company policy since these decisions will be parametered and controlled by the system.

This empowerment, with its swift and irreversible decisions can be controlled, measured and modified only by implementing rigorously deployed, distributed processing. It is the system that will assure that any decision any employee makes will not violate policy or result in a commitment that cannot be met. This system control will replace today’s outmoded employee training and policy manual approach, allowing a freedom of response within acceptable system controlled parameters.

Implementing these dramatic shifts in culture and technology will require new processes, effective cross-functional communication, removal of much hierarchical management structure, along with elimination of those areas that tend to impede focus and rapid response such as extraneous reports and/or reporting.

It has been said that the president of Burger King, when asked what the most important lessons of Hurricane Andrew were, commented that among them was that the organization found out that they were doing many things that didn’t need to be done, which weren’t critical to their business success and which would never be implemented again. Most of us know of organizational requirements that don’t seem to add value or even reflect the stated goals and objectives of the company.

Organizational Impact. Companies will increasingly move toward a culture embodying a style that allows them to be more flexible, more adaptive, swifter and more cost effective. To accomplish this, they will need to have organizations with each manager’s span of control dramatically enlarged and with each employee necessarily empowered with a range of authorities never before anticipated, let alone granted.

The question being raised is, given all this, can we use our disaster recovery program commitment to understand, cope with and help resolve some of the issues that will result from this necessary transformation? As often as not, an organization’s commitment to preparing for recovery from an unanticipated interruption - a disaster - is a potentially powerful, yet severely under utilized corporate resource. This occurs for a number of reasons. Among them:

Positioning by the Sponsor. The primary sponsor who is traditionally and typically either associated with or is the head of Information Technology (IT) rarely positions the disaster recovery activity as anything more than a necessary insurance policy.

To be sure, a well designed, often rehearsed, thoroughly documented recovery capability does have the attributes of an insurance policy inherent in it, but it is so much more than just another insurance policy. The improved skills, enhanced procedures, modified policies and thorough documentation that are the by products of a quality disaster recovery program have been shown to be worth the price of participation in and of themselves. If an organization chose to measure just those outputs, the improved disciplines gained from a sound disaster recovery program would generate an enviable ROI to be sure.

Neutral Management. Senior management is often viewed as being neutral at best toward making the required investment both in terms of time and money to have a well developed, proven disaster recovery program, yielding more to the argument of “prudent management” than to the threat of hurricane, tornado and earthquake scenarios that don’t happen often enough for them to have any real personal or emotional ownership in the threat.

The Rehearsal Process. Industry statistics indicate that a significant percentage of the organizations that have a hotsite based disaster recovery program don’t rehearse at all, let alone regularly or with enthusiasm; neither do those that have reciprocal agreements, coldsite agreements or, of course, no plan whatsoever. A great many of those few that do test, test the same technical ability time after time - so that the rehearsal process becomes relegated to data center employees who repeat a successful test based on the same unchallenging, repetitive objectives employed time after time - all supported by a disaster recovery vendor who is more than happy to allow no tests or simple repetitive tests that assure success.

Given these circumstances, it’s a small wonder that management often loses some enthusiasm for disaster recovery or ignores it all together, letting it be an “Information Technology” thing.

Using the Resource. Properly positioned, given a little life, some imagination and positive exposure, any firm’s disaster recovery commitment can and should be the perfect laboratory for experimenting with new processes, methodologies and even organizational structures. Well designed rehearsals can be the perfect microcosm of the organization and one of the easiest for the Information Technology organization to employ to offer value-added capability to the corporation, greatly enhancing the role of IT and exposing the broader management skills IT leadership often has, but which are also often underexposed and under-appreciated.

One example might be the future direction of technology implementation in the firm. Most companies today are facing extraordinary decisions, monumental changes in technology, having unparalleled impact on their organization.

It’s not merely a matter of analog versus digital as 1996 rapidly approaches, but fundamental changes such as centralized versus decentralized; or to continue to own or outsource the entire data center, viewing it as another utility, important, but not necessarily proprietary; the impact of “open” systems which is all too often misunderstood and which is still really only a distant vision everywhere but in the sales brochures; and the architectural debates spawned from choosing from among these options. Changes so significant, they will result in fundamental, structural and behavioral modification. The operating principles and culture of many organizations will be challenged and modified, leaving those that don’t and/or won’t adapt in the ash pile of forgotten failures.
Implementing the Resource. Can this resource be effectively implemented to help answer these challenges? The answer is a resounding yes! Examples abound.

  • First, and easiest, is to creatively expand the disaster recovery rehearsals beyond the simple realm of technical exercises to a level that increases disaster recovery awareness, assures that the plan will work and also ensures ownership in the disaster recovery plan by all potentially impacted employees. This can be accomplished by including fire drills, emergency response drills, even informative seminars on the personal impact of disasters on employees and their families.
  • Employees will be far more able and prepared to resume work if their families are safe! Far too many companies, as we said earlier, rely on the technical recovery to satisfy their disaster recovery proof statement.
  • Technology recovery is really the easiest part of any disaster scenario. The single points of failure that are human response based are overwhelming in their magnitude and can be addressed and resolved only through documented rehearsals.
  • Beyond assuring that the plan will work through this broadening of the scope of rehearsals, there are any number of opportunities to turn the disaster recovery program into a value-added, critical test bed. Examples include:
  • Identifying, modeling and measuring the impact of events on the organization. For example, what happens to the organization if their sales department achieves 150 percent over quota? Too much good news can be disastrous as well!
  • How does cross-functional communication work in the company and how can it be enhanced?
  • What organizational hurdles exist that impede converting opportunities into business?
  • What is the real decision-making process in the organization?
  • Does the culture support or inhibit the authority implied in the empowerment process?
  • Are the reports that are required/generated necessary?
  • Can your company count on its critical vendors? Include them in the process to find out the points of failure from them that are rarely considered, but dramatic in their ability to negatively impact your business.
  • Can your organization meet its commitment to its customers? Can orders be accepted, processed and shipped no matter what? If the answer is unacceptable, what can be done to change the process? Once the process is proven reliable, provide the data to your sales staff and encourage them to share the result with key customers, as they will then be able to prove your reliability as a key supplier, thereby further differentiating your company and making you more competitive in the marketplace.
  • Does your company have and can it demonstrate an ability to provide compassionate support for disaster impacted employees? Employees will return to work in an enthusiastic, committed way only when their personal life is reasonably secure!

These are merely a sampling of the issues that can be included. Issues that impact the company’s fundamental ability to compete successfully. Most, if not all, are currently at the forefront of senior management’s attention, all are a catalyst for major institutional change, have huge associated risks and potentially great rewards. All are in search of a laboratory to help guide the decision-making process and assure successful implementation as companies proceed to reinvent themselves. And a laboratory available to meet the need is a strong disaster recovery program including the full range of rehearsals supported by a qualified, enthusiastic and willing disaster recovery vendor.

A key method to both assure your organization’s capabilities, irrespective of the events that befall it, along with exposing the entire IT organization to the vast skill-set attendant in the IT function is to expand the vision of disaster recovery - allow and encourage it to be the laboratory of choice for learning, changing, measuring and testing new ideas, concepts, methods, procedures and policies. Do so and you will not only have positioned your company to continue business as close to normal as possible during a disaster, but you will have provided your company with a resource, the value of which far exceeds the cost of participation. And then count on the disaster recovery program, gaining senior management’s emotional involvement, and gaining their regular and enthusiastic support - deservedly so!


Michael B. Pearce is an Executive Account Manager for Weyerhaeuser Recovery Services, in Tacoma, Wash.

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