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You can bank on it!

Business recovery planning for round-the-clock resilience


Approximately 95% of all business is conducted by telephone. Add in the 7 faxes, 15 e-mails and 9 voice-mails that the average worker receives on a daily basis and you begin to get an idea of our dependency on communication systems. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Consider the amount of time people spend on their PCs, generating reports and compiling statistics that are stored on high capacity corporate servers and transferred by e-mail. With the advent of computer telephony integration, the volume of both data and voice traffic on fixed and mobile telephone networks will escalate. At the same time, the proliferation of on-line commerce and stock trading is set to revolutionise buyer behaviour by offering increased speed and simplicity.

The late twentieth century has been heralded as the beginning of the digital age. Financial institutions are now completely dependant on their corporate IT and telephone networks in an economy where information is a commodity. Stringent banking regulations, in addition to business imperatives, make the delivery of accurate and timely information essential. It is not only frustrating to be denied access to live data feeds or files that you need to mine for information, but it could make the difference between retaining customers or causing them to switch to a competitor.

A disruption to your information resources can be incredibly damaging in the long-term. People have good memories. Failure to deal efficiently and effectively with a "challenge" such as a burst water pipe, crashed server or severed telecommunication lines can create enduring negative perceptions in the minds of the public. Not only could you lose market share immediately, but the confidence of stakeholders in your ability to manage the company will also be eroded. The damage to your company's reputation amongst stakeholders and the wider business community is immeasurable.

Research conducted at Oxford University presents compelling evidence that an organisation's recovery of share value immediately after a disaster has very little to do with the quality of its insurance cover. Instead, "high quality risk management and contingency planning systems" are the key to continued public esteem and financial success (R Knight & D Pretty, 1996). The requirement for round-the-clock uptime, earning a company the confidence of its stakeholders, can be met by partnering with a continuity services provider. Outsourcing this function means you do not have to invest in alternative facilities that will lie dormant for the majority of the time. You can concentrate on your core business activities, knowing that you have 24 hour, 365 day cover.

A case in point, SG-RS, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the international IT services company, Sema Group, specialises in meeting the needs of businesses where the use of sophisticated technology is a critical part of their day-to-day business processes. The majority of the world's top financial institutions feature amongst its customers, subscribing to a wide range of services. SG-RS' contingency consultants have a track record of working with IT managers to identify the potential risks to each business and devise, implement, test and audit recovery plans. These have been proven to be fail-safe after countless invocations and tests over a period of more than ten years.

Business continuity planning focuses in the first instance on people. Your key managers, specialists, mainline operating personnel and support staff are your most important resources for resuming business in the event of a disruption. If your company has been denied access to its own facilities or infrastructure, SG-RS is on stand-by to transfer them to an alternative site equipped with everything they require to operate as normal. The phone, fax and data lines are automatically routed through to the temporary office, following procedures that have been agreed with your suppliers in advance. This means customers are unaware that the company has moved locations and it can continue to provide the same professional service.

Office accommodation, provided in purpose built recovery centres, is supported by IT systems from desktop to mainframe, on a shared or dedicated basis. Individual computer rooms can be fitted out with mirror-image systems or data storage devices to provide the processing capability required in a time-frame to meet each individual business' specific needs.

Sophisticated telecommunications areas can provide nodes on global networks, support sophisticated e-commerce operations or simple point to point links for remote work groups. Equities traders are supplied with high-volume voice and data communication capabilities and a wide choice of financial market data feeds is available at each trading position. In addition, back-office functions are supported with high-speed processors, telephones, fax machines and photocopiers.

Business recovery centres essentially fall into three categories - hot, warm and cold. "Hot" services provide a live, parallel running capability - a solution which immediately came into its own for one major bank when its share dealing floor was unexpectedly plagued with intermittent power failures. Its dealers decamped to SG-RS' Docklands facility for the day while the problem was rectified. The traders resumed business immediately once they had made the short journey across London, without needing to make their customers aware that there has been a problem. "Warm" services provide a regularly backed-up, ready-to-run capability whilst "cold" services provide long-term support based on the off-line availability of backed up data.

Closely linked to business recovery planning is information security management. Total information security requires both integrity and confidentiality matters to be considered, as well as availability. Key features of information security management are risk analysis, policy definition, reviews and counter-measures, which may include enhancements in an organisation's security architecture and implementation of business continuity plans.

The need for these security measures was underlined during the Kosovan conflict when Pro-Serbian hackers attached more than 170 organisations located in Nato countries throughout the world. The Black Hand, a Serbian paramilitary group, and its sympathisers in Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Eastern Europe, targeted banks, internet service providers and media organisations in revenge for Nato bombing campaigns. They were bombarded with virus-infected e-mails capable of denying access to a system for hours or shutting down services completely. More lethal e-mails carried a virus customised to destroy databases and files. Similarly, environmental activists now have the capability to employ the techniques of the cyber terrorist. This was demonstrated most publicly in June of last year when the London Stock Exchange and many high profile UK-based banks were targeted. Business recovery plans, which anticipate a range of natural and man-made threats, need to be tested on a regular basis. This ensures that everyone knows what to anticipate in the event of the service being invoked. If the disaster happens out of hours, the nominated managers are contacted first at home and apprised of the situation. The decision is then taken whether a relocation to the business recovery centre is necessary. If so, staff need to be contacted as a matter of urgency and directed to their new place of work.

SG-RS replicates precisely what the company would be up against during a real life situation. The timescales for recovery are made even more demanding by throwing further problems into the equation, such as a train strike that prevents your employees from reaching their new site. Probing questions from journalists from the press, radio and TV stations adds another dimension, for which companies need to be prepared. By ensuring that statements on the controlled management of the crisis are delivered authoritatively, companies can turn the situation into an opportunity for positive publicity.

A business continuity strategy that facilitates rapid uptime after a disaster and information security is a competitive concern for every business. It is an influencing factor in the decision of corporate clients to choose one partner over another to manage their investment portfolio or capital transactions. As with the personal or private banking sector, it is essential that customers never lose the expectation that they can bank on you!

Mick Williams
Director, SG-RS


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