Disaster recovery and business continuity planning are processes that help organizations prepare for disruptive events—whether an event might be a hurricane or simply a power outage caused by a backhoe in the parking lot. Management's involvement in this process can range from overseeing the plan, to providing input and support, to putting the plan into action during an emergency. This primer (compiled from articles in CSO magazine) explains the basic concepts of business continuity planning and also directs you to more CSO magazine resources on the topic.
Q: "Disaster recovery" seems pretty self-explanatory. Is there any difference between that and "business continuity planning"?
A: Disaster recovery is the process by which you resume business after a disruptive event. The event might be something huge-like an earthquake or the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center-or something small, like malfunctioning software caused by a computer virus.
Given the human tendency to look on the bright side, many business executives are prone to ignoring "disaster recovery" because disaster seems an unlikely event. "Business continuity planning" suggests a more comprehensive approach to making sure you can keep making money. Often, the two terms are married under the acronym BC/DR. At any rate, DR and/or BC determines how a company will keep functioning after a disruptive event until its normal facilities are restored.
All BC/DR plans need to encompass how employees will communicate, where they will go and how they will keep doing their jobs. The details can vary greatly, depending on the size and scope of a company and the way it does business. For some businesses, issues such as supply chain logistics are most crucial and are the focus on the plan. For others, information technology may play a more pivotal role, and the BC/DR plan may have more of a focus on systems recovery. For example, the plan at one global manufacturing company would restore critical mainframes with vital data at a backup site within four to six days of a disruptive event, obtain a mobile PBX unit with 3,000 telephones within two days, recover the company's 1,000-plus LANs in order of business need, and set up a temporary call center for 100 agents at a nearby training facility.
But the critical point is that neither element can be ignored, and physical, IT and human resources plans cannot be developed in isolation from each other. At its heart, BC/DR is about constant communication. Business leaders and IT leaders should work together to determine what kind of plan is necessary and which systems and business units are most crucial to the company. Together, they should decide which people are responsible for declaring a disruptive event and mitigating its effects. Most importantly, the plan should establish a process for locating and communicating with employees after such an event. In a catastrophic event (Hurricane Katrina being a recent example), the plan will also need to take into account that many of those employees will have more pressing concerns than getting back to work.