BEFORE YOU BUY A PLAN, ASK YOURSELF...
It seems almost every disaster planning vendor or consultant is offering a PC-based disaster planning tool that includes a database (relational or not). Some go further and include project management software. The main selling point for these automated tools is “ease of use.” Are you skeptical about a vague claim such as “ease of use”? If you’re not, consider the following:
- When was the last time you learned a new PC software package?
- How long did it take you to be “good” with the package?
- Did you experience any frustration with the user interface?
- Did you have a problem with the learning curve while trying to be productive at the same time?
- Once you became proficient, how many co-workers learned the same package just to back you up?
- Did you get stuck with all the work because you were the lone expert?
- Did you ever forget how to do something and have an anxious boss leaning over your shoulder while you tried to figure it out?
- What if the recovery of the corporation depended on you figuring it out, and fast?
Some people claim that word processor-based plans are hard to update, making a database more efficient. The truth is that updating anything is work. If you don’t do the work, it doesn’t matter whether the information is in a word processor or a database. You want your plan updated? Do the work!
There is absolutely nothing easier about going down four levels of a database menu to find a person’s name and retyping it than simply loading the file in your word processor, moving to the desired page, and retyping a name. But in a database the name is recorded relationally! You only have to type the name once and it magically appears in all the right reports. Well, that is fine until you have to make the name appear in some new text you want to enter. Then you have to do database programming to conjure up the name.
And what if the information you need is already in some other database? Oh, that’s easy, they say. All you have to do is write a little conversion program...
WHY USE A WORD PROCESSOR-BASED PLAN?
The responsibility for writing a disaster plan usually falls on the Manager of Operations or the Director of MIS. I have yet to see a company where these persons did not have a secretary. In every case these secretaries had word processors that they knew how to use very well.
Let me tell you the truth about word processor-based plans. Word processing software is the most universally available user software in the world. Your company has standardized one word processor package so that many people can share files and work.
You can hand out the chapters of the disaster plan to the various experts and ask them to have completed chapters back to you by the due date. They either do all the work or have their secretaries help them. If you use a database, you will be the only person that knows how to enter the data.
And what about ease of use? A disaster plan is nothing more than a book that has to be revised once a month or once a quarter. If you have to add a new chapter, you just type it in. It’s so easy to do that we forget that maybe it’s the best way to do the job. Yes, it’s the plain old way of doing things. That’s why it’s easy!
DO YOU REALLY NEED
A NEW DATABASE?
Much of the important information needed for a disaster plan is already available at your company—things like lists of hardware and lists of employees. You probably even have them in a database. Do not re-create these lists for your disaster plan. Simply file extra copies of these lists in the plan. Make modifications to the standard reports, if you must, so that they become more useful during a disaster.
Disaster plans become out-of-date because the information is not used in the normal flow of business. You already have a business use for these reports, so you know they will be kept current, with no need for retyping or conversion programs.
There are many other reasons why a plain old word processor is a better choice. Even the largest of the disaster recovery plan vendors are minuscule companies when compared to Word Perfect Corporation or Microsoft (Microsoft Word) or IBM (Displaywrite). You know Word Perfect will be here in ten years, but what if the Disaster recovery consultant is not around or cannot afford to support your old database software?
Support for your database may hinge on the employment of only one or two persons at the vendor. In some situations, the programming is farmed out to a consultant programmer who no longer has a business relationship with the disaster recovery vendor.
HOW TO COMPARE DISASTER PLANNING PRODUCTS EFFECTIVELY
When you are comparing planning products, look at the steak and forget the sizzle. Vendors do not tout plan methodology in their ads because it is both boring and hard to do. Remember that databases and word processors are only tools. The plan itself is the real product. The methodology—the words in the chapters, the reports, and the flow of logic in the plan--is what will save your company in a crisis.
Compare the plans very carefully to see that they cover all the topics that your company needs. Does the plan have more teams defined than you have MIS employees? Does the flow of recovery procedures sound logical? Insist on getting enough of the actual plan from the vendor that you can make a realistic appraisal of the plan, not the superficial data entry method.
WHO SHOULD USE A DATABASE-DRIVEN PLAN?
The database-driven plans are useful in companies that have two or more full-time disaster recovery planners. Koch’s First Law of Disaster Plan Survival states that at least two people must be knowledgeable in a product upon which the corporation depends. If one person leaves the company, the other person can teach the replacement. And since two employees are dedicated to the project, you can be fairly certain that data conversion programs will be maintained and that timely data entry will keep the plan current.
The large corporations that can afford two full-time planners have so much data to maintain for disaster purposes that database software becomes efficient. In smaller companies this is not the case.
Word processors are still the most widely used software for writing disaster plans--and also the easiest. A disaster plan is nothing more than a book that must be revised every month or quarter. Do not be sold by the sizzle. Buy what is most useful for your company. And remember, do you really want to be the only person that knows how to update your disaster recovery plan?
Reinhard Koch is Product Manager for the HOTSITE(R) Recovery Plan, a word processor-based disaster recovery plan.
This article adapted from Vol. 3 No. 2, p. 11.