Disaster can have a number of meanings for today’s companies. It could include a natural disaster that disrupts power and infrastructure, or a cyberattack that cripples their network systems. Whether a disaster is natural or man-made, it can threaten an organization’s ability to access and utilize the data and network systems that make its business possible. For this reason, it’s critical that companies confront the risk of disaster by formulating a disaster recovery plan and assembling a disaster recovery team.
Every organization should have a group of individuals dedicated to developing and documenting a plan for disaster recovery to ensure data availability and business continuity. This disaster recovery team not only creates the disaster recovery plan, but also is responsible for building and implementing the processes and procedures that will facilitate data recovery and integrity. An effective disaster recovery plan will need to be updated frequently and tested to ensure its effectiveness, so the team will be responsible for these tasks as well.
Since disaster recovery can impact all levels of an organization, a disaster recovery team should ideally be a cross-functional group capable or leveraging expertise from multiple departments and addressing a variety of system availability and business needs. While every organization may look different, there are several broad categories of people who should be involved in planning and executing disaster recovery efforts.
The company’s senior leadership may not need to be involved in all aspects of disaster recovery planning, but they need to participate in all discussions about all disaster mitigation efforts because they will ultimately be the ones signing off on budget proposals and broader policies. Some executives may lack the technical expertise necessary for detailed disaster planning, but their position of authority allows them to help the team overcome obstacles and secure organizational buy-in.
Most of the highly-technical aspects of the disaster recovery plan will be executed by members of the organization’s IT department. They have the clearest idea of what the existing network and computing infrastructure requirements are and understand how to best ensure system availability in the event of a disaster. Senior IT managers with knowledge of the organization’s storage and database systems, networking, and applications should be heavily involved in any disaster recovery planning process.
Although IT personnel know the ins and outs of the company’s systems, they might not have an intimate knowledge of how critical they are to other departments. By involving representatives from those departments in the planning process, the team can evaluate downtime tolerance more accurately. It may be possible for some departments to implement workarounds that give the recovery team more time to get systems up and running, which can help reduce the overall disaster recovery budget. On the other hand, the team might learn that even a few minutes of downtime could result in unacceptable costs for some business units.
A disaster event has the potential to impact data availability and security, which could expose the organization to costly legal liabilities. Compliance requirements are often quite complex, and the team needs to make sure that the processes it puts in place to mitigate a disaster are in accordance with those standards. This is especially important if the organization is bound by SLAs that stipulate their responsibilities to their customers. When it comes to data integrity and security, it’s not worth taking chances.
Identifying who should be part of the team is only the first step. Once the disaster recovery plan is developed, it needs to be implemented. While many people will be involved with carrying out the plan when an emergency does occur, there are two specific team leadership roles worth pointing out to ensure success.
This person is responsible for overseeing every aspect of data recovery when a disaster occurs. They initiate recovery plans and facilitate all team efforts from the beginning of a disaster to the resumption of normal operations. Most of their work will be on the IT side, where they address problems that emerge and identify factors that could delay any aspects of recovery. They will most likely be responsible for assigning roles and responsibilities throughout the IT department for handling different aspects of disaster recovery.
Just because a disaster recovery plan is in place doesn’t mean the entire organization will know what to do when disaster strikes. The business continuity expert ensures that the non-IT aspects of the plan are implemented throughout the rest of the company. This could include clarifying reporting procedures or gathering critical contact information to facilitate smooth communication during a disaster.
Training and testing is an essential aspect of any disaster recovery plan. Once the plan is implemented, the team will need to conduct ongoing evaluations to assess its effectiveness. There will be some challenges and problems that no one anticipated during the planning process or during the initial risk assessment. These issues need to be addressed well in advance of the moment the organization needs the disaster recovery plan most. Waiting until a hurricane is moving in on a data center is a bad time to discover that there’s a problem with switching operations over to a cold site recovery solution, for instance. By conducting routine testing, team members become more familiar with their responsibilities in the event of a disaster, which reduces the chances of human error or confusion when that moment arrives.
Planning for a disaster is one of the most important things an organization can do to protect its operations and data from disruption. Given the high costs of system downtime and the extent to which companies rely upon data to guide decisions and strategy, every effort made to ensure business continuity is a worthwhile expense. By organizing and empowering a disaster recovery team, they can avoid suffering many of the negative outcomes that so often accompany a disaster event.