The world may or may not be ending on December 21, 2012. I'm not an expert on the ancient Maya (although I've climbed many Mayan pyramids and have long been fascinated by their history, see proof below), but I've heard a rumor that this week marks the end of the Long Count calendar, meaning a new era begins on Friday, December 21, 2012, bringing a new civilization. Also, potentially a planet called Niburu might crash into the earth (although NASA has confirmed they have seen no evidence of this).
So, what's your plan? Will it be a space ark? A time machine (i.e., a TARDIS)? Wormhole (a la Fringe)? Should you consider sending your data to Mars? How do you even prepare for the unknown, the black swan events that are highly improbably, but highly disruptive?
A little more than a week after Hurricane Sandy barreled through the Eastern seaboard, I wanted to take a moment and share some of my thoughts on business technology resiliency* and how we fared during this significant weather event. While there are still over a million people without electricity and significant recovery efforts underway, I'm overall impressed with the level of resiliency and preparedness many organizations exhibited during (and since) Sandy. I stress resiliency over recovery here because I believe that is the future of disaster recovery and business continuity. Our official definition is: “The ability for business technology to absorb
On Monday, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States, flooding entire towns in New York and New Jersey, triggering large-scale power outages and killing at least 17 people. The health and safety of individuals is the first and foremost priority, followed by the recovery of critical infrastructure services (power, water, hospital services, transportation etc.). As these services begin to recover, many business and IT leaders are wondering how they will resume normal operations to ensure the long-term financial viability of the company and the livelihoods of their employees and how they will serve their loyal customers.
Most likely, if you have offices that lie in the path of Hurricane Sandy, you are experiencing some sort of business disruption, large or small. The largest enterprises, especially those in financial services, spend an enormous amount of money on business, workforce and IT resiliency strategies. Many of them shifted both business and IT workloads to other corporate locations in advance of the storm, proactively closed offices and directed employees to work from home or a designated alternate site.
If you are small and medium enterprise and, like many of your peers, you didn’t have an alternate workforce site, robust work-from-home employee capabilities, an automated notification system or a recovery data center, what do you do now? While it’s too late to implement many measures to improve resiliency, there are several things you can do now to help your organization return to normal operations ASAP. Here are Forrester’s top recommendations for senior business technology leaders:
I'm having a frustrating day. It's only partly because there is a hurricane raging outside and I'm cooped up inside with a hyperactive dog. The main source of my frustration is my inability to communicate with the outside world. Yes, I still have power, and the Internet, but unfortunately, with cell networks overloaded, no landline (hello, this is 2012), and VPN failing, I can't seem to talk to anyone. At least comprehensibly. Of course, since I'm a resilient and resourceful employee, I've tried everything from GoogleTalk to Skype to our internal VOIP systems all with no success. Who would have thought in this modern era of the anytime, anywhere worker, that I would be rendered mute?
I've been tackling an interesting challenge recently: how to define a mature business technology resiliency (aka disaster recovery) program. It's something I've been thinking about for years, but it was only a few months ago that I sat down to develop a concrete framework that enterprises could use to compare themselves to. Yes, I know there are existing frameworks for defining what maturity is for a business technology resiliency program, but in my model, I was trying to accomplish the following:
Simplicity. Without going overboard, I wanted to put together a model that could be completed within a few hours, rather than something that would take weeks to complete. The tradeoff, of course, is that this model is much less detailed than others. However, with many conflicting priorities, I know that many IT leaders can't take the time to fill out an assessment the length of the last installment of Harry Potter.
Objectivity. One of the benefits I have at Forrester is the ability to address this from a vendor-neutral perspective. I have no ulterior motives with this model and no vendor allegiances that could influence the outcomes.
Process-orientation. I strongly believe that a mature business technology resiliency program is built on a bedrock of repeatable, standardized, and streamlined processes. In the model, you will see there is a section on technology maturity, but the emphasis overall is on the process components.
