Preparing for the Unexpected – 2018-04-12: The Challenges of BCM/DR Programs – Part 1

No matter the industry, the size of your organization, or the location(s) of your business, Business Continuity Management (BCM) and Disaster Recovery (DR) programs always seem to experience a common set of challenges. Drawing from 20+ years of experience, Alex Fullick will discuss these many challenges that seem to transcend industry and location – and which seem to appear at one time or another – in every BCM/DR program. Listen in to hear why some of these challenges occur and how to deal with them when you begin to encounter the same issues in your program.

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/105645/the-challenges-of-bcmdr-programs-part-i

Enjoy!

The StoneRoad Team

 

 

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Preparing for the Unexpected – 2018-03-15: The 7 R’s of BCM & DR

Our 2018-03-15 show will focus on an easy way to communicate the often complexities of BCM/DR to those not completely in the know. We’ll talk about 7 R’s that can help explain what a program entails.

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/105030/making-it-easy-the-7-rs-of-bcm-and-dr

Enjoy!

The StoneRoad Team

Business Impact Analysis (BIA): Organizational Integration (Project Change Impacts)

One of the major challenges for Business Continuity Management (BCM) professionals and organizations is ensuring that their Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is kept current and update to date.  The problem with keeping the BIA’s up to date is that there is no process that integrates the BIA into the existing organizational functions.  Continue reading

BCM / DR: The Little Test Activities Often Forgotten

Having been a part of dozens of test to varying size and scales, I’ve come across quite a few instances where planners – including myself at times – forget to consider when organizing a BCM / DR test. I thought I’d come up with ten (10) areas that have at some point, been a fly in the ointment of test coordinators and caused issues further down the road and on one occasion, at the moment the test was scheduled to begin.

1. Production Priorities – Believe it or not, once everyone was so focused on testing they forgot to ensure that someone was left to support any production issues. While testing activities were underway, all members of a department were focused on ensuring that the test went well that no one was monitoring a production issue, which needless to say, caused allot of grief for business units. Don’t forget that even when you’re testing BCM/DR capabilities, you’re production environments are still ‘live’.

2. Test Strategy – Know ahead of time what strategy you’re going to leverage for testing purposes and ensure its communicated and agreed-to by everyone involved or else different groups will be working in isolation and not working towards the same thing.

3. Managing Scope – Keep people on track during planning and execution. If no one is clear on scope then the activities they plan and execute might not achieve the goals you’ve set. It also means that even though they might perform tasks successfully and everyone is happy, you still didn’t get what you originally planned for. It’s like being given a bicycle to get from A to B when you originally asked for a pickup truck. Sure you got to where you’re going but the goal was the truck. Did you really achieve your goal and scope if the scope and goal was to get from A to B with a truck? Nope, you didn’t.

4. Resource Assignment – When user activities are required it has been assumed the people needed will be available but often the department responsible for the resources are never approached about being part of the test and when they are, it’s too late because people are working on other initiatives. So make sure you speak with other teams early so that resources can be aligned early.

5. Change Management / Requests – This is relate to the scope; if you’re changing something – even times, dates etc – make sure everyone knows about it and that you document the desired change. Using the previous example about the bicycle and truck; it may have been a great idea to change the truck to the bicycle and it still worked for you however, the scope was the truck and there was no formal mention of changing it to the bicycle. If you’d managed it correctly and documented the fact you were going to use a bicycle, then it would have been known by everyone that the truck is ‘out’ and the bike was ‘in’ and everything would be a success.

6. Agreement – When you have key decisions made or need key decisions to be made, ensure you have agreement on the final outcome. It could be that if you make decisions without consulting impacted parties, they won’t support what you’ve determined and will continue on their original path. This only means confusion and failure further down the road. Keep everyone on the same page and part of the decision making process; if even as an FYI in some cases.

7. Documentation – Make sure you document all aspects of the test; most notably scope and goals and objectives. If you don’t who do you know you met them? You won’t even be able to talk to audit and prove you did what you set out to do because you don’t have anything that captures what you originally set out to do and quite possibly, nothing that sums up what you actually did (a test summary document).

