Do You Understand Business Continuity Planning?

By Larry Bonfante  |  Updated 01-08-2013 | Posted 01-04-2013

Do You Understand Business Continuity Planning?

One of my responsibilities at the United States Tennis Association over the past few years has been to develop and test the organization’s business continuity plan (BCP). After researching this topic and discussing it with many of my peers I am fascinated to learn how few people understand what this process is really all about!

Most CIOs that I’ve spoken with confuse two important but very different things. The first is disaster recovery (DR). When I speak with most CIOs about business continuity planning what they usually talk to me about is DR. While both are important, they are very different things.

Disaster recovery is focused on re-establishing access to the key technology systems, solutions and services required to run your business. It’s about getting your network back-up, getting people back on email and ensuring that your company’s order processing and customer service applications are back online. Clearly, this is a critical responsibility and the domain of the CIO. But disaster recovery in and of itself is just a small part of what a true business recovery plan addresses.

Business recovery planning is focused on re-establishing business operations. It is a far broader prevue that simply getting the technology back online. It’s about understanding your key business processes at a granular level. Who are your key stakeholders? How do you conduct business? What constituencies would be impacted in the event of a disaster? How would you communicate with them? Who are the key people you need to get things back in operation? How would you engage with them? Do they have the technical means to do their work remotely or do you need to establish a secondary location where they can meet to get back to work? What capabilities would you need to provide at that site?

Also another key piece that is often missing is documentation on how your business processes run. Much of this knowledge is stuck between the ears of your key employees. But what if God forbid those people are not available for one reason or another to participate in getting things back in service? Would other people know what has to be done? Do you have a way to communicate with all of these people “en masse” (i.e., think of how your school system phones parents for snow days)? Do you even have cell phone or home numbers to contact them in the event of an emergency? How do you keep these processes and information up to date?

Do You Understand Business Continuity Planning?

Also, no team would expect to succeed without practice. Can you imagine a football team just showing up on Sunday afternoon expecting the offense line would know their blocking assignments and the wide receivers would automatically know how to run their routes? Do you practice how to react and respond in the event on an emergency? Part of an effective BCP process is what we refer to as “table top exercises” where you emulate an actual disaster and go through the motions of what you would do, who would do what, who you would contact and how. The time to learn you don’t know how to do this well is not during an actual emergency!

Business continuity planning is more about restoring business operations than simply providing technology to your employees. As the old joke about Carnegie Hall goes, the way you get there is “Practice, practice, practice.”

About the Author

Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.