When you think of business continuity, do you immediately think about disaster recovery? Given the number of recent natural disasters, this is only to be expected. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and power failures can cause major damage to a data center. IT organizations that are prepared and have a strong disaster recovery plan will survive the disaster; unprepared IT organizations won’t.
Business continuity encompasses more than just a good disaster recovery plan. Many events can cause an interruption of business processes. How can your IT organization ensure business continuity? Of course, not all IT organizations support a “business.” Governments, universities, and other entities have large data centers supporting many applications and users, but for purposes of this article, we’ll refer to business continuity, business processes, and so on as a universal concept.
Align IT to Business Processes
The corporate computing environment has evolved from being a back-room, cost-center operation to playing a vital, central role in executing business processes. Many organizations depend on IT to improve business processes and provide high levels of service.
When discussing the computing environment, users generally lump the components together without regard to their relative importance or vulnerability. But business processes depend on many different components and services working together, including infrastructure components, applications, operating systems, and the data itself.
Users discuss the need for automation and efficiency in the execution of business processes. A business process may be an operation such as a book sales order or online bill payment. While the underlying hardware and software components required to perform a business process are of little concern to most users, the IT group responsible for the business process cares passionately about the components and relationships between them.
Business Service Management (BSM) is a methodology that aligns the IT environment to business processes, helping organizations be successful and competitive. BSM strategies focus on application availability and performance, which are key components of business continuity. For example, if a customer can’t execute an order, they may well walk away and go to a competitor.
Business continuity requires that the IT infrastructure supports the business processes. Business processes include activities such as:
- Managing inventory and supply chains to reduce costs
- Capturing and tracking customer orders to focus sales and marketing
- Ensuring proper accounting for revenue and expenses
- Integrating legacy data with Web initiatives.
Business processes are a mixture of IT components (applications and data) and business components (revenue and expenses). IT components shouldn’t add complexity or cost to business processes; they should simplify and automate those processes. For example, the ability to purchase insurance policies online has made it easier for consumers to buy insurance and has reduced the need for agents in the field, saving time and money for the insurance company.
You might want to put together a list of the components that must work for a business process to execute successfully. The list will be long, and it will include hardware, software, communications, facilities, and operations. If any of these components fail—or even slow down—business processes will suffer or stop altogether. You can see why a discussion on business continuity quickly escalates beyond the topic of disaster recovery; sitewide disaster is only one of many events that can derail a business process.