The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for organizations to ensure that their business continuity and technology disaster recovery plans are up to date. These plans need to address the challenges of remote working, social distancing, company shutdowns or restricted activities, and the health and safety of employees.
Medium to large organizations typically use their business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) programs in the following ways:
- using existing in-house employees only;
- using in-house employees with an external consultant;
- hiring experienced business continuity and disaster recovery professionals as full-time employees sometimes assisted by a consulting firm; and
- using in-house employees who may be experienced BCDR professionals, plus installing special software that delivers business continuity and other related plans and technical and administrative services as part of a formal program.
Here, we examine how software products and advisory services support the last item above.
The business continuity market
Each business continuity software product is built to comply with domestic and international standards from organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization, National Fire Protection Association and National Institute for Standards and Technology; hence, there aren't unique variations among BCDR products.
The same is true of the advisory services business continuity providers offer. Each vendor helps organizations build and exercise BCDR plans, establish formal BCDR programs, facilitate training and awareness activities, perform business impact analyses (BIAs) and risk analyses (RAs), prepare incident response (IR) plans, and help senior management understand the value of business continuity plans to the organization.
But there are numerous business continuity vendors that offer software products, advisory services and software updates to assist organizations with preparing and exercising BCDR plans. Top vendors include companies such as Assurance Software, Avaluation Consulting, ClearView, Fusion Risk Management and Quantivate.
The Oct. 26 announcement that Assurance, Avaluation and ClearView are teaming up to form Castellan Solutions certainly changes the landscape of the business continuity market. This merger uniquely positions the newly formed company to provide an extensive range of pandemic response and recovery planning products and services.
Castellan plans to offer software products from the three vendors and Avalution's Business Continuity Operating System will provide Castellan's professional services. The inclusion of executive search and market research firm BC Management is an important competitive advantage for Castellan, as it provides a unique and highly important revenue stream that other firms in the market don't offer.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
Business continuity vendors traditionally develop BCDR plans to protect businesses from unplanned disruptive events and ensure they can remain operational. Most plan strategies focus on a loss of technology, such as IT systems and network services, and, more recently, cybersecurity breaches that can cripple business activities. The current pandemic affects business continuity plans because of the absence of employees due to the illness and changes in the way businesses operate due to employees working remotely. Similarly, the pandemic affects DR plans due largely to the increased need for technology to support remote access and security to protect the company from cyberthreats due to remote working.
BCDR software features and attributes
Most BCDR systems use an underlying technology platform such as SaaS on which organizations can layer additional modules per user requirements. Upgrading to additional modules is usually a simple process. Users interact with each system via dashboards. Report generation varies from system to system; mostly on how reports are structured and the content each provides, ensuring organization comply with the BCDR standards. For example, BCDR plans are typically built on preconfigured templates into which customer data is entered, producing a custom plan ready for review and implementation.
Software deployment can take several forms, depending on the customer organization and its IT resources. It can deploy software in an existing data center, remotely via a cloud-based service, or use a combination of the two. Users typically begin with a minimal configuration so they can get comfortable with the system and its capabilities. If the initial system is installed in a customer data center, depending on the module(s) added, it can migrate over time to a cloud-based or hosted environment. These systems are designed to integrate with existing IT environments, as compared to older, standalone, legacy systems.
Key features and capabilities available in business continuity software packages include the following:
- BCDR and pandemic plan development
- incident response plan development
- emergency notification
- risk assessment preparation
- BIA preparation
- automated BCDR and IR plan exercising
- automated report generation
- dashboards for customer interaction
- compliance against BCDR standards
- live incident support
- policy and procedure development
Professional advisory services
BCDR vendors offer a variety of professional services, ranging from developing plans to compliance and audit support. Organizations can acquire consultancy services separately or along with the purchase of software. These services generally include the following:
- BCDR and IR plan and program development and exercising
- pandemic guidance and support
- BCDR and IR pandemic plan reviews
- senior management interfacing
- BIA and RA development
- training and awareness support
- compliance against global BCDR standards
- live incident support
- policy and procedure development
- audit support
- vendor comparisons and risk analyses
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous business continuity vendors have added to their advisory services to accomplish the following:
- modify existing BCDR plans to address pandemic issues;
- provide guidance for remote working;
- provide guidance with succession planning;
- provide guidance on how to modify business operations to accommodate the pandemic;
- provide guidance on how to mitigate the effect of the virus; for example, encouraging face masks, social distancing and modifying work areas in offices; and
- provide guidance and support for health-related issues involving employees, including loss of staff due to illness from the pandemic.
Some vendors also offer temporary and full-time staffing and BCDR industry and market research.
Business continuity vendors generally offer internal technical expertise to support user installations, including software engineers, project managers, system administrators, testing coordinators, network coordinators, installation coordinators and system trainers. Each BCDR product uses SaaS technology and, typically, deploys cloud technology, as well as supports on-site installations. BC vendors provide security for protecting customer data or coordinate with the customer's existing security.
Pricing and support
There are a variety of pricing options for BCDR software. Initial pricing can include month-to-month contracts or annual contracts. Depending on the type of installation and functions provided, vendors may offer month-to-month pricing, annual contracts and financing arrangements, if needed. Demos enable prospective users to get a feel for each package.
Maintenance contracts and warranties ensure system performance is properly maintained. Customers are assigned technical support coordinators who can help with diagnostics and problem resolution. They also have access to advisory service professionals who can assist in a variety of areas.
Business continuity planning considerations
Before evaluating and selecting a BCDR software package or advisory service, it's important to examine the following considerations:
- User's current business requirements. This examines the current state of the business, and if current BCDR planning activities function and address pandemic issues.
- Existence of other BCDR technology. If the organization already has BCDR planning software, determine if it has been performing as expected and can support new requirements.
- Existence of a formal BCDR program, procedures, policies and staffing. If a formal business continuity program exists, determine if software will enhance the program's capabilities.
- Technology infrastructure to evaluate software compatibility. Ensure that sufficient processing power is available for an on-site installation, sufficient network bandwidth if a remotely hosted installation is selected, and if current information security measures are sufficient to accommodate a new system, especially if it's hosted remotely.
- User budgets and financial resources. As the potential range of costs becomes known, determine if sufficient budget funds are available or if the organization will need a capital budget appropriation.
- User acceptance of BCDR as part of operational culture. If a BCDR program is in place, determine how well it has integrated into the existing culture of the firm; for example, examine if BCDR considerations are part of new product development initiatives.
Depending on the existing situation, a request for proposal could provide an efficient way to compare business continuity vendors, their services and pricing.