8. Focus on Test Planning Rather Than Planning the Test – Try not to get far off the path here. It’s one thing to ensure you plan the test so that it doesn’t impact production systems or other critical aspects and it’s another to set up the test in a way that it has no relevance and doesn’t reflect what you’d actually do in a real situation. If that happens, you really aren’t testing anything. You need to know where the gaps are in the plans and that they’ll work in a real situation.

9. Test Timelines – Estimate activity sequences and schedule accordingly. If it takes 24 hours to get a mainframe up and running – from scratch – then have end users come in at the same time as the main frame team would be ridiculous, as they’d be sitting around for an entire day before they can do anything. That won’t make them happy.

10. Test Schedule – Plan ahead. When planning efforts are underway to schedule major initiatives over the next year or so, make sure that testing is part of that planning effort. This ensure that departments are aware of the test ahead of schedule and that they are able to plan for that initiative. Also, if you have 3rd party DR vendors involved, you often have no choice but to schedule test time a year in advance or run the risk of not having any time available to test, as the vendors other clients will take up all the available time.

Some of this may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how often the simply things can derail a test. Keep in mind the little things and you’ll have a great chance of success. Remember, if you have the most luxurious car in the world, it does nothing if you don’t have the key.

© StoneRoad 2014
A.Alex Fullick has over 17 years experience working in Business Continuity and is the author of numerous books, including “Heads in the Sand” and “BIA: Building the Foundation for a Strong Business Continuity Program.”

Crisis Management: When Does a Crisis Start?

Many of us don’t hear about a crisis until it hits the newswires, either through social media, news websites or through a posting on a social site we might follow. In some cases, we might not know about a crisis until we see 1st responders racing down the road heading towards and emergency.
Some will automatically see a disaster as a large catastrophe and one of the BCM/DR industry definitions of a disaster is that it’s a sudden, unplanned event that prevents the organization from performing normal operations. Though both a crisis and/or disaster can start well before the public or media even get wind of the problem.
Sometimes a disaster doesn’t begin until after a period of time when a lesser level of operational hindrance has been experienced. Then when the disaster itself occur, the management of the situation will determine the level of crisis; meaning how well the crisis is handled from the perspective of the public, media, stakeholders (vendors, partners etc) and employees.
For an operational impact, it could be that a key application is offline but is that a disaster? Probably not. If the offline application has a major impact upon people causing major distress and problems such as something in health care or the financial industry, then yes, that application being offline – even for a short time – is a disaster. How the immediate response and post-disaster activities are managed is what will create the crisis for the company. If you get something up and running within a very short time (and in today’s world that’s usually no more than an hour) then it might not be a disaster and a quick response and communication to the community will suffice. If it’s longer, then the management level and involvement of the situation and the level of impact it has becomes a disaster.
Still, if an organization has an internal Crisis Management process in place, early identification and response measures may prevent the incident from escalating and becoming a crisis – or a disaster if nothing is done about it – in the media or public eye. It was just an incident that didn’t have any major impact. Oddly enough, it could have been a major interruption but the impact on Service Level Agreements (SLA), employees, customers, vendors and partners was limited in size and scope; it was just a major incident for the company involved because of the resources (financial, time, personnel) it took to get resolved.
So, when does a crisis start?
It starts the moment the organization believes that someone – anyone – will begin to ask questions. It could be a client, employee (who will access social media about it if they haven’t been educated about not communicating corporate activities), vendor, partner or in some cases a financial institution or legislative body. An organization may be able to manage the situation internally with little impacts being had on external – and internal parties – but as soon as questions are asked about the disruption, you have the start of a crisis. It’s how well you manage those initial questions – along with the incident response itself (I.e. getting the critical application up and running as soon as possible) – that will determine how big the crisis escalates. If you don’t manage it properly the crisis will grow and escalate, making it a ‘Public Relations’ disaster.
The start of a crisis is different for every organization. It all depends on the level of preparation, preparedness and response is developed and instilled within the corporate operations. If an organization doesn’t have anything developed or the level of development is sub-par and very ‘flimsy’, the crisis starts quickly and escalates quickly – reaching that “PR” disaster timeframe in record time.

