Using Software Tools to Aid in Corporate-wide Recovery Programs
by: Mark Avery
All organizations confront a challenge in effectively building and maintaining business continuity programs. However, those organizations creating a corporate-wide business continuity program are faced with a whole new level of complexities: not only are there multiple sites, functions and systems to contend with, but also multiple people with varying degrees of continuity expertise located throughout the organization must be involved in the program on an ongoing basis.
Bringing together all the disparate sites, functions and people is the first, and often most difficult, challenge the individual or group charged with an organizations business continuity program faces. Using software tools that establish a consistent format, process and outcome across the enterprise can assist tremendously as the continuity group builds an enterprise-wide program.
Software Tool Options
Software tools can be used to help companies with their business impact assessment (BIA) initiatives as well as for business continuity planning.
One of the first steps in building a corporate-wide continuity program is conducting a BIA. At this point, many continuity professionals encounter corporate politics. If all departments believe that their functions top the critical list, how can an effective assessment be conducted?
BIA software can help ensure that the assessment is accurate by reducing the opportunity for politics or bias to creep into the decision making process. Essentially, a BIA tool standardizes the process of collecting information from the locations on possible impacts and on determining the importance management places on protecting each of these functions. For example, on the function side, the questions and evaluation methods used by all locations can be the same. On the management side, rankings by senior management are given to various impacts (e.g., revenue loss, customer service, legal requirement, etc.). Tools equipped with an expert system then can take the responses from each of the locations and the priorities management has assigned to different impacts, compare the results and provide a ranking on those functions most critical to protect, and hence recover, given management priorities.
As with BIA software, using planning software provides a key advantage for ensuring consistency across the organization. Just as important, the tool also offers substantial time savings. Because planning tools come with a consistent thought process already incorporated, the continuity group doesnt have to spend unnecessary time at the outset determining how to physically build the plan, what information to include and how to collect and record it in a consistent manner. The tools also help ensure that nothing is overlooked. For example, the planning tool will include fields for listing key vendors, but it also should prompt the user for alternate vendor information, a key item to include in your plan should a primary vendor be unavailable.
Another benefit: A software tool used for a corporate-wide program helps create economies of scale. For example, a business continuity coordinator may be able to spare the time to help the first few locations build their programs. However, this individual may not have the resources to help all the locations corporate-wide build their programs. As a result, the first few plans can be used as guides for the other locations as they build their programs.
Leveraging Tools to Maintain Programs
Many organizations can attest that theyve spent significant time and effort in developing programs only to see them lapse once theyre in place. Software tools can help organizations guard against this because they help simplify the maintenance process.
For example, once the initial BIA has been conducted, organizations can easily update the assessment as functions are added. The same evaluation done originally can be applied to these new functions to help determine their recovery priority. Also, some BIA software offers modeling functionality, allowing organizations to conduct what-if scenarios to determine how a shift in management priorities would impact which business functions need to be recovered.
On the planning side, the consistency afforded by the planning software continues to offer benefits throughout plan maintenance. For example, because the planning tool relies on a single database to manage dynamic information within the plan, a change such as updating a vendor name can be done from a single point within the tool. That one change is then promulgated throughout the plan as needed. An organization that has developed its plan using a basic word processing or spreadsheet format likely would need to go into multiple files and manually or with a search-and-replace function change the vendor name wherever it appears.
A planning software tool also provides the benefit of easy roll-up of the individual site plans into the corporate-wide plan. For example, if business continuity coordinators want to determine whether their hot-site subscription is up to date, they can easily query their plan to determine all the equipment needed in a disaster situation and make certain that equipment is reflected in their hot-site subscription.
The consistency provided by the software tools also is beneficial in bringing new individuals up to speed on the continuity program. Instead of requiring a new staff member attempt to recreate the plan from disparate spreadsheets, word documents and other files, the business continuity plan is all housed within a single system.
Evaluating Continuity Program Tools
While BIA and planning software can provide tremendous benefits in developing corporate-wide continuity programs, not all software is created equally. Among the key criteria that organizations should use in evaluating which tool meets their needs are:
How easy is the software to use? In a corporate-wide recovery program, where it is likely that multiple individuals will be involved in the planning and maintenance of the program, having a tool that is easy to use from the outset is important in ensuring that it will indeed be used.
Does the vendor offer training classes? As part of this, you should find out how long the classes last. However, a longer class does not necessarily equate with more thorough training; it could mean a more complex product. Also, find out where they offer training. Ideally, they should have classes located throughout the country, making it easier for those involved in your continuity program to find a class close to their own office.
Does the tool run on a platform were familiar with? The vendor should provide a tool that fits with your environment vs. forcing your environment to fit with their software tool. For example, if your organization has deployed Lotus Notes, the vendor should offer a tool that can be used with Lotus Notes.
Does the tool provide built-in templates? While some organizations are very adept at planning, others prefer to follow templates. These organizations should look for planning software that offers a variety of templates that can be applied to their various functions or locations.
Internally, an organization should also determine how they intend to build their corporate-wide plans. For example, will the program be centrally built, maintained and managed or does the organization want to de-centrally develop and update the plan with central control mainly for managing the overall process? Each of these options will have an impact on the tool used as well.
The Web Emerging as Viable Planning Tool
While each organization has to determine the best way to roll-out and maintain their continuity program, increasingly, organizations are choosing to build their plans de-centrally. In part this is a resource issue most organizations do not have a central continuity group large enough to undertake corporate-wide continuity programs. Additionally, many organizations believe that because the business units own the specific functions they also should be responsible for ensuring effective continuity programs for those functions.
To help address the unique concerns of decentralized programs, Comdisco recently introduced ComPLETE Revolution, a web-based planning tool that allows all those that need to be involved in continuity planning access to the tool whether theyre across town or across the world. The web-based tool provides a number of key benefits for corporate-wide planning, both from a technical and ease of use standpoint.
On the technical side, no client-side set up is required as the interface to the end client is simply a browser. This compares to the more labor-intensive traditional client/server tools, where software needs to be installed and then subsequently upgraded on each client machine. While eliminating these client-side issues and allowing for decentralized planning, the web-based tool still allows for centralized managed as all the data is still housed in one location with live back up data available at an alternate location.
Because the web-based tool is designed specifically to aid in corporate-wide planning, it takes into account that many of those being asked to participate in the planning may have very little knowledge of continuity planning. To compensate for this, the tool uses "wizards" which essentially take the user through a series of questions. Their answers are then used to create content for the plan. The result is an effective plan that requires no training on the part of the end users involved.
Based on findings from the Comdisco Vulnerability Index®, a study of more than 200 midsize and large organizations, only about one-third of companies include multiple geographic locations in their recovery plans. Some organizations may be genuinely unaware of the jeopardy this puts them in. However, its likely that many more are very well aware of the risk but simply have struggled with how to effectively build a corporate-wide program. Teamed with a sound strategy, software tools can provide organizations with the support they need to help build and maintain effective corporate-wide business continuity programs.
Mark Avery is vice president of software planning for Comdisco, Inc. (www.comdisco.com), a technology services company headquartered in Rosemont, IL.