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Volume 31, Issue 4

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After viewing Jurassic Park III on opening night, I was reminded of the scene in the first movie where Dr. Grant finds the broken eggshells at the base of the tree and exclaims, “Life found a way”. The dinosaurs, bred to be only female, with no known means of reproduction, were multiplying. Man’s efforts to control “dino-DNA” fails while he is busily engaged putting up electric fences, securing bunkers and recompiling millions of lines of code.

This article won’t attempt to answer the question of why one would create something that threatens your own existence. That’s another story. It seems there is an obvious difference from “going out to dinner” versus “being dinner”.

When working to assure business survival, business unit leaders and personnel (Business Units) face a similar survival challenge. Survival can be used to describe achieving career success or taking ownership of business continuity plan development. Business Units must assume ownership, as well as authorship when designing a strategy to face various types of business interruptions.

Business survival obstacles do not come from raptors or “meata-saurs” but often originate from our Information Technology (IT) counterparts bound by the planning limitations of a disaster recovery mentality.

Why has the necessary partnership, where each group (Business Unit and IT) recognizes the value and role of the other, been slow in coming? Perhaps it began when we were all in awe of the machinery. We placed technology on a pedestal when those amazing machines with their secret languages could process more things and did it faster than we could.

On what seems to be a never-ending cycle, Business Units must spend time and energy to break out of the “user mode” that we helped create. Business Units must often do business, sometimes not in harmony with IT, but in spite of them. This adversarial environment needs to change or neither group will ever be successful. As Business Units struggle to break out of the “user mode”, IT gets frustrated because of the increasing demands from a user community no longer content with status quo. This is not your typical workplace violence issue. The weapons in this situation are canceling meetings at the last minute or key players calling in sick or missing important deadlines.

Whatever their business, businesses profit by doing business. Sales, marketing, training, finance, client services are areas that contribute to the generation of revenue. Yet, these are often the areas discounted by Senior Management or IT when considering critical functions requirements identified by Business Units. To suspend any function without really analyzing interdependencies, short and long-term impact to clients, reputation and dollars can result in corporate extinction.

The role and prominence of IT has evolved. IT is just one of the many collateral functions that result from doing business. IT is a tool for use by the Business Units. IT is often not the business. Users of technology are no longer as impressed with the technology as the folks who install and support it.

Ever consider the name, Help Desk? How helpful is your Help Desk? Who is the Help Desk designed to help? Crazy question, you think. Everyone knows it was designed for the user’s good. If nothing else, being on the phone keeps users occupied while equipment or software makes it impossible to do business. IT resources benefit from the Help Desk, as they don’t have to be bothered by users asking the same question over and over. Ever wonder why the same question has to be asked over and over?

Don’t you love the Help Desk’s email declaration message about an issue but offers no contact for further information? Usually within the hour, here comes the clarification of the declaration to stop the flood of calls resulting from the first message.

Help Desks evolved from catalogue order processing operations. Surely some of you remember when Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Wards relied primarily on catalogue orders to generate sales? The routine was person sits, phone ready, caller calls, phone rings, phone answered, questions answered/ordered taken, hang-up, wait for next call. What was once personalized service has evolved into a machine driven, people/problem-queue.

Does the Help Desk actually provide help or has it evolved into a set of automated options designed to prevent the people doing business from talking with the person hired to support the business? Many Business Unit problems go unreported. There is not time to wait for help.

Agreed, those in IT who control the information infrastructure have technology knowledge and power. What they don’t understand is the business side of the organization. What they must begin to understand is the art of doing business.
Automated call distributors (ACDs) and voice response units (VRUs) are widely used in many organizations as a method to channel internal and external callers. Reliance on such services can cause major communication failures when they become such a part of the organization’s way of doing business and due to an incident, the Help Desk cannot function. Any type of technology used to funnel all users down one path becomes a single point of failure. Such issues can only be resolved through partnership between Business Units and IT.

Users are very creative. They will find a way. Consider though the many creative user work-arounds that are now embedded in business unit production processes. Work-arounds make up for the functions where software and technology disconnect from the Business Unit’s needs. These work-arounds may save time today but in an incident, such disconnects will cripple the best continuity plan. Business Units and IT will be left wondering why recovery of a fail-proof function has failed.

When questioning whether a business could recover from a major business interruption, the answer is generally, “Yes, the business could recover.” The next question (rarely asked) is, “Will there be business left to do?” Unless there is greater recognition and acknowledgement of the business function, those done by “user”, there will be no transactions to process, no reports to print and no files to transmit.

Let’s consider the evolution from the controlled mainframe environment to the uncontrolled client-server environment. Ever wonder who made that distinction? Likely it came from the IT area where some had lost their sense of control. Of course, my IT friends will say, just wait though, they (those users) get in trouble and then they have to call for help. Serves them right. We’ve got them where we want them now.

To that I say, why wait? Letting Business Units fail when situations could have been prevented or avoided impacts everyone’s credibility. Why not offer assistance? Why not volunteer to assist in the implementation? That user might be bringing in business that adds substantially to everyone’s profit sharing.

Users embraced client-server technology. Why? Because the PC provided desktop processing, was somewhat easier to operate, came with software and allowed the user to control their own destiny. No longer were requests taken under consideration and “we’ll get back to you.” Business unit personnel could generate their own mailing labels, create graphs based on simple spreadsheets and prepare presentations without waiting for the availability of scarce and expenses resources.

Marketing and sales opportunities were lost due to missed deadlines and misunderstood requirements. Finance areas still rely on manual ledger pages to track certain accounts because the system figures don’t agree with the calculator. Haven’t we all experienced those applications being developed with our initial input and then our dismay at seeing the end product with no resemblance of the original request?
In the current economic climate, IT departments are having an increasingly hard time justifying expenditures. IT must work in partnership with Business Units to demonstrate the business case for increased connectivity, additional data capacity and improved resiliency. Business Units are not made up of “users”. They have names. They are not just an ID number. Business Units are the champions that IT says it is looking for.

In turn, Business Units must take ownership of business continuity planning efforts. Only they can determine recovery time objectives for the functions they perform. Limitations within IT to accommodate recovery timeframes are an obstacle to business survival. Limitations can be overcome by working together to share knowledge, experiences, resources and influence. Once an incident happens, any excuse will seem lame.
According to the Help Desk’s automated system message, I’m now “tenth caller in queue”. I need to find my note about why I was calling. When you wait so long, it’s easy to forget. Guess I can always get my password reset.

Rosemary M. Davis, CBCP, has worked in the field of disaster recovery/continuity planning for many years.