Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity – Best Practices

As the President of Merkle Response Management Group, I lead the many facets of our business – from client satisfaction, product enhancements and new services, to sales presentations, business strategy, employee engagement and process improvement. No two days are ever alike. In my free time, I like to create things. I am a frustrated artist at heart who enjoys Plein Air landscape painting, and crafting furniture and home accessories from wood. I also enjoy working on my restored ’66 VW Bug.

Here in Hagerstown, Maryland, as in most small towns, life is fairly predictable and quiet. Or so we like to think. The truth is that no matter where you live, or where your business is located, anything can, and at times, does happen.

Are you prepared? What would you do if any of your vendors could not fulfill their obligations due to an accident, a natural disaster or a planned attack? Are you confidant they could continue operations?

Regardless of the cause, it’s crucial that non-profits reduce the risks and consequences of service interruptions by requiring their vendors to have well-defined business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plans in place. According to Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company, only 35 percent of small and medium enterprises have a comprehensive BC/DR plan in place.

So, one of the first questions you should ask potential vendors is, “Do you have a BC/DR plan?” If the answer is anything less than a solid yes, then proceed with caution. Having a comprehensive BC/DR plan should be an absolute requirement in the vendor selection process.

Effective BC/DR plans includes these four essential components:

• Communicating with personnel

Employee communications are key. Make sure you have current contact information for employees as well as police, fire and other emergency responders. It’s important to test the numbers to make sure they actually work before a crisis hits.

• Establishing an alternate workspace/facility

It’s vital that response management vendors have an alternate BC/DR facility in a separate location since a disaster could make continuing operations at the main location impossible. The chaotic aftermath of an unplanned event is not the time to be securing alternative facilities. This must be done before hand, making sure the physical plant is adequate to maintain operations and is located near enough to minimize the downtime needed to move in and resume production.

• Protecting data files and paper documents

Non-profit vendors depend on access to files containing donor data, program details and other information used on a daily basis. A strong BC/DR plan requires that all desktop computers and server-based data be backed up, preferably at the end of every business day. Any necessary paper documents should be stored in a water/fireproof container. Migrating data to the Cloud offers a cost effective way to store data, as well as the ability to access it from a remote location, but Cloud access and reliability can be concerns.

• Managing Risk

It’s important that vendors review their physical office space, establish building safety procedures and put processes in place to avoid risk. It’s also a good idea to complete an insurance audit to make sure coverage is adequate.

It’s not enough just to establish a BC/DR plan – it has to work too. Ask whether or not your vendors practice what they preach and stage drills throughout the year to determine how effective their plans are. Actually walking through the established steps can yield valuable information, and sometimes changes are necessary.

Finally, trust, but verify. If a vendor claims to have a secondary facility, get proof.

We live in an unpredictable world. Anything can happen at any time. Recognizing this, it’s vitally important to make sure that your vendors have robust BC/DR plans in place to enable them to meet obligations during disruptive events. To meet your obligations to your organization and its constituents, as well as for our own peace of mind, you need vendors you can depend on, no matter what happens.

To learn more about Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery planning and evaluation, read the white paper on our website: “Evaluating Your Disaster Readiness? Start With Your Response Management Vendor” www.merkeresponse.com

[1] Gartner, Inc.http://iosafe.com/industry-stats

Be proactive, not reactive.