The answer is that you cannot. Your personnel needs to know in advance what actions will and will not work in the event of a disaster. They need to know where the holes in the plan are ahead of time, so that they can be eliminated before it counts for real. Without testing, it is impossible to know if you will be able to restore your data onto another system, how long a full system restore takes, and how long it takes to restore your critical applications. Testing helps businesses cut down on the time it takes to recover, or find out if they can recover at all under their current plan. The fact of the matter is, implementing a business continuity plan without testing is almost as bad as not having a plan at all.
"But I have tested my backup plan," you may be saying. "My records show that we tested the 2nd week of July in 1996." If only you could test your new business continuity plan once! That would be great - if your systems and staff never changed. But when has your company ever completed a year without any IS changes? Without acquiring new equipment, expanding to new facilities, changing applications, or hiring new personnel? Never? That is why continuity providers recommend that companies test their backup plan at least once a year. In many instances, testing will reveal that changes in your company's IS infrastructure have necessitated a change in your plan. It is worth the inconvenience to find that out ahead of time, rather than when the lights go out.
The overwhelming reason that companies do not test, or test less than they should, is that they don't have the time or personnel to do so. Keeping that in mind, Business Continuity providers have developed more flexible testing options. And with the rapidly decreasing costs of telecommunications, new options such as remote testing are becoming more practical for everybody. Many companies are not even aware of all of the options out there. Here are a few of them:
Hotsite: Customers travel to a provider's computer center to conduct a test with their own personnel in cooperation with the provider's personnel. This is typically the most comprehensive test, but is also the most time-consuming.
Mobile Data Center: This type of test brings the back-up systems right to a company's location of choice. This is a very convenient and effective type of test if the provider offers it.
Remote Site: These are conveniently located sites set up for a remote link to the command center at a nearby hotsite.
Remote Testing: All you need for this type of testing is a laptop, a modem, and communications software. Everything can be done from the subscribers site, eliminating travel expense and keeping your staff in-house.
Turnkey Testing: This type of testing gives your staff the freedom to continue business as usual, but still get the results of a completely comprehensive test. The provider can actually perform an entire disaster recovery test for you, and then forward you the results.
While staffing and resource requirements vary from one company to another, these options can meet a wide range of needs.
With technology becoming more advanced and pervasive, it has become both easier and more necessary then ever to test business continuity plans. With technology rapidly improving and the falling costs of telecommunications, there is reason to believe that this trend will continue. In the event of a disaster, human error and unforeseen systems problems can quickly add up in the forms of lost time and money. Make sure that your team and equipment are ready ahead of time by testing your business continuity plans at least once a year.
So you tested and everything went fine? Congratulations! Here are some more helpful tips to assist you in being ready for, and surviving the real thing.
- Prepare for the worst. Imagine worst-case scenarios when planning for disasters. Don't underestimate any single difficulty you may encounter.
- Build a national vendor network. Some disasters cause damage that is widespread. If it brought you down, it may also have knocked out your local vendors as well. You'd better have a back up supply-line that is out of the line of fire. This includes disaster recovery vendors, banks and other key suppliers.
- Anticipate Communications Problems. Natural disruptions such as earthquakes and hurricanes can bring down phone and power lines. If you don't have access to cellular phones and two-way radios, you might not be able to communicate with key personnel.
- Expect the Unexpected. No matter how well prepared you think you are, there will be some unexpected challenges and expenses. Food, for example, is a commonly overlooked expense that employees will face while at a distant recovery facility. The company must expect to pick up the tab during most of the recovery process.
- Put your people first. Don't lose sight of the human element. Although the survival of the business is at stake, your employees may be facing their own personal tragedies. Include programs to help employees in your business recovery plan (medical care, financial assistance, stress relief, etc.) Unless their families and personal property are safe, your employees will not be focused on recovering the business.
- Update personnel on daily progress. Every single employee with a role in the recovery should be updated on its progress. Rumors and misinformation are bad for business and can hamper the recovery.
- Management must lead the process. Disaster recovery most often fails when senior management is not fully committed. Not only should the "big guns" be out in front during the planning process, they should also be highly visible during the recovery.
Make no mistake about it, disasters cause some tough times. But companies have suffered and survived them, and their experiences can help future disaster victims limit their own losses. Should a catastrophe occur, these tips should aid in weakening the blow to your company.
SunGard E-Testing: Helping Customers Achieve Successful Recovery Tests
Leveraging the speed and efficiency of the Internet, SunGard Recovery Services has helped make the recovery test process even easier for its subscribers. With the recent launch of E-Testing, SunGard has provided its subscribers with a powerful, web-based tool that dramatically eases the recovery test plan development process. E-Testing, the first system of its kind in the business continuity industry, enables SunGard customers to develop and submit recovery test plans on-line over the Internet.
Comprehensive testing of disaster recovery plans is one of the fundamental principles of best practice approaches to business continuity. With E-Testing, SunGard enables its customers to ease the often-cumbersome process of building recovery test plans, facilitating the eventual execution of more successful tests.
E-Testing gives SunGard subscribers the ability to develop, access and modify their test plans 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Multiple users at customer sites can access various plans and more efficiently make needed contributions. Since it is not always possible to complete comprehensive plans in one sitting, E-Testing enables subscribers to save incomplete plans as drafts and then complete them later. Completed test plans are submitted electronically to a SunGard Technical Coordinator.
Larry Henderson, senior vice president of operations at SunGard Recovery Services, commented, "SunGard's overriding objective is to make the business continuity process easy for our customers. E-Testing simplifies the test plan development process and saves our customers valuable time and resources. We will continue to work closely with our subscribers to expand E-Testing into even more areas of the recovery test process, including scheduling and resource allocation."
One of the subscribers working closely with SunGard is Kraft Foods, who helped "beta" test the E-Testing system. With over 150 recovery tests per year, Kraft represents a true power user of the system. "SunGard has saved us a considerable amount of time and resources in our elaborate recovery testing program," comments Ira Breslow of Kraft. "We see great future applications of this system and we are working closely with SunGard to help build even more robust functionality into E-Testing."
Judith Eckles is Director of Marketing Communications for SunGard Recovery Services. She is the immediate past Chairperson for the Disaster Recovery Journal Editorial Advisory Board.