Posts Tagged ‘business continuity’

Disaster recovery and the mobile office

April 27, 2012

As we are all aware, today’s working culture has moved on from the traditional old 9 to 5 office work to a new concept where people are working flexible hours from flexible locations. As a consequence, both employers and employees expect more – in particular, the ability to work seamlessly from any device and from any location.

Technology advancements in telephony, collaboration tools, virtualisation, security and application and desktop delivery have enabled the ‘mobile office’ concept to be embraced faster than a speeding freight train. Adoption is also driven by the many benefits achievable through this solution – for instance, basing some staff at home can be used to reduce building and office related costs.

Relocating employees to work from their own desks using their own utilities can not only provide many financial benefits, but also allow avoiding issues such as transportation strikes and weather disasters, or the much-anticipated chaos during the Olympics and Paralympics.

But more strategically, when it comes to disaster recovery and business continuity planning, more and more companies are choosing to utilise the mobile or home office concept as a significant and vital recovery tactic. Dedicated workplace recovery services can be costly, and placing technology services at a designated workplace recovery suite will have an additional financial impact.

Similarly, if a company has multiple offices and the continuity plan states that a number of staff must relocate, for example, from the London office to the Birmingham office, then that number desks must be either kept available, which is costly, or the existing staff displaced, with a loss of function or productivity. Then, there is also the matter of a number of PCs to configure as well as the setting up of telephones and other equipment.

Basing or rotating technical support or business support functions at home can be a huge advantage when faced with a business continuity scenario. Home-based workers are less likely to be affected by denial of access issues such as high profile terrorist targets or threats, major city power failures, office fires or flooding. The first members of staff ready and waiting for services to be brought online to be able to work during an invocation are the home-based employees.

It is not all easy and straightforward, though: all devices used by mobile and home workers – mainly laptops, smartphones and tablets – have to be managed properly and securely by the company.

Policies, technology and management tools must be in place to block users from saving or transferring harmful data onto devices, and also to maintain client confidentiality and adhere to Data Protection regulations as well as contractual obligations to customers, whilst still allowing staff to seamlessly access applications and data stored within the corporate network.

The tools already exist to support businesses to remotely manage, secure or wipe devices, remotely activate device services, and to create and manage their own security policies – whether those policies are corporate ‘end-user acceptable use’ policies, or technology enforcing policies such as disallowing ‘Copy & Paste’ between devices or disabling printing or screen capture.

Fortunately, thanks to new technologies and industry best practices, the tools to achieve business continuity and to make a full recovery after a serious incident are all quite easily available. If the company’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan covers the mobile office service as well as any physical offices, the chances of a successful recovery and return to ‘business as usual’ are vastly improved. Moreover, there may be an advantage to be won over competitors going through the same issues, as well as reputational and credibility gains.

The key to any mobile office solution is resiliency and planning. It is vital that considerable thought, planning and design for the mobile office service is placed at the forefront of any disaster recovery environment and business continuity plan, to provide resiliency and contingency for the mobile and home-based workers in the event of technology failure, office inaccessibility or other unplanned incidents, as these employees may be the key to providing rapid continuation of business services in the most productive, seamless and cost-effective manner.

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

This article was written for Contingency Today:

http://www.contingencytoday.com/online_article/Disaster-recovery-and-the-mobile-office/3464

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Brace for the feared double dip: IT planning can maximise mergers and acquisitions

October 28, 2011

As the business world lies in fear of a double-dip recession, companies are advised to ‘think smart’ and try to find a way to profit from further economic downturn and not to simply aim to survive it. Or, if they are struggling, to have a ‘rescue plan’ in place that will spare them from drowning in debt or sinking altogether. As a consequence, mergers and acquisitions flourish remarkably in times of financial difficulties, and can be a way to gain during a tough spell – either by buying or joining with another business and expanding or by selling up before collapsing completely.

Mergers and acquisitions, however, are not just the ‘combining of commercial companies into one’ (to quote the mini Oxford dictionary). Business leaders are missing a significant trick if the joining of two businesses is not maximised, i.e. that the market share of the new entity is greater than the sum of the two companies when operating on their own.

It is, however, an ever repeating trend that mergers and acquisitions do not address operational, cultural and technology considerations as part of the consolidation. These often remain ‘off the radar’ long after the legal part of the merger or acquisition is complete.

So, rather than just ‘think smart’, a better message is perhaps for companies to ‘think smarter during tight times and to make the most of these mergers and acquisitions right from the start, by ensuring that the fabric of the new bigger company is appropriately adapted so that it functions in a manner that maximises the now greater trading capabilities.

