The following terms are undoubtedly familiar to you: Disaster Recovery, Disaster
Preparedness, Business Continuity Plan, Operations Resumption Plan.
But how do they relate to you or your clients? Moreover, how does information
technology fit into these concepts?
In the big picture, the above terms all emphasize the survival strategies in
a business’ Risk Management process. In a more perfect world, every company
would prioritize the strategic and tactical processes required to resume, sustain
and manage their operations through an unplanned disaster or a damaging business
Many constituents have a legitimate interest in this Risk Management process,
from employees and management to owners and investors, and outside parties such
as auditors and bankers. As such, why don’t most businesses, particularly
those that are not SEC registrants, prioritize this matter?
First, it is a great deal of work to become proactive and to determine the
activities required before any disaster, as well as to be able to plan the processes
to resume after a disaster. Business Continuity Planning (or a Business Continuity
Plan), which is also referred to as “BCP” is indeed challenging
… and is far more involved than just drafting an insincerely prepared
plan and filing it in a drawer. Second, most businesses don’t have the
internal management experience to address this process. And third, among others,
many business owners and managers believe that their business is already prepared
for disasters based on naïve assumptions such as “we have good backup
tapes” or “we know everyone’s cell phone numbers.” And
then you have the other thought process (which is often unspoken) that summarizes
many business’ approach to this risk: “It won’t happen to
BCP involves company-wide participation, coordination with internal and outside
constituents, ongoing updates, management and testing. Among the most critical
components of the BCP process, however, and among the more straightforward to
address is the ability to have information and computer systems survive and
support the business as a result of some disaster.
Information technology is a key driver in BCP. Without considering the IT
factors, a disaster can dramatically impact a business’ continuity in
the form of lost data, lost practices and automated processes, lost revenues
and lost operations. Read on for an example of what can happen.
Imagine This Horror
Your client, ACME, runs a business with five offices spread around the country.
A snapshot of its IT environment is important to be aware of in our example.
From its headquarters, ACME manages its operations, accounting, IT network and
all software services for its five offices. ACME also hosts its own website,
eCommerce and all data servers at its headquarters. Forty percent of ACME’s
business originates from customer transactions using ACME’s website. Finally,
as a good business practice, ACME does not allow its system users to backup
or store documents and other sensitive data on their own computers. Rather,
their information is centralized in ACME’s servers at headquarters to
ensure (we’ll see) comprehensive backup.
ACME’s headquarters was hit by a relatively harsh storm. The lower floor,
which houses the server room, flooded to a good degree due to a leak caused
by ineffective weather preparations. The flood caused irreparable systems and
hardware failures. Work came to a halt … in all locations. The client
website was completely “down,” precluding many customers from conducting
business with ACME. The most recent backup tapes were over two weeks old and
were actually stored in the server room. Sadly, they were ineffective because
they were soaked and damaged by surrounding debris. A search continued unsuccessfully
for other reasonably current backup tapes.
Dilemma: No current data. No productivity. Limited customer
orders and interaction. No likelihood of restoring any current or perhaps ANY
information with which to do business.
Exaggerated? Not sure how realistic this is? Perhaps, then,
substitute for “flood” other real disasters outside of natural occurrence
— ACME’s confidential and private customer data and trade secrets
could have been compromised by a disgruntled employee or other insider or the
servers could have literally been stolen by a competitor or enterprising employee.
Other disasters in the Mother Nature category that can yield the same result
include power surges, earthquakes and isolated or wide-spread fires. All of
these occur somewhere every day.
Avoid The Horror
Define and tackle your objectives for Preparedness and Resumption
Engage in BCP; it allows a business’s operations to resume (as planned)
after a disaster. A BCP for any business should address IT considerations, as
well as others: human resources, media or press relations, emergency response
agencies, operational and physical logistics, and more. Even if ACME had only
accomplished some BCP, surely some of the above risks would not have had such
If businesses resist engaging in BCP because they choose to avoid its common
sense and prudence, then consider this: BCP efforts are addressed (directly
or indirectly) in regulatory compliance doctrines in place today for companies
of all sizes, from Sarbanes-Oxley to HIPAA and other Privacy Protection acts,
both Federal and local.
BCP efforts require a significant investment of corporate labor, outside advisors
and financial resources, and include efforts of procedure design, implementation
and testing. Objectives and tactics of BCP follow, with an emphasis on IT considerations.