At the recent Disaster Recovery Journal Fall World conference, I gave a presentation of the state of BC readiness. I had some great discussions with the audience (especially about where BC should report), but one of the statistics that really stood out for me and I made it a point to emphasize with the audience, is the state of partner BC readiness.
According to the joint Forrester/Disaster Recovery Journal survey on BC readiness, 51% of BC influencers and decision-makers report that they do not assess the readiness of their partners. If this doesn’t shock you, it should. Forrester estimates that the typical large enterprise has hundreds of third-party relationships – everyone from supply chain partners to business process outsourcers, IT service providers and of course cloud providers. As our reliance on these partners increases so does our risk – if they’re down, it greatly affects your organization’s business performance. And with the increasing availability of cloud services, the number of third parties your organization works with only increases, because now, business owners can quickly adopt a cloud service to meet a business need without the approval of the CIO or CISO and sometimes without the approval of any kind of central procurement organization.
Even among those organizations that do assess partner BC readiness, their efforts are superficial. Only 17% include partners in their own tests and only 10% conduct tests specifically of their critical partners.
It should come as no surprise that websites thrive on traffic. So naturally, it follows that driving traffic to your site is a strong motivation for any company looking to grow their web presence. However ironically, driving traffic to your site can also be a double-edged sword if your infrastructure is not properly prepared to handle the load. This means that, strangely, popularity can actually become a potential cause of an outage.
Yesterday, popular Internet forum and message board Reddit discovered this firsthand.In an interesting campaign move, President Barack Obama graced the site with his presence by doing an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) thread, a message thread in which commenters submit questions and the original poster responds. Word about this rare opportunity to send the President of the United States a direct message spread across social media like a wildfire, leading to a massive spike in traffic that ultimately brought down Reddit a mere few minutes into the life of the thread. Current figures show that their number of unique connections and pageviews both more than tripled compared to their typical traffic. Eventually the site came back online and the AMA progressed as usual.
During the past three years, you may have noticed that security and risk professionals have added a new term to their lexicon – business resiliency. Is this just an attempt by vendors to rebrand business continuity (BC) and IT disaster recovery (DR) in much the same way that vendors rebranded information security as cybersecurity to make it seem sexier and to sell more of their existing products? Some of it certainly is rebranding. However, like the shift in the threat landscape from lone hackers to well-funded crime syndicates and state sponsored agents that precipitated the use of the term cybersecurity, a real shift has also taken place in BC/DR.
If you look up the term “resiliency” in the dictionary, it’s defined as “an occurrence of rebounding or springing back”. Thus, business resiliency refers to the ability of a business to spring back from a disruption to its operations. Historically, BC/DR focused on the ability of the business to recover from a disruption. Recovery implies that there was in fact a disruption, that for some period of time, business operations were unavailable, there was downtime as the business strove to recover. Resiliency, on the other hand, implies that an event may have affected the business’ operations, perhaps the business operated in a diminished state for some period of time, but operations were never completely unavailable, the business was never down.
The current state of business continuity management (BCM) standards? Abysmal. According to a joint Forrester/DRJ study, 69% of respondents said that British Standard (BS) 25999 did not influence or only somewhat influenced BCM at their company. It’s not much better for NFPA 1600, 70% of respondents said that it did not, or only somewhat, influenced BCM at their company. I find this shocking. BS 25999 is one of the most widely recognized standards for BCM worldwide and NFPA 1600 has been popular in the US for years. In addition, the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s Private Sector Preparedness Program (PS‑Prep) recognizes both of these standards for assessing preparedness. If you’re wondering what standards respondents named in the “Other” category, it was mostly the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) and NIST. Not surprising but also a little disheartening, it’s clear that unless compelled to do so, most BC professional would not adopt or follow a BCM standard.
Even if you don’t intend to certify to these standards, they should strongly influence your BCM program. Why? It’s because:
They provide a foundation and a common vocabulary for BCM best practices and processes. This is important if you need to implement BCM across a geographically dispersed enterprise or you have to work with a multitude of global partners on joint preparedness.