Separate and distinct contingency planning for e-business operations management is essential for several reasons, including:
• E-business operations management is not always performed in the same facility as data center and/or e-business operations themselves, which means it requires separate protection processes.
• If and when e-business operations are re-located because of an emergency, those e-business operations must continue to be monitored and managed to ensure that they are fulfilling the functional requirements of the business.
• The immediacy with which e-business operations can be restored is contingent, in part, upon how quickly management of those operations can be restored.
• E-business continuity procedures must be testable to verify their readiness.
For these reasons and others, e-business continuity planners should consider working with an outside e-business operations management provider. Such a provider can deliver the specialized on-demand management capabilities essential to e-business continuity.
The benefits of such an e-business operations management continuity strategy include: 1) relatively low-cost protection of critical revenue, 2) the safeguarding of long-term relationships with customers and partners, and 3) credibility with the public and the industry in terms of their ability to deliver stable online services.
Protecting The Brain: Ensuring E-business Operations Management Continuity
There’s a reason why baseball players wear batting helmets and construction workers wear hard hats. There’s a reason our hands instinctively fly upwards when we sense an oncoming blow. Protecting the head and brain is always a priority.
The brain is the center of control. If the brain is injured, the rest of the body can’t function. By the same token, if the brain can be kept unharmed even though some other part of the body is injured, decisions and actions can be taken to remedy that injury.
This same principle is quite applicable to e-business operations. While it’s important to protect all components of e-business infrastructure, special attention must be given to critical e-business operations management functions.
There are several reasons why this is the case. First of all, all transitions – including those that take place during a catastrophe and, just as importantly, when operations are restored to normalcy – involve disruption. Such disruptions demand attentive management. Ensuring that such attentive management can be performed throughout the “crisis lifecycle” is the key to successful continuity.
Second, executive teams can’t know their contingency plans have been effectively executed unless they can continue to monitor site availability and performance. This is especially important in terms of investor and public relations, since shareholders and market watchers will certainly be tracking the progress and efficacy of continuity efforts.
In fact, it’s interesting to note that site traffic often spikes up radically during an emergency event, as customers, shareholders and other interested parties flock to the corporate Web site to get up-to-the-minute information about service availability, interim policies and contingency plans. The immediate availability of contingency operations management is therefore essential to ensure continuity of the e-business “status quo” and handle potential traffic surges that can compound emergency conditions.
The management of e-business services actually lends itself rather well to physical and logical separation from the e-business production environment. After all, online services are used by customers and business partners outside the firewall. So, performance and availability measurement is best done from a site outside the firewall.
Also, e-business services often depend on infrastructure and content from multiple sources: third-party market data and news feeds, hosted Web and application servers, content distribution network providers, etc. Thus, e-business operations management by its very nature involves remote as well as local resource monitoring.
The physical and logical separation of e-business operations management from e-business operations thus creates the need for a parallel separation in continuity planning. Key factors to consider in contingency planning for e-business operations management are:
1) When e-business operations management isn’t performed at the same facility as data center and/or e-business operations themselves, it requires its own protection plan.
Protection of in-house and/or externally hosted IT operations doesn’t guarantee protection of e-business operations management capabilities. This is especially true as more and more companies host their e-business operations at service provider facilities and make use of third-party content and application services.
2) If an emergency forces e-business operations to be temporarily re-located to a disaster recovery facility, those re-located operations must continue to be monitored and managed to ensure that they are fulfilling all functional requirements.
This kind of specialized, event-triggered remote operations management is beyond the standard scope of corporate IT departments. It is also relatively expensive to build from scratch.
3) E-business continuity procedures must be testable to verify their readiness.
A specialized remote fail-over solution for e-business operations management is therefore essential for executing periodic contingency plan “drills” – as well as for the actual execution of the plan itself should an emergency arise.
There are other factors to consider in contingency planning as well. Many planners think only in terms of transferring operations from their primary infrastructure to a recovery facility in the event of an emergency. But what happens when that emergency is resolved? Operations must be transferred back to the organization’s primary infrastructure, but restoration obviously can’t be monitored from the infrastructure that is being restored. Again, a separate contingency e-business operations management resource is a necessity.
