For TV viewers, it would be a shock if their favorite TV show suddenly stopped broadcasting in the middle of a big scene. And for Martin Gomberg, CTO at A&E Television Networks (AETN), that is the scenario he aims to avoid. AETN has 24/7 broadcast commitments to its advertisers and consumers, and has invested in business continuity to protect these commitments. Even short disruptions, though not critical to revenue, are considered unacceptable and a violation of trust to both viewers and advertisers. Below, Gomberg shares some of the important aspects of his business-continuity program.
What are the elements of your business-continuity program?
Our program includes both technical disaster-recovery components and nontechnical elements designed to keep the business running as usual: failure-response on site spares, repairs and replacements; system high-availability and failure resistance; technical-disaster recovery; optional business continuity and company survivability assurance, which is also owned by the business.
How does the business side of AETN participate in business continuity?
AETN sees business continuity as a business-owned problem. IT helps and guides them with the plan, but ultimately the business units own it. Each department is asked to appoint a representative with sufficient authority to invoke continuity. This individual makes sure that all department members who need to be involved understand their role. This has been a challenge for me because most department managers know how to do their jobs, but not how to think from the perspective of disaster recovery. You have to walk them through it in baby steps, and departments vary in terms of affinity for this process. We continually establish meetings, ask department members to present their continuity plans, and then challenge their plans. They need to prioritize what’s critical to them, turn that into a checklist, and then write an actionable, maintainable plan.
How does IT work with the business?
We have built a business-continuity database with all the necessary elements of a continuity plan. The business inputs its plan, specifying call chains and so on. This is all replicated to the recovery site, so it is always available. This was where most of the business-continuity expense went, as it took 10 weeks and $30,000 to build the database with the assistance of an outside developer.
For testing, we bring departments into a room and challenge their plans with scenarios. We drill down and drive their thinking to deeper levels, and then they update their plans. I use reviewers, such as a retired AETN COO, who are less familiar with the plan and can validate and challenge the plans. Where it is testable, we test it and ensure the plan stays current as the business changes.
In the broadcast industry, if you cannot broadcast from your primary or backup facilities or get access to your programs, you are in a crisis of survivability. You have to force scenarios to that level to get the businesspeople to think in ways they normally don’t think, in terms of how they will conduct business and how they can avoid getting to that level of crisis. In most cases, a well-developed recovery and business-continuity plan should prevent you from getting to the point where a company is fighting for its life.