You may be asking yourself whether you should be considering web-based planning software at all. If yours is a small, geographically centralized business, the answer may be no. But for larger companies with multiple locations, the answer is absolutely.
'We couldn't do anything but choose a web-based product. It just makes sense,' says Jim Callahan who is the disaster recovery project manager for SmithKline Beecham. 'We want to combine best practices among our divisions, and standardizing on the web product will enable us to share information among divisions that used to operate on an autonomous basis.'
Callahan also points to the 'elimination of the desk-top level set-up' as a benefit of a web-based tool.
Mark Thomas, vice president information technology for Goldman Sachs, agrees. 'I love the ability to not worry about client installs,' he says. 'We've been very successful in rolling out our web-based product to 450 users on three continents.'
Other benefits to a web-based tool include following a corporate shift to the web and end-user comfort with the browser interface.
Fariba Alim-Malvasti of Cigna says planning on the web lets her avoid extensive integrated testing that must be done with traditional software.
Web-based software should also cut the learning curve, says Meg Bradley, senior systems architect for Willamette Industries.
Making the Decision
Once you've decided to make the move to web-based planning software, your next step is to evaluate your choices. The decision is an important one that should not be taken lightly. The wrong choice could leave you with a product that doesn't work and waiting for a fix that may never come.
'We purchased a web-based product that we just couldn't make work,' says John Robertson, business continuity coordinator for UNUMProvident. 'Now, we're in a transition to the Strohl web product. And we feel comfortable with it.'
For Lisa Dellinger, manager of corporate business continuity for Nationwide, that meant meeting 'with all the different groups within Nationwide and getting together a team of people. We asked them what 10 drop-dead items they couldn't live without and based our software selection on those items
That the software be web-based was one of our drop-dead items. We didn't want to go from desktop to desktop to load it. We also wanted something that could be easily customized and 24x7 support.'
'We chose LDRPS as the product years ago, and it has just been a natural progression,' says Jim Callahan. 'We just recently decided to upgrade to the web version of LDRPS. It is so important to choose a product that can grow with you.'
Your Needs Matter Most
'One of the biggest considerations in choosing a web-based product is that it can be tailored to fit your needs. When bringing in a product such as this, you want to make sure it fits the company's needs - not that the company is changed to fit its needs,' says Jamie Bachant, manager of corporate disaster recovery services for Lockheed Martin.
When it comes to BCP software, you must be able to customize everything from the overall planning methodology down to the field names and sizes. And you should be able to choose the hardware to run it on as well.
'You don't want to introduce a tool that radically changes the way your company has been doing something,' says Michael DiDomizio, systems director for Prudential.
'Don't let a product limit you in where you want to go and be six months, a year or even 2 years from now,' warns Shannon McIntyre of American Financial Group. 'I think it is very important for a software tool to provide the ability to customize the screens and do masking.'
'What is especially attractive to us is the ability to customize the software,' says J.P. Smith, vice president of risk management for ACE USA.
'We also like the ability to upload data from other sources and chose software that provides a facility to capture employee data to populate dictionaries,' he says. 'We also spent a lot of time talking about hardware requirements. We went with the product that allowed us to choose the hardware that fit our corporate standards.'
When deciding among products, it easy to get overwhelmed and confused by different feature sets. Our users suggested some that they find critical (see sidebar, page 66).
'You should look for a product that allows you to build plans at all levels, have multiple teams, identified resources, and assign tasks to team members,' suggests MacIntyre. 'That way, you know who is responsible for what. You should be able to do that at any level from emergency response plans at a corporate level to a business process level.'
MacIntyre also suggests looking for good reporting capabilities. 'I can enable my users to create their own report groups. I can query my data,' she says. 'The reports that the product comes with should be customizable but also good enough from the very start to begin building plans'
A planning assistant or wizard is a key feature for DiDomizio. 'We started looking at LDRPS in the Fall of 1997, and we were attracted to the Plan Assistant because our planners were looking for something that would facilitate the process,' he says.
Susan Callahan BCP Coordinator for Southern Companies also advocates the use of planning assistants. 'Business units have been given the responsibility for the development and maintenance of continuity plans. We created Plan Assistants to develop templates for our business units, which literally walks users through the planning process. This eliminates training and keeps plans consistent by presenting a step-by-step script that we created.'
There's more to consider than just features, however.
'Before you ever look at a vendor, you need to think strategically about your direction and take into consideration long term objectives,' MacIntyre says. 'Do you need a software that you can easily import and export plan information as you acquire new companies, or business units? Do you need something that you can easily add new locations or business units and copy an existing plan to get started? Do you need the ability to have multiple interfaces with other databases? How fast will your company be growing and what needs will this require?'
'Make sure that you have the right people involved,' suggests DiDomizio. 'You'll need someone with server knowledge and network knowledge and expertise in the planning process.' DiDomizio also warns not to cut corners. 'Spend the money up front to get it right. Don't skimp,' he says.
When talking to vendors, Robertson suggests asking the following: 'What is the maturity of the product? How long has it been available on the market? And what is the number of users? Have there been many product rewrites? Has the core design remained the same?'
And everyone agrees that references are key.
But no matter which tool you choose, heed the advice of Alim-Marvasti. 'It is not the software that can provide the solution. It is the senior management commitment, strong project management, and leadership that is going to get a business continuity plan in place and implemented. Buying software and implementing software is not going to guarantee the survival of your business. The software is not magic.'Web-based BCP Software Checklist
In order to take full advantage of Internet technology, use a web-based planning tool in addition to a corporate BCP Intranet site. To ensure a successful switch to web-based BCP software, you'll want to be sure the product you purchase meets your needs. Consider the following questions and ask them of your vendor.
- What database is supported (SQL Server, Sybase, ORACLE)? Note: Most companies only will allow products that use their corporate database standard.
- Will the Browser product interface to your current plans? Note: Do you intend to retype all of your existing plans into this product, or do you envision it as another method of building and maintaining your current plans?
- Can the product do what you want it to do? Just being web-based isn't enough. Be sure the product you purchase can do the following:
1. Plan Rollup: Easily produce one summary plan report containing all resource requirements, an executive summary, and all applicable plans in their entirety.
2. Summary Reporting: Generate subtotals by department, floor, etc., with a grand total for the entire building or organization.
3. Plan Assistant: Provide a guide or coach to walk users through every step of building successful continuity plans, using a proven, yet customizable, methodology.
4. Process and/or Function Interdependencies: Identify all necessary interdependencies across departments, locations, regions, etc. in order to reveal applications that could fail downstream or upstream of other applications.
5. Global Replace or Delete: Quickly see where your plan resources (employees, software, vendors, etc.) are utilized and instantaneously replace or delete them. Make a change in one place and it is reflected throughout the plan.
6. Include Vidio or Excel Documents: Directly insert diagrams and spreadsheets into your plan using the native application.
7 .Customize the Table of Contents: Choose the content of your plan and the order of the content so that plans are customized to meet the unique needs of each planning unit.
8. Print to a PDF File: Directly generate your plan(s) in PDF file format - the standard for document viewing on the web.
9. Search Utility: Query information within any field in the data entry form, including the use of wildcard characters.
10. Data Sort Order: Choose the order in which you want your data to be displayed.
11. Field-level Security: Hide sensitive information (fields) from users on any of the data entry forms.
Buffy Rojas is Director, Corporate Communications for Strohl Systems, the global leader in continuity planning software and services. She is an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. Rojas can be reached at email@example.com or (610) 768-4120.