Have you ever thought about how your organization will look like without computers, or functional IT services? What would you do if the phone system was out of order, or the kiosk that manage the customer flow at service desks, email system, printers, or POS system suddenly went offline?
 
If you have given it a thought, I’m pretty sure that
 
  1. It wasn’t a happy thought.
  2. The answers can generally be described as
    The tasks needed to recover the IT services, and bring them back online.
    The tasks required by the organization to work around the issue, and to
    continue to perform business activities “as usual” until the IT services are back online.

     

Essentially, perhaps without even knowing it or giving it too much attention,
you’ve made the basic distinction between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery.
Successful design and implementation of the two plans, depends on understanding the difference between them.

Business continuity

The business continuity plan describes the processes, procedures, tasks and activities
that are carried out by the Organization (by processes owners to be exact) to ensure that critical business activities
(or functions) continue to operate in case of disaster (during the disaster, and after the disaster.
Disaster can be anything from specific IT service interruption (ERP, HR, Finance system) to a full scale disaster, such as losing a building or a store.

It is common mistake to think on Business continuity as an IT plan.
Business continuity is an organizational business plan.
Conceptually you can think of BC plan as the answer to the following question:
If we lose X how would we continue doing our business?

Disaster Recovery

With better understanding of what Business continuity plan really is,
we can now say that Disaster recovery, is an IT plan, and a part of the Organizational BC plan.
It deals with the technical (IT) aspects of recovering IT services to their former state, that is before disaster, ASAP.
Think of DR plan as the answer to the following question:
If we lose our IT service(s), how would we recover it/them ?

It is a common mistake by Organizations to believe that they are covered simply by having a DR plan in place.
DR plan is an IT technical plan, responsible for delivering IT services to the user desk (or mobile for that matter).
Every department in the organization depends on IT services, so essentially, while being technical, IT DR plan is an Organization-wide plan.
However other functions of the organizations such as HR, Finance, Logistics are responsible for DR plans of their own to ensure business continuity of their respected business functions.

Combining Business continuity and DR (Everything in Between)

Let’s do a short wrap-up of what we’ve covered so far

  1. Business continuity plan is an organizational business plan that answers
    “how would we continue our business if we lose X).
    Every department in the Organization should have one.
  2. Disaster recovery plan is an IT technical plan that answers
    “if we lose our IT service(s), how would we recover it/them”?
    Every IT department should have one.
    However, being organization-wide by nature,
    the DR plan should have answers for the needs of every department in the organization.

We can now look at a few scenarios, and see how the two plans work together.

  1. Let’s assume the you have a system that is responsible for managing customer flows, or queues at service desk,
    and the system goes off line.
    While not a pleasant situation, this is most certainly no more than a glitch, mostly because such systems are usually
    meant to support business functions, rather than being the business function itself.
    BC plan actions – Manage the customer queues without the automates system, for example write numbers on paper notes and hand out for waiting customers.
    IT DR plan actions – troubleshoot the issue and restore the system to a full functional state

  2. The previous example was an easy one. Let’s make things a little bit more complicated.
    In this scenario a logistics center, expected to receive goods is out of commission due to a storm, and is expected to come back online in two weeks.
    BC plan actions – Assess the condition of good in the damaged logistics center,
    verify if they can be recovered and still be used.
    Locate an alternate logistics center or storage facility to receive the goods that can be recovered.
    Re-route good that were on the way to the damaged logistics center to the alternate location.
    IT DR Plan actions – Make sure that the data for damaged logistics center is available for the logistics team
    (for example from the ERP / logistics systems), this will assist the logistics team in their assessment.
    If possible, carry out the action items from the IT DR plan to bring the damaged logistics center IT systems online.
    Establish the agreed level (from DR and BC plans) of IT services at the alternate location to support the business activity of handling goods.
  3. A more complicated scenario may involve a loss of an entire office building (temporary, or permanent).
    In such case, the business continuity plan will involve actions of arranging transportation to alternate office building (ideally a place which was agreed upon in advance, and already specified in the DR plan),
    implement procedures to allow employees to work from home (if not already in place), establish clear communications with employees in all level with frequent status updates.
    IT DR plan action in such case may be – Have the proper (IT) tools in place to allow users to log in and work remotely, establish an alternate office complex with workstations,
    telephone system, peripheral equipment and access to the corporate IT tools and services.

While all three examples above are no more than hypothetical scenarios, I’m sure you can relate to at least some of the challenges they describe.
Even more important, I hope that they helped you understand the difference between IT DR plan and Business continuity plan, and the different actions and responsibilities involved.

The bottom line, and perhaps the most important mistake to avoid is to think that by having only IT DR plan in place you’re covered. This is not true.
You should have both plans in place, if not for all business aspects, than at least for key business functions, C suite and other critical personnel, suppliers, vendors and/or business partners.

While the process of identifying key business functions, and players itself goes beyond the scope of this post,
I will discuss it in great details in future ones, as well as share some resources and templates
that will greatly assist you in establishing your own BC and DR plans.

I encourage you to stay up to date with the BC-DR mini-series by subscribing to TheGeneralistIT.com newsletter.

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