**NOW AVAILABLE**
Books by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3.
Available at http://www.stone-road.com, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.volumesdirect.com

12 Tips, Trips & Traps: The Business Impact Analysis (BIA)

Hello dear readers!! We’ve been a bit quiet lately over here at StoneRoad due to multiple vacations (Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and more) and now that we’re all back, it’s time to start posting once more. Enjoy…
The StoneRoad Team
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**The below section is an abbreviated bonus taken from the Appendix of the book, “Business Impact Analysis (BA): Building the Foundations for a Strong Business Continuity Program” by A.Alex Fullick. The full text can be found in the aforementioned book.**

Business Continuity Management (BCM), like most corporate programs, is often plagued by common mistakes; these common mistakes also apply to the Business Impact Analysis (BIA. The following are some common mistakes that need to be addressed to ensure that the BIA is effective:

1. Minimal Management Support – Senior management must buy in to the need for continued maintenance of the BCP program. The program requires on-going resources to ensure that the program is funded and there are dedicated resources assigned across the organization. The people who head up the BCP program must have the requisite training, as well as the skills to provide leadership, prioritize tasks, communicate with stakeholders, and manage the program.

2. No Timely Follow Up of Results – A BIA is conducted almost always in support of an enterprise-wide business continuity program. The real value of a BIA is the follow-up activities that lead to effective recovery strategies being implemented based on the BIA priorities of the business processes. Occasionally, so much effort and cost is put into the BIA that business continuity planners never get around to fully implementing the follow-up recovery strategies and plans. Without the implementation of these follow-ups, the value of the BIA becomes wasted.

3. No Agreement on Scope (Level of Detail) – This level of detail can span an entire spectrum. On one end, some BIAs will contain relatively little detail to provide a higher-level executive view of the analysis. On the other end, and far more prevalent, are BIAs that include for each business process its corresponding input dependencies, output dependencies, recovery point objectives, recovery time objectives, and financial impacts. The common mistake here does not involve selecting the right or wrong level of detail – what’s appropriate for one company may be totally inappropriate for another – but rather, failing to reach agreement among all relevant parties as to what level of detail best meets the requirements that are driving the BIA in the first place.

4. Minimal Executive Support – One of the factors that most influences the relative success of a BIA is the degree of executive support offered at the outset. The kickoff process usually consists of two parts: a widely distributed email and an initial presentation. The email should come from the highest level executive sponsoring the BIA and should be distributed to all parties who will be participating in the effort. The email should emphatically voice the executive’s support for the project and insist on the support of al participants, particularly during the interview process.

5. Poor Questionnaires – An important step of any BIA is the collection of data from business units. The manner in which this data is asked for often spells the difference between a full, timely and meaningful collection of data, and one that is delayed and incomplete. One of the best ways to avoid this situation is to develop survey forms that are thorough enough to capture all relevant information and simple enough for business users to complete quickly and easily.

6. Lack of Preparation for Interviews/Workshops – Interviews are the cornerstone of a successful BIA, yet few planners prepare adequately for them to ensure their effectiveness. Interviewers need to learn as much as they can about a given business unit prior to the meeting, including a thorough review of the respondent’s survey.

7. Lack of Critical Focus – Analysts frequently make the mistake of asking business users ‘what are the most important business processes within their department?’ The reason this is a mistake is because virtually all critical business processes have a large degree of importance and value – otherwise they would not be designated as critical – resulting in less likelihood of it being easy to prioritize processes according to value or importance. A much better question to ask is ‘how long can a business process be idle before major impact is felt?

8. Focusing on the Tools Instead of the Process – Some analysts who conduct BIAs become very focused on the tools they will be using in the collection, compiling and analyzing the data provided by the business users. The emphasis often shifts inappropriately from the process being used, to the automation that can be applied to the process. There is an inherent flaw in this approach. If a poorly designed manual process that is being used to collect and analyze the data suddenly becomes automated, what you typically end up with is a poorly designed automated process.

9. Ineffective Interviewing Technique – I have known more than a few BIA analysts who preferred to rely solely on surveys, questionnaires and emails to collect needed data. The example previously cited concerning the over-focus on tools shows how this can less than desirable results. Analysts often say that setting up interviews can be more hassle than it’s worth. They will mention how interviews often start late, or may be cut short, or have to be re-scheduled, or cancelled altogether. In my experience, the real reason some BIA analysts try to steer clear of face-to-face meetings is that they tend to use ineffective techniques when interviewing business process owners.

