Four Key Questions to Ask About Your DR Planning

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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Natural disasters, human error and technology crises such as virus attacks and server malfunction are just a few situations executives would rather not think about but must. Disaster planning and recovery has become essential for any organization to continue thriving after the worst has happened.

The book Management Information Systems for the Information Age (2007 McGraw-Hill Higher Education) notes that among companies that experience a major catastrophe in which their data is lost, 43% never reopen, 51% close within two years and only six percent survive in the long term.

Many CIOs are already taking steps to implement disaster plans to prevent such losses. Whether you’re starting from scratch or revising current strategies, the best solutions for getting back on track often have just as much to do with being adequately staffed as having the latest and greatest technologies in place.

Here are some key questions to ask about your personnel situation as you develop disaster plans and go through recovery after an incident:

1. Do we have the right skill sets on staff?

Incremental nightly backups, weekly full backups, off-site redundancy and scalability are commonly included in disaster recovery plans. But do you actually have the staff capable of managing these strategies?

The skills needed for everyday IT demands in your department may not always align with what is required to support disaster preparation. For example, consider whether you have someone on your team who knows how to devise, schedule and implement disaster recovery tests and analyze results. Also, make sure people have the necessary qualifications to take the lead and implement recovery plans in case of an emergency and that there is staff capable of supporting these individuals.

You may need to invest in specialized training or hire employees such as disaster recovery/business continuity analysts to ensure your team has what it takes to get your firm through a crisis.

2. Should we outsource or keep disaster recovery planning in-house?

Your personnel levels also are critical when determining whether to outsource or maintain disaster-planning activities internally. Here are a few questions to consider: •

  • Are you clear about your goals with disaster planning efforts? A well-defined plan will help you better evaluate your staffing situation. •
  • Do you have the right knowledge and training in-house to oversee disaster planning and recovery? If not, can you afford to hire appropriate personnel? •
  • Can internal employees work nights and weekends to implement related measures to avoid disrupting daily business? •
  • Do you have the budget to purchase the necessary hardware and software? •
  • Do you have your own off-site location where you can set up a data backup site? Do you have the resources to develop and maintain such a site? Or should you outsource this function to a data center provider?

    3. Are we too reliant on particular employees?

    Part of effective disaster planning is making sure more than one person can handle each job function in your group. This is critical not only during major catastrophes, but also during more minor situations, such as people quitting or going on extended leaves-of-absence unexpectedly. Your recovery efforts after an extended power outage can quickly stall if the sole individual who knows what to do can’t get to the office due to extreme weather. There should always be at least one backup person who can manage a particular situation or technology.

  • Cross-training employees can help achieve this goal. The key is to make sure people are truly interested in learning the other set of responsibilities. A systems administrator whose career goal is to move into network security may be inspired to shadow your firm’s network security administrator and master the basics of the other job. But if the person lacks the necessary motivation to pick up the new skills, he or she isn’t likely to be an effective backup.

    Succession planning also is beneficial. If you or other leaders in the firm decide to retire, leave for another job, face a health problem or simply can’t be on-site during a major crisis, you want to make sure there’s talent in the wings who can pick up the pieces and fill the role. In a survey of CIOs by Robert Half Technology, 50% said they’re taking steps to identify and prepare individuals on their IT staffs to move into management positions.

    4. What if the unexpected happens?

    Despite your best efforts, you can’t prepare for every possible disaster. Sometimes things will happen that no one could anticipate. These situations can provide a tremendous learning opportunity for those on your staff, and you may be surprised by which team members are able to step up to the plate and make a positive impact. You may also want to bring in consultants with the expertise to help your firm manage the disaster and get back on the road to recovery.

    Make sure you’re reviewing your staffing levels on a regular basis to ensure they’re in line with not only your business needs but also your current disaster recovery plans. By considering the human element to disaster preparedness, not just the technological, you can be confident you’re in the strongest position possible should any crisis arise.

    Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.