9 Things to Consider with BCM / DR and the Use of Manual Processes

22 04 2013

When teams are determining and developing their Business (unit) Continuity Plan (BCP) the fact that manual procedures will be used, often crops up. ‘What will you do in a DR situation?’ they’re asked and the answer all too often – and quickly – comes back as “we’ll do ‘x’ manually.” Really, is it that easy to do; just revert to a manual process for what normally includes many checks and balances and possibly varying numbers of applications?

In some instances it might be that easy. If you telecommunications are still up you can answer calls and take down information clients are looking for and then call them back when applications come back up. Not a full manual process but you can at least get some client service going. For those old enough to remember, your credit cards were taken manually by restaurants and shops by copying the card imprint using carbon paper. That wasn’t a manual process back then – it was the process. However, if anyone in the restaurant or shop industry wants to ensure they can continue to service clients – and get paid by patrons – they still have an old dusty machine and credit card slips hidden in the back cupboard of the office. In this case, many places use this as the backup process – and it’s a manual process.

But it’s not always that easy to just say you’ll do your processes manually anymore. With huge strides in technology and technology dependencies (and interdependencies) and service level agreements, not to mention the level of governance required in today’s business world, switching to a manual process may not be that easy and in many cases may not even be possible. For that reason organizations must really think through what they can and cannot do manually and take into consideration some key factors.
Below are 9 things an organization must consider before reverting to manual processes during disaster situations and before it’s inserted into any business unit BCP.

1. Short Term Use: If you’re going to use manual processes, remember they are only intended for short term use. They are not meant to be used for any long term use, as it could cause you other problems down the road. They are short term fixes used

2. They May Break Regulations: Sometimes a manual process breaks a rule – or sidesteps a rule – so that a function can be completed. In a disaster situation when (if) you’re using manual processes, be aware that the process may not meet your usual standards simply because technology has been taken out of the loop.

3. Less Audit and Governance: If you are developing manual processes and see a need to have them, know that the level of governance and audit tracing by various technology applications won’t exist if a manual process is leveraged. Still, consider adding some level of audit or governance to lessen an potential future impacts.

4. Serious Emergencies Only: Consider the use of manual processes only in real emergencies. If an application – or some other situation – is very short term, it may not be necessary to bring everyone up to speed on what to do when using the manual process. It may simply be easier to wait until the application (or other dependency) becomes available once more.

5. Not Widely Available (or known): It may seem a bit strange to withhold information but manual processes aren’t something you want everyone to know about. If everyone did know about them, they might be used in non-emergencies, which would completely cause chaos down the road when an issue pops up with the work completed. If you have them, keep them separate from regular operating procedures and don’t distribute widely to people until necessary.

6. Not a Process Replacement: Since manual procedures are intended as a short term fix, they are not a replacement for regular operational activities. They are only mean to be used to continue a critical operation – or as a short term partial fix – until normal operational activities can continue (i.e. applications become available etc). A manual process does not equate to an alternate method of doing the same thing; it’s short term because the normal operational activity can’t continue as is due to an unforeseen circumstance and will be stopped as soon as it’s feasible.

7. Determine Use Requirements: When Can They Be Used? Under what circumstances can – or will – the manual process be utilized? It could be that as part of normal operating procedures, a manual override is required by a management representative because our own authority doesn’t allow for us to continue with a function. We’ve all be in the situation where we are waiting for something to complete but we need to the ‘special authority (or input)’ of a manager before we can continue. You also want to ensure that the manual process can’t compromise your operations and utilized for underhanded purposes, so know when it is appropriate and when the manual process fits into operations – either as a disaster contingency or as part of governance processes.

8. Oversight Requirements: Need some level of oversight on manual processes – even in DR situations, as audit / governance / legislative requirements may still need to be captured (depending on the process and procedure being manually used (i.e. old credit card slips). Keep in mind that developing oversight processes during a disaster period may delay the actual recovery timeframes and can cause unnecessary work but it all depends on what manual process(es) you’ve decided to develop and implement for DR purposes.

9. Documentation – DR Use: Keep these documented and ready for use in a DR situation (part of a BCP plan for use by the appropriate departments (an appendix)) and kept in a separate location from other operating manuals. Quite possibly, they can be kept in a locker or other container at the DR restoration and recovery centre. Make sure you keep things updated too and reviewed every so often. Even if you do have manual procedures in place, they are based on regular operating procedures, so when those change the manual procedures may need to be reviewed as well.

If you’re in a position to use manual processes to get your operational activities completed, that great however, in a DR situation you aren’t operating in normal circumstances and manual processes may not be the norm even when there isn’t a disaster. Think carefully of what you can – and cannot do – with manual processes before you document and incorporate such worded activities into BCP plans. Incorporating them before you’ve considered the ramifications might cause another disaster situation further down the road…sometimes before you’ve even recovered from your first disaster.
© StoneRoad, 2013

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