In 1996, our insurance provider arranged for an independent audit of some of our major operational recovery plans. One of the consultant’s recommendations was to pursue a more sophisticated recovery software which would enhance our recovery plans and provide more timely recoveries. The thought of another conversion in little more than a year was not music to my ears! I had just gotten all the plans converted into the Windows format. The conversion was anything but "pain free". And that was converting from DOS to Windows with the same vendor! I could not even imagine what it would be like converting to another vendor’s software.
When it was decided that Business Recovery should begin evaluating other software options, my supervisor began ordering demo disks of various recovery software. After we had viewed the demo disks, we had a brainstorming session. During this session, we listed what we liked and didn’t like about our current software as well as what capabilities we would like in our new software. From the demo disks, we had narrowed the software selection down to three. It was decided that I would take a training class at each of these vendors to get "hands-on" experience. We developed the following chart as an aid in objectively reviewing each software (see figure 1.)
After each software training class, I provided management with a detailed memo outlining the software’s capabilities, likes, dislikes, etc. One software was eliminated during the training class. We then decided to arrange for a 30-day trial of the two remaining software for our in-house use. Once I had the software installed in-house (these were fully operational, not demo versions), my supervisor and I developed a plan in both software. We entered employees, software, assets, equipment, locations, etc. into the databases. We developed and assigned tasks to teams. We experimented with the report writer. We organized and printed the plans.
The time spent attending the training classes was extremely beneficial. But the definitive decision was made with the 30-day in-house trial. The software that had been leading the way was found to be far superior when we began using it in-house, developing a plan with our own data.
From initial evaluation to definitive decision was approximately six months. The majority of this time was due to the scheduling of training classes, two in November and one in mid-January.
My greatest initial concern was with conversion. I strongly recommend you investigate this aspect. I asked the software vendors to provide names of individuals who had converted from our old software into the software we were investigating. I prepared the following questions prior to contacting these individuals:
1.What is your opinion of the conversion process? Was it smooth? Were there any major complications? Did your database information transfer correctly?
2. How would you rate vendor support during and after conversion?
3. Did you find restructuring your current plans into the new format time consuming?
4. How do the report writers compare for ease of use?
5. How does the new software interface with word processing, graphics and spreadsheets?
6. Do you currently use the import/export options with ease?
7. Additional comments.
It is also advisable to explore the conversion options available. The vendor we chose had many options including:
- conversion of present database into new software’s database;
- conversion of database and assigning all information to the appropriate plans.
Since the roll-up component of the new software was totally different than our old software structure, we decided to have only the data converted. There were pros and con’s to this decision:
The majority of time spent on conversion was in placing information which was in word processing documents into the new software’s database. The information which was in the form of Word Perfect tables or spreadsheets was imported into the system with some minor adjustments. The remaining information which included PC’s and related equipment, software, telecommunications, task lists, etc. had to be entered manually. This could not be avoided.
In retrospect, the recommendation to evaluate new software was the best thing to happen to our recovery program. The plans are well organized and easier to understand. The roll-up structure will allow for a timely recovery in the event of disaster. For the first time in our recovery program the business plan owners have updated their plans without a one-on-one session. Plan owners are forwarding updated information as it occurs. The majority of the recovery data is now contained in the relational database.
In summary, if you have any reservations about the capabilities of your current software, I recommend you investigate other options by:
- deciding what you like, don’t like and would like;
- viewing a demo for software which appeals to you;
- developing a checklist to objectively evaluate the software;
- attending training classes for the software in the running to gain "hands-on" experience;
- arranging for in-house fully operational versions of the software that survives the training class experience;
- contacting individuals who have converted from your current software to the one you are investigating;
- exploring the conversion options provided by the vendor;
- last, but not least in importance, by investigating the support staff. Service after the sale can make your decision the best one you ever made or it can make your recovery program fall behind with the complications that conversion can sometimes bring. One of the software support staffs consisted of five individuals, three of whom were trainers. In my opinion, the odds of ample support staff being readily available at a moment’s notice were not too great for this vendor.
If you decide to convert to a new recovery software, allow ample time for conversion of all existing plans into the new software format. This process will not occur overnight, though it will be much quicker if the software vendor can convert all the information, develop your hierarchy of plans and assign all the information to the appropriate plans.
Investigating other software options may be just what your recovery program needs!
Melanie J. Fels, CBCP has been associated with Keystone Financial, Inc. since 1989 and directly with the Business Recovery Program since 1994. She has been involved in the development, annual review, maintenance, testing and exercising of Keystone’s 140+ recovery plans. Ms. Fels also provides support to recovery plan coordinators and is responsible for the update and distribution of all recovery plans.