Business execs undercut value of disaster recovery planning

A new survey suggests that business executives do not consider business continuity planning as crucial to a company's success as IT executives do. Upshot: No buy-in; no budget.

When it comes to disaster recovery CIOs get it, business execs don't.

Not only do they undercut the importance of such planning, they also fail to understand how technology failures can affect their companies, says a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. and sponsored by SunGard Availability Services.

Seventy-one percent of IT executives identified disaster recovery and business continuity planning as very important or crucial to business success. Only 49% of business executives felt that way.

"I'm a little surprised that overall, businesses are still lagging," said Mark McManus, vice president of IT research at Computer Economics Inc. in Irvine, Calif. "The idea of disaster recovery was always an IT process, but it has really morphed into business continuity, which is an overall company process more than just IT. In many businesses, business continuity isn't even controlled by IT."

McManus said IT leaders are more in tune with the importance of disaster recovery because backup of data and systems has been an IT staple for more than 30 years.

Joe Murray, vice president of technology at Hx Technologies Inc. (HxTI), said business executives who fail to see the importance of disaster recovery and business continuity are failing to understand their customers' needs.

"Personally, I would see it as an issue of measuring a customer's expectation of their level of service," Murray said. "If upper management isn't seeing that customers are gauging their success by availability and continuity, they should. If they aren't upset, then they aren't talking to their customers. You're leaving your customers without service and they're going to look elseware."

Murray's Philadelphia-based company provides diagnostic imaging management systems to healthcare companies. If his company's systems fail in a disaster, its customers can't use diagnostic images to treat patients. People's health and well-being are affected.

Murray said his company obviously has no issues with business executives having a different view on disaster recovery planning.

"If we were to go down, that would affect the course of action for diagnosis and treatment," Murray said.

But CIOs at other companies aren't as fortunate. Many business executives don't know what's under the hood in their company. They are unaware of how a technology failure can cause a train reaction that hurts the business.

Just 54% of business executives surveyed believed planning for uninterrupted information availability is necessary, versus 66% of IT executives. Only 63% of business executives thought the availability of networks, data, systems and applications is very important to business success, versus 86% of IT executives.

"It's almost like business people see IT as this black box," said Dave Palermo, vice president of marketing at Wayne, Pa.-based SunGard. "They really don't have an appreciation of the complexity of all that goes on. They can see that their email is not working, but they have no idea if it's the server or the network. The IT people see many more little things happening that the business people don't. Business people remember catastrophic outages, but IT people see little blips on the screen. Big outages are fairly rare."

The survey found that a lack of understanding of the actual cost and complexity of a business continuity plan by business leaders makes it difficult for IT executives to get the proper funding. The upshot: Business executives don't think plans cost as much as they do.

"The real proof of this is in the funding levels," Palermo said. "The study shows that on the business side, the guys who control the purse strings are unwilling to fund the budgets IT people need to keep these availability levels. IT knows it needs to get better, but they're not going to be able to fund it."

McManus' own research has shown that disaster recovery and business continuity budgets have been flat for years, citing a survey of 200 companies he conducted last year.

If upper management isn't seeing that customers are gauging their success by availability and continuity, they should.

Joe Murray, vice president of technology, Hx Technologies Inc.

"Last year the average budget of an IT organization allocated 1.6% for disaster recovery and business continuity," McManus said. "If you have a $1 million budget, they're spending $16,000 on disaster recovery. That's not enough. It's not even going to get you a hot site."

McManus said he saw a spike in disaster recovery planning after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, budgets have flattened out since then.

"I would say between 4 and 5% is probably where you want to be. It's still not a big number, but that would probably cover the cost of an off-site facility and training and planning that needs to get done."

McManus said the solution to this awareness gap is education, and IT has to be the teacher.

"It's an education process for upper management," he said. "Present your case, bring in the experts, and talk about the potential risks they're facing. It really comes down to making them understand that keeping technology available is crucial. If the technology is not there, the business cannot run. If they don't do this, and they don't get complete buy-in from business units, then they might not be able to recover after a disaster. It doesn't happen that often, but if you look at [Hurricane] Katrina, there are a lot of companies that never came back from that."

Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

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