Those within the IT services industry will have experienced customer organisations that bear the signs of a merger or acquisition and, worst still, continue to tolerate them. The tell-tale signs are classic and include: performance issues; geographically separate and siloed support teams; a large list of supported applications; technical complexities; a high support staff headcount; a disproportionate number of managers; and complex organisational structures. None of these ‘features’ of an organisation can positively contribute to its on-going ability to compete and win in its market place. And if the cost of these inefficiencies could be demonstrated, senior management might just fall off their chairs.

The good news is that mergers and acquisitions can be conducted with a better overall outcome at low cost – through the use of some external aid. These are the kind of projects where the use of a consultancy can really make a difference. Employed during and soon after the merger to improve what is at heart of an improved approach to mergers and acquisitions, ‘people, process and technology’, the cost of a consultant will be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of trying to fix all the possible IT-related faults and issues in the years following the merger or acquisition. The value of the work is likely to be recovered quickly by enabling the business to operate better and by making people’s working practices more efficient. Efficiencies will emerge during the analysis stage of consultancy by identifying opportunities for synergy which will have a positive impact on the on-going investment made by the business in people and systems. The outcome: doing more and doing it better, with less.

So far, all this sounds obvious and nothing more than common sense – so why is it that the ‘people, process and technology’ side of mergers and acquisitions isn’t dealt with early on? Speed, assumption and procrastination are usually the causes.

‘Speed’, because a merger or acquisition deal is usually time sensitive, and focus must be on closing the deal by a given date. ‘Assumption’ because aspects like company culture, people, processes and technology are assumed to be similar and therefore likely to gel. ‘Procrastination’ because activities required to streamline the new business are often planned post-deal, but with human nature being what it is, the plans take an age to implement or never happen at all.

So, if like the United States Army you want to ‘be all you can be’, it is important that people, processes and technology are properly considered and addressed as part of a possible merger or acquisition. You should ensure the IT planning and transformation work starts during the merger/acquisition process so that its importance is clear and understood, then follow it through post-deal before your people return to their normal mode of operation and their old working ways. And, if you are using a service provider for any or all of these steps, be sure to choose one that has a record for properly identifying synergies and efficiencies and who have successfully implemented these. As the recession will not be worsened by losses caused by a faulty or inefficient IT service, the outcome of a well-planned IT merge will surely make the difference.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

IT workforce continuity

December 17, 2010

Do you have a people continuity plan for your IT Support?

Business resilience and continuity planning is becoming more and more important as organisations increasingly understand its value and the position IT has in achieving it. However, in Business Continuity Management not all elements are given the same significance. Many organisations focus on securing their data with constant back-ups, others are more concerned with minimising email or server downtime – but the measures taken might not be so effective if there is insufficient support staff to deal with them. How many organisations have a BCM strategy that addresses IT workforce continuity?

Data recently disclosed by The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that 71 per cent of senior managers recognise Business Continuity Management as ‘important’ or ‘very important’. At the top of the list of perceived threats that can cause disruptions which may potentially have a significant impact on costs and revenues there is the loss of IT. Over half of participants in ‘The 2010 Business Continuity Management survey’ also recognise skills and people loss as being a possible threat. However, their BCM plan does not always cover these. Only a quarter of organisations have a plan that includes remediation towards a potential loss of people and 40 per cent have a plan for loss of IT. There are no statistics concerning a continuity plan for IT Support people specifically, but as more and more businesses become reliant on IT this is an issue that should not be ignored.

Natural disasters, bad weather and flu epidemics, which are among the threats which cause the most workforce loss, may result in a number of IT engineers being unable to carry out their job. A reduced number of technicians who can’t deal with the amount of incidents can leave users unable to work as a consequence. Even simple everyday absences due to holidays or sick leave can cause disruptions to the normal IT Support service that may affect the business.

There are two main issues that need to be addressed in planning for workforce continuity – distance and presence. To overcome the distance problem, organisations should take measures that can allow staff to access the system remotely, choosing the appropriate virtualisation tools. This can benefit both employees who can then work from home, trains or abroad and Support staff, who can access servers and desktops remotely and resolve incidents from a distance.

In some cases, however, physical presence is required or preferred. Not only in the event of a disaster but also in the more ordinary case of personnel on leave or being ill, it may be necessary to provide appropriate substitution with the same level of knowledge and skills. Immediate availability might also be required to avoid disruptions which would cause the service to lose on quality and efficiency, or costs to the business including financial loss, low client satisfaction and loss of reputation.

