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Management buy-in and disaster recovery standards still major challenges

At DRJ's Spring World 2011 conference, attendees cite disaster recovery standards and management buy-in as the toughest challenges facing disaster recovery specialists today.

ORLANDO, FL – Even in the wake of a major disaster such as the Japan earthquake and tsunami, getting management on board with disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) planning remains a major challenge for BC/DR specialists attending Disaster Recovery Journal’s (DRJ) Spring World 2011.

“Executive sponsorship of the [disaster recovery] program is probably my No. 1 challenge,” said Sue Ostler, IT disaster recovery testing coordinator with Ascension Health Information Services in St. Louis. “Getting them to sign off on the expenses associated with disaster recovery and keeping them engaged can be difficult. And, if you don’t have executive sponsorship, you won’t have the support of all the groups that you are reaching out -- to asking them to assist in tests, write plans, and that sort of thing,” she said. Finding a sympathetic and understanding sponsor may be the key. “A lot of times, you have to really search for that person within your organization that has maybe had experience with an actual recovery and they see the value,” Ostler added.

Seeking disaster recovery standards

Ostler went on to say the disaster recovery standards process nationally is another extremely difficult challenge. “Hopefully, we’ll see more of a move in that direction, she said. “But if you don’t own your data center and recovery sites, standardization can be very difficult.”

Sheema Sheik, VP of business continuity for Bank of America, agreed that disaster recovery standards and testing globally is difficult. “We had everything in place in the U.S.,” she said. “But trying to get everyone in Asia, India, Latin America, and so on to follow the same process is a major challenge. You have to take into consideration the nuances of each region. We need an overarching framework [for BC/DR] but at the same time it has to be flexible.”

Bank of America operations abroad are subject to local regulations as well as U.S. regulations. “Now we are at a point where everyone understands the process, and there is standardization in place, but that was a real challenge trying to get the point across,” she said. “Everyone knew they were following their local standards and procedures, but then there are all of these additional rules and regulations to follow.”

Getting buy-in for your disaster recovery plan

Rich Cochran, administrative officer for the eastern region of the National Weather Service, said getting people to understand the importance of disaster recovery planning and testing is his biggest challenge. “People are concerned with day-to-day activities, and this is something they are not quite familiar with and don’t always accept.”

“My biggest challenge is keeping people engaged,” said David Shimberg, BCP/DR manager at Premiere Healthcare Inc. “Our company has been lucky enough to have very few disasters. We are located in Charlotte, NC, and not a lot goes on.” Because of this, he said that it’s important to create DR/BC exercises that are as realistic as possible. “These exercises are your opportunity to ensure that people understand their role and responsibilities; it reinforces what they need to do, and it makes sure that the processes you’ve defined actually work.”

Regina Phelps, founder of Emergency Management and Safety Solutions in San Francisco, focused on creating disaster recovery exercises that keep people engaged and invested in DR/BC testing in her session “The silly little question: Why are we doing this?” Her session focused on the importance of understanding human nature and human behavior when creating disaster recovery tests.

“Regina talked about this in her session,” Shimberg said. “It’s Florida, you hear, ‘we’re going to have a bad hurricane season.’ Then, nothing happens. People get lax. I like to take it to a personal level and get people to look at whether there is a plan in place that will protect their job and paycheck.”

Bob Arnold, president of the Disaster Recovery Journal, said that that getting management buy-in for DR has always been and will likely continue to be one of the major issues. “People always looked at DR as a project,” he said. “I need to hire a consultant and get a plan in place rather than looking at it as an ongoing program. That’s the key, looking at business continuity as something that is literally entrenched in your corporate culture.”

Norman Harris, president of Harris Recovery Solutions, an independent DR/BC consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio, agreed but said that “the biggest challenge today is the economy. Getting organizations to understand that [BC/DR planning] isn’t free and that it is an ongoing thing is tough. In this economy, companies tend to want to cut some of this stuff back.”

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