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Winter Journal

Volume 30, Issue 4

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. expects their top 100 suppliers to require radio frequency identification (RFID) technology on all products delivered to its stores by January of 2005. While most experts believe Wal-Mart might be a bit forgiving of this deadline, suppliers of food animals and military items have been feeling the pressure to identify every side of beef or shell casing back to its source for quite a while.

Diseases like Mad Cow and recent terrorist acts have sparked traceability programs around the world. But what are the implications for data storage and retrieval of all of this traceable information? And when the data is collected, what are the implications for business continuity and disaster recovery planners when disasters are declared in the technological arena or in the areas of disease outbreaks, consumer alerts, product safety and reliability?

Many major retailers, beef and pork producers, and the military have already entered into traceability programs. In many industrial settings, grocery and retail organizations, pharmaceuticals, and organic farming, the use of bar coding and the data processing to support it is well established due, in many cases, to regulations and the principles and practices of “just in time” inventory. The material handling, warehousing, package delivery, and transportation industries have been involved in tracking and traceability for some years.

What is the value of your organization’s data?

The ability of business and IT managers to answer that question directly correlates to the success of their company’s business continuity and data recovery efforts. The answer is difficult to provide, given the massive amounts of data coursing through organizations and the fact that the value of data changes frequently and quickly in today’s unpredictable, highly competitive, and increasingly regulated business environment. Business continuity and disaster recovery professionals should collaborate with their business partners to address the difficult challenge of restoring data in a timely and cost-effective way.

Most business managers say their data must be highly available, but few identify which data needs to be highly accessible and which data can be stored in less accessible locations. Few companies can afford the cost of storing all data in a highly accessible, immediately recoverable manner.

As data ages, it often becomes less valuable to the business. As a result, the frequency and speed needed to access the data also decrease. By developing frameworks for identifying and tracking the changing value of data and storing it accordingly, business continuity and disaster recovery professionals can restore their company’s most important data faster. Rather than taking several days or more to restore all 40 terabytes, for example, they can first restore the most critical 10 terabytes of data in a matter of minutes or hours.

 

According to famed industrial researcher and chemical engineer Arthur D. Little, “Research serves to make building stones out of stumbling blocks.”

Sept. 11, 2001, was the largest “stumbling block” the business continuity profession has ever experienced. In an attempt to lay the foundation for the future of the profession, Dr. Effy Oz of Penn State University was commissioned to study how the businesses that were directly affected by the tragedy have since fared.

The purpose of the study titled, “The World Trade Center Disaster: A Study on Business Continuity Planning at Organizations Directly Affected by the Sept. 11 Tragedy,” was to glean information on patterns of business continuity planning, as well as relationships among several variables and business continuity planning at these organizations. The effort started in February 2003.

The scope of the survey was limited to companies in one of the buildings that were severely damaged or destroyed. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s report, “Demographic and Socioeconomic Forecasting Post September 11th Impacts,” was used to determine which businesses were located in the buildings. From February to October 2003, an effort was made to contact each of the companies and query the person responsible for business continuity planning.

The respondents were from 10 different industries ranging from banking and finance to education and government. The size of the company varied from four employees to more than 2,700 employees with organizational value ranging between $950,000 and $17 billion.
Among the questions the study participants were asked to answer were their annual sales and budget prior to and after Sept. 11, the extent of their continuity plans, and their insurance spending before and after the disaster.

The disastrous terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001, were watershed moments for the disaster recovery field. Obviously, the events brought infamy and attention to the fundamental need for crisis management and disaster recovery planning. For some, the terrorism attacks brought new corporate focus and resources for planning. Most certainly, Sept. 11 began to change both the way we plan and the specific aspects of our disaster recovery planning.


On Sept. 18, 2001, exactly one week after the horrible events of Sept. 11, we collected reactions and perceptions of disaster recovery experts about the impact of the attacks on their own disaster recovery planning. Now after two years, we again have collected perceptions from disaster recovery experts about the current state of disaster recovery planning in the post-Sept. 11 world. Do DR and BCP experts have a “changed world view” about terrorism threats and what are the most urgent planning priorities that should be at the top of our terrorism planning agenda?


A survey questionnaire was distributed to attendees at the 2004 DRJ Spring World similar to the one distributed during the 2001 DRJ Fall World on Sept. 18, 2001. The 2004 survey offers a unique and important current “snapshot” of the thinking of disaster recovery experts as well as providing a basis for comparison with our first comprehensive survey conducted during the first days after Sept. 11. The results of this investigation offers insight into how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have affected the thinking and planning of the disaster recovery managers in the post- Sept. 11 world.

I have been on a blind date only once. I do not remember who made the referral, but I clearly remember the date and why it was the last one I ever accepted. The woman and I had almost nothing in common. Sitting in front of this total stranger, trying not to gulp my drink, struggling for conversation, with neighboring patrons finding it all humorous was beyond awkward. It felt like a punishment. Every question I asked was met with, “I dunno.” Every offering of information about myself received a, “That’s nice.” Nothing from the considerable depths of my charm could have rescued that date.

What could I possibly have expected? What’s the likelihood that plucking someone at random out of the general population will yield a good match? How could I have prevented the “Date That Should Never Have Been?” Inquiring ahead of time about the woman in question and making sure she knew at least a little bit about me would have been a big help. Unfortunately, companies like yours often are no better prepared at one of the most critical junctures in their history.

According to two Disaster Recovery Journal surveys in the last four years, only three or four companies in 10 include a reconstruction company in their disaster planning. Ask these same companies if they have hot site contracts, uninterruptible power supplies, or evacuation plans prepared ahead of time and the majority say they do. Yet, the protection and restoration of the disaster-struck building is neglected. Not thinking ahead of time about which firm will stabilize a facility, assess its damage, protect its contents and eventually reconstruct it is a glaring omission from pre-disaster planning. When disaster does strike, companies quite literally open the Yellow Pages and pick at random. Such an approach generally yields the same results as an ill-fated blind date.