50% Solution

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2001-10-29

If you should lose half of your staff at once, the challenge isn't one of replacement but simple survival.

In this case, you can't go it alone.

This is when a career of networking with peers is likely to prove critically important. You'll need to turn to the technology community at large for help.

"What are your relationships as a business to your industry peers and counterparts? You may have to rely on them—even competitors—to survive a disaster," says John McCarthy, a director in KPMG's Information Risk Management Practice. He suggests establishing, as a matter of course, strong relationships with industry peers at trade shows, conferences and association meetings.

Accenture's Mark Stonecipher, in fact, believes that if a company's data and applications are intact, then it can bounce back from even this huge a loss—but with a price. "It may take a while, but in 60 days I'll have the shop running like it was before the disaster," he says. "It'll be rough, but there are a lot of IT pros that can come in and reverse-engineer your processes." As far as planning for a quicker recovery, Stonecipher recommends automating as much of the recovery process as possible.

It's possible through skillful programming. But, in this large a catastrophe, documentation once again becomes key to survival. "You can reasonably expect to get up and running in a short time if you have everything documented, fairly standardized systems, and if people are well trained. If you have at least minimal systems documentation and you have 20% of your key people, you can stumble through."

But you still need to put the directions and tools into someone's hands. Marshall Austin, a senior consultant at Client Network Services in Woodbridge, Va., and an 18-year disaster recovery services veteran, recommends outsourcing to recover quickly from a devastating loss.

Many companies choose this route. BP Amoco, for example, is paying PricewaterhouseCoopers $1.1 billion over 10 years to manage most of its financial systems. And Bank of America outsourced human resources applications to Irvine, Calif.-based Exult last year, in a 10-year deal estimated at $1 billion.

A company that has planned adequately "could recover," says Accenture's Mike Symmers. But calling in temps to step in isn't going to cut it. "If you haven't spent the money to plan and back up, and are planning for recovery with a skeleton crew or a different crew—no, you won't recover."

Yet in a recovery scenario, it's not necessary to get everything up and running immediately, nor does a company need to have all its data backed up to survive. "You don't need 100% backup," says Brad Carrier, a partner in the enterprise risk services practice at Deloitte & Touche. "It's 20 to 30%. The key business processes need to be up and running."

After a disaster, first make sure payroll and anything to do with human resources can be recovered, he says. Then tackle credit and collection so you can make payroll. Finally, get your customer service systems back up.

For most companies, it's simply unrealistic to have the resources and commitment to make immediate switchovers to new teams in new locales. It's too much to ask, says Hopper.

Besides, you may not have enough key people left to really handle the switch. At the Federal Credit Union in Oklahoma City's federal building, 18 of 33 employees were lost—including the majority of their senior managers at the level of vice president.

Which begs the question: Would it be wiser to outsource business operations and keep disaster recovery in-house? If you outsource all their business operations in chunks to outside companies, in the event of a disaster, your staff could actually be your recovery team, says Ciber Vice President Jeff Edelman.

% Solutions">

50% Solutions

Beyond the solutions for small and medium disasters:

Go deep: Make plans to back up the backups, so second, third, and fourth-level personnel can be relied on to perform essential duties if higher-ups are lost or out of communication.

Automate: Be prepared to let business run itself, as much as possible, during crisis period. Determine the minimal amount of supervision needed.

Prioritize: Know in advance what processes are most critical to restore and stick to the priorities, during recovery.

Call in chits: Call on contacts with counterparts at firms of similar size, scope and business purpose. Ask for local and remote help.

Announce: Be prepared to make regular and updated declarations of the steps the enterprise is taking to deal with the crisis to staff, shareholders, customers, business partners.

Pre-negotiate: If you have firm agreements with backup recovery services for specific personnel needs in emergencies, you'll have first call on them when disaster strikes.

Keep moving: Enact pre-established emergency decision-making hierarchy that comes into play when some executives are suddenly unavailable.

Keep organized: Establish a clear management succession plan in case some executives are not able to return.

Keep separated: Make sure senior managers are working from disparate locations, so an entire team is not lost

Comfort and communicate: Set up a toll-free telephone number that personnel and their loved ones can use to receive and disseminate information.