10. Insufficient Results Analysis – Analysts conducting a BIA collect a wealth of information during the course of their efforts. But the value of this information is sometimes diminished by poor or incomplete analysis of the data. Analysts need to look for trends, patterns, relationships and discrepancies among and within the data to ensure a thorough and meaningful analysis.

11. Unclear Presentations – Data that is thoroughly collected and well analyzed is sometimes de-valued by an unclear or confusing presentation of the information and results. Managers in general and sponsoring executives in particular, expect BIA analysts to summarize their results in high-level presentations that are succinct and effective. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Analysts gather a huge amount of data in the process of conducting BIA. In compiling and analyzing this data, analyst sometime err on the side of presenting too much information rather than too little.

12. Undefined Scope – Often, the BCP focuses entirely on system restoration. Resumption of business needs to include the people and processes required to resume operations. Many BCP programs are headed up by IT departments. ‘Tunnel vision’ can often cause these departments to focus on system recovery and not take the people issues into account. During an event, the people issues are often the most difficult to resolve. The scope of a business impact analysis (BIA) pertains to the number of business units, such as Finance, Administration and IT, which will be participating in the effort.

Don’t let your BIA efforts fall to the wayside; make sure you have strong BIA approach and you’ll end up with a strong BCM / DR program.

6 Questions: Why an Organization Should Exercise BCM/DR Plans

It’s great to have many continuity plans and strategies to prepare for and respond to, disasters. However, if they aren’t validated they don’t carry any weight and there’s no way of knowing if they would be any good – useful – when a real situation occurs.

BCM practitioners may make the case for exercising plans but sometimes management may not want to provide the resources – physical & financial – available to validate the plans. There are a few questions that can be posed to executive management to possibly allow for the right kind of commitment and support to validate continuity strategies and plans.

1. Will an exercise increase overall BCM awareness within the organization? Well, let’s face it, if you’re exercising BCM plans, of course you’ll be increasing BCM awareness. Depending upon what you’re exercising and how you manage / facilitate the exercise, awareness will be increased but make it a positive experience or else BCM will end up being something negative in participants eyes.

2. Will the exercise identify potential ‘gaps’ in documented BCM plans and procedures? Let’s hope so. Not only do you want to validate what you have documented and discussed with numerous representatives but you also want to find things that may be wrong in the plans – not just what’s right.

3. Is there potential for the exercise to provide ‘learning opportunities’ for participants and the organization in general? If managed correctly and viewed as a positive experience, then employees will learn from the exercises – and from each other. In some cases, they may even be working with people they wouldn’t normally encounter in their daily operations.

4. Will the exercise provide an opportunity to leverage the results for further corporate gain and benefit? They should. If you can show that you’re exercising you plans – and have documented proof of them (Exercise Charters, Executive Summaries, Issue Logs etc) then you can use this information to help respond to RFPs etc and develop a stronger case for a potential client to choose your organization over a competitor. Having a strong BCM program can be used for competitive advantage.

5. Can the exercise provide skills and knowledge transfer between participants? Depending on what is in scope for the exercise, participants may need to seek assistance from other people in the organization for guidance. For instance, if a Single Point of Knowledge (SPOK) isn’t available to rebuild the payroll server because they are busy with other initiatives, they may be able to pass along their knowledge – as best they can – to another resource who will do it for the exercise, this way people are talking to each other and learning from each other. This is a simple example but you get the idea.

6. Can the exercise increase the responsiveness and effectiveness of the organization should a real disaster (or other event) occur? Simply put, the more practice people get the better they become, whether that be BCM or in any other area. Whether you have a large scale situation or a smaller scale incident, you’ll be better prepared if your people – and the processes and plans – are better prepared and knowledgeable. Enough said.

If any answer is ‘yes’ to the above questions, you’re well on your way to securing the support for validating continuity strategies and plans. Exercising only makes a person – or in this case, a program – stronger more robust.
© StoneRoad 2013

**NOW AVAILABLE**
Books by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3,
Available at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.volumesdirect.com and
http://www.stone-road.com.