Even the best e-business continuity plan is of little value if it can’t be monitored and managed in the event of an actual emergency or a drill. E-business operations management clearly demands its own strategy and provisioning.
Requirements For E-business Operations Management Continuity
Strong remote monitoring capabilities
As noted above, the infrastructure that must be monitored in the event of an emergency can span numerous locations – including a recovery facility, a hosting services provider site and third-party content sources. An e-business operations management continuity operation must be capable of tracking the status and health of these distributed infrastructure domains and correlate that information to provide an end-to-end view of online services.
Effective change management processes
To be effective at a moment’s notice, a contingency e-business operations management solution must be able to track and accommodate changes in the e-business environment as they occur. Otherwise, when an emergency does occur, the provisional management system will wind up looking for components that aren’t there anymore and won’t know what to do with components that it didn’t know existed.
Secure, Web-based visibility
When an emergency does occur, e-business managers will want to be able to monitor critical systems from anywhere at any time. This requires the use of Web-based management portal technology, which provides visibility into contingency operations via any PC or mobile browser. Such Web-based access must obviously be properly secured to protect corporate interests.
Parallel management functionality
Management continuity should not be an exclusively “all-or-nothing” proposition. In many instances, both primary and contingency management facilities will have to operate in tandem. For example, when the contingency facility is first being initiated, its ability to accurately monitor the operational environment will have to be verified by the primary facility. Similarly, there may be times when it is not totally clear whether or not the primary facility is in fact dysfunctional. At those times, the contingency facility must be activated and its capabilities used to verify the integrity of the primary facility. Thus, both primary and contingency e-business operations management facilities must be able to function in parallel.
Automated, event-driven activation
The Internet is a 24x7 marketplace. When failures occur, they must be addressed with great immediacy. Contingency e-business operations management services must be capable of rapid activation based on any one of several “trigger” events – such as breakdown of a primary management system or the disruption of a link between the primary management system and a key remote infrastructure resource.
Benefits Of A Smart E-business Operations Management Continuity Strategy
By provisioning an e-business operations management contingency plan, financial services firms can protect critical revenue streams, safeguard their long-term relationships with customers and partners, and maintain the highest level of credibility with the general public and industry observers. However, there are also several other benefits that can accrue to companies who craft particularly effective e-business operations management contingency solutions. These include:
Highly cost-efficient risk mitigation
Considering the large expense associated with building contingency facilities for data center, call center and e-business operations themselves, the cost of provisioning alternative e-business operations management capabilities is relatively low. And, for that relatively low outlay, financial services firms can protect themselves from a substantial amount of risk. The amount of risk reduction achieved on a per-dollar basis can be much higher for an e-business operations management plan than for virtually any other type of contingency planning investment.
Additional value, normal operations
Companies can further leverage investments in external e-business operations management continuity services by utilizing them during periods of normal operation. In fact, such an external monitoring facility can be enormously valuable for tracking performance and availability of Web services, tapping into additional diagnostic expertise and developing supplemental data for more accurate capacity planning.
“Third shift” management
The same principles that apply to contingency planning can also be used to ensure 24x7 coverage of critical e-business infrastructure. By using an external contingency management provider for overnight management of e-business services and infrastructure, financial services firms can eliminate the costs and human resource challenges associated with maintaining a “third shift” of qualified technicians.
Ongoing management out-tasking
Extending this same concept, organizations can completely out-task specific management and monitoring functions to an external provider, even during normal business hours. The scope of such out-tasking can range from specific administrative functions to more comprehensive mandates – such as monitoring and reporting on all third-party content feeds. This can reduce ongoing operational costs and staffing requirements, while freeing up existing personnel for more strategic tasks.
Without an effective, on-demand, remote e-business operations monitoring and management solution, companies will remain vulnerable to failures in their technical infrastructure, natural disasters and other catastrophic events, and innate inadequacies in their contingency operational plans.
Chris McLellan is co-founder and vice president of InterOPS, a global provider of operations management services for organizations with web-based e-businesses.