Some organisations might be able to get by without the full team on board, for instance those where IT efficiency and continuous availability are not a priority. Others, perhaps large corporations with a preference for keeping staff internal, might be able to afford a team of ‘floating’ engineers that are paid to remain available in case of need, or to employ contractors every time they require a substitution. But for most organisations the need to have ongoing high-quality support is strong and having a floating team or individual contractors is not financially or logistically convenient. For them, it might not be possible to obtain this sort of workforce continuity without resorting to external help.

Let’s take financial firms for instance, where business is heavily reliant on IT and time is literally money. For them, disruptions and downtime can have a very high cost and even determine their success or failure. Cost-efficient and reliable IT Support is vital, and so is immediate cover. For them, external support might be a solution – flexible and scalable co-sourcing can offer skilled technicians for emergency and long-term cover.

Some providers offer standardised services that can cover all the basic needs, ideal for organisations with little need for bespoke solutions. Others are able to offer more flexible and tailored solutions, for instance providing staff with characteristics which meet certain requirements within a short time space. Personnel is employed full-time by the provider as multi-site engineers, ready to work wherever the need arises and for any period of time, and trained to a wide range of skills and knowledge which they can apply to different environments. The difference with individual contractors is possibly in the quality a provider can offer thanks to SLAs that guarantee a high level of service.

There may be different strategies to suit different organisations, but it is true for all that efficient IT cannot be possible without efficient management of the IT Support team, which include a workforce continuity strategy specifically addressed to them. Planning in advance is vital to keep the IT system running during disruptions that affect the organisation. It is through a comprehensive Business Continuity strategy which covers Support that an organisation is able to prevent or minimise disruptions that may otherwise have an effect on costs, revenue and, ultimately, reputation.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article appears in this month’s BCS Service Management newsletter and online on the BCS website: http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.38344

Best Practice and Virtualisation: essential tools in Business Resilience and Continuity planning

March 25, 2010

Life in Venice doesn’t stop every time it floods. People roll up their trousers, pull on their wellies and still walk to the grocer’s, go to work, grab a vino with friends. And when it’s all over they mop the floor, dry the furniture, and go back to their pre-flood life. How do they do it? They choose not to have carpet or wooden flooring, keep updated on water level and have a spare pair of boots right next to the door. This is called prevention.

When it comes to faults in IT systems, both common and rare just like flooding can be, prevention is not better than cure – it is the cure, the only one to allow business continuity and resilience.

Complicated machinery and analysis are a thing of the past: nowadays planning is extraordinarily easy thanks to the expertise given by Best Practice processes, and new technologies such as virtualisation that can bring user downtime close to zero.

First of all, it must be noted that virtualising servers, desktop, data centre is not something that can be done overnight. Planning is needed to avoid choosing the wrong solution, perhaps based on what the latest product on the market is and on media talk rather than what works best for the specific needs of one’s business, and to shun possible inefficiencies, interruption of business services, or even data loss during the process. Best Practice, then, comes across as the essential framework in which all operations should be carried out in order for them to be successful.

Any change made to the system, in fact, needs a mature level of Best Practice processes such as world-renowned ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) in place, to guide organisations in planning the best route in dealing with all operations and incidents, and are a key tool for avoiding inefficiencies in money and time, and improving the performance of the IT department and of the business as a whole.

Once this is sorted, you can think about going virtual. From a technical point of view, virtualisation is gaining importance in business resilience and continuity planning thanks to the progress made by new technologies. Products such as VMware’s Vsphere, for example, allow what is called “live migration”: capacity and speed of the virtual machines are seen as an aggregate rather than individually, and as a consequence not only the load is more evenly distributed, for faster, smoother operations, but whenever a machine crashes resources are immediately accessible from another connected device, without the user even noticing and without interrupting the procedure.

Moreover, data is stored on a virtual central storage so that it is accessible from different source and does not get lost during system malfunctions, making business resilience faster and easier.

Guided by the expertise of Best Practice and with the help of virtualisation products that suit individual needs and goals, business resilience and continuity planning will not only come easier, but also make results more effective, allowing organisations to deliver their services and carry out their operations without fear of interruptions, inefficiencies or data loss.

 

Pete Canavan, Head of Service Transition

 

This article is in April’s issue of Contingency Today, and is also online at: http://www.contingencytoday.com/online_article/Best-Practice-and-Virtualisation/2242