Creating, Maintaining And Testing The BCP
First, the plan must be created. We recommend that a BCP/crisis management team
be formed and empowered to create, manage and update the BCP. This team should
represent all key departments, and focus on the following objectives:
- the continuity and survival of the business,
- the protection of corporate tangible and intangible assets,
- human resources and ‘public’ awareness of the event,
- the creation and documentation of specific preventative measures/activities,
- the ability for the BCP to be effective, as a whole, on an ongoing basis.
At its core, a BCP addresses the myriad of business risks that a company would
face in the event of foreseeable disasters, including the nature of disasters
as well as the most important risks of loss. A business must determine the following
at the onset:
1. What kind of disasters are most likely to impact the business?
a. Natural disasters – the usual suspects might include
fire, flood, earthquake, and the like.
b. Human-oriented disasters – including theft of
digital intellectual property and trade secrets, or compromising of web commerce
activities, stolen servers, etc. Others include carelessness resulting in
a lost unprotected laptop or flash drive containing sensitive information,
as well as inappropriate or ineffective network and security design and management.
2. What attributes of a disaster are most impactful to the sustenance
of the business’ operations?
a. Loss of the business’ website and eCommerce capabilities.
b. Loss of Internet access for extended periods of time.
c. Loss of power to keep IT and other operations equipment
d. Loss of email access or file/folder access.
e. Loss of employees to conduct business due to geographical
or pandemic disasters.
f. Loss of strategic data (customer lists, accounting data,
sales information, other intellectual property, etc.).
After addressing the above, the BCP starts to take shape right away. The BCP
team creates action plans and documentation of procedures that address and mitigate
each of the risks related to the disasters most likely to be impactful …
and then tests these plans and procedures “real time” to the extent
possible. This may mean shutting down the company’s power or Internet
connectivity during business hours. Many companies do NOT test their planned
procedures in any way, nor update them as information and the business changes.
Thus, the BCP may be entirely useless at the actual time of need.
How ACME Could Have Prepared Better
A BCP at ACME should have included better IT preparations. Some examples of
procedures might include the following:
- Regular and secure offsite rotation and storage of data backup tape(s),
accompanied by procedures on how to retrieve them and restore data and systems
functionality from them.
- A duplicate eCommerce website environment “at the ready” that
activates when the primary site fails for any reason. This could be located
at any number of other locations, including a sister office, or a third-party
- Offsite or remote server redundancy. Examples include:
- A “hot site” – an off-site duplicative server and
system environment that allows for resumption of systems operations, with
the ability to be connected “live” upon instruction. This
approach is simplified and often most effectively managed using a newer
technology known as Virtualization of the server environments, which allows
for more simple and affordable redundancy.
- The adoption of an externally hosted ‘cloud computing’
server and data environments. In this “cloud” concept, a company’s
servers, software and data are hosted by third parties and served to the
users via an Internet browser on any computer. Hence, resumption would
occur simply by finding an Internet browser anywhere.
- A “hot site” – an off-site duplicative server and
- Redundant Internet and telephone services. Alternative Internet connection
services can activate automatically upon a disruption of the main connection,
thereby keeping communications alive without interruption. Secondary phone
systems or Internet-based phone systems can be made available for those incidents
when communications failures occur.
- Effective server room construction and configuration. Considerations include
adequate levels of air conditioning, drainage systems, weather proofing, ceiling
leak testing, etc.
BCPs are critical in today’s business climate, and the businesses that
invest time and effort in their creation, maintenance and testing are well rewarded
in the event of disasters and disruptions of any kind. Specific information
technology practices for avoidance of data loss from disasters are increasingly
necessary to make BCPs successful and effective. And they are very affordable
and achievable when addressed prudently and in advance. This enables BCP constituents
to more likely enjoy the peace of mind that they deserve.
Robert (Bob) Green, CPA.CITP/Partner and Rick Mark/Senior Manager are Information
Management professionals in the Enterprise Risk Management Services group at
SingerLewak, LLP, one
of the western U.S.’s largest CPA and consulting firms with six offices
in California. This group provides CIO and CTO advisory services, as well as
governance, risk and compliance advisory/audit services to privately held and
SEC registrant enterprises. Bob presently serves on the AICPA’s Certified
Information Technology Professional credential committee. They can be reached
at BGreen@SingerLewak.com and