Business continuity in the age of the cloud

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Disaster recovery is one of the most critical tasks assigned to an information technology team or department. While continued uptime and proper function of digital infrastructure are important and constant responsibilities for IT staff, a disaster that takes part or all of a business’s vital systems offline raises the stakes for leaders in the department and the business as a whole. The possibility of a major systems failure, whether caused by undetectable technical issues or outside forces like emergency weather conditions, must be addressed with a practical and effective plan for re-establishing the most important elements of a company’s overall IT backbone.

Leaders in the IT department and those aspiring to work in such positions — like students in a Master of Science in Management Information Systems degree program — should cultivate and maintain a strong knowledge base of effective response strategies to ensure business continuity, no matter the type or extent of an unforeseen disaster. This means both technical skills and leadership ability are needed to not only develop a successful, detail-oriented plan to get critical systems back online and functional, but also to make sure every team member involved in the recovery effort understands their duties and does their part in a time-sensitive manner.

Cloud security

Disaster recovery: Planning for known and unknown worst-case scenarios

A disaster means widespread problems for a business, at least in the short term. Hurricanes, extended power outages, and cyberattacks are just a few examples of the many ways in which a business can experience major disruptions to regular operations. While effective planning and proactive efforts to protect essential systems can mitigate the worst effects of a disaster, especially with the relatively new and notably powerful options offered by the cloud, the chance for a negative outcome following such an event is never completely eliminated. Additionally, it’s vital to understand that not all disasters can be predicted or recognized with enough time for all adjustments before the event begins. Some things are completely out of an organization’s control. Even thorough research, review, and preparation may not completely account for a bizarre accident or previously unknown form of malicious intrusion into a company’s digital assets.

Effective disaster recovery, therefore, means accepting the possibility of severe or even total elimination of existing infrastructure. Such wide-reaching and variable challenges require an experienced leader to implement plans that are flexible and quickly executed even when only limited resources are available in the wake of a serious, negative event. This is one area where the melding of on-the-ground technical skills and aptitude with the IT-focused leadership and management ability — the type facilitated by an MS MIS degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham — is especially vital for success.

A short, pre-cloud history of disaster recovery

As computers’ processing power and companywide utilization grew during the last decades of the 20th century, disaster recovery became increasingly important. Increasing use of IT infrastructure meant an increase in dependency on such systems as well. Solutions like dedicated and shared backup sites, with physical data storage and hardware in place to allow business continuity after a major disaster, rose as popular options for businesses. Additionally, external service providers emerged as an alternative to in-house backup efforts. With the increase in the popularity of the internet and remote service options, physical backup sites downgraded from a necessity in many instances to an option that could suit a given organizations’ needs. Those developments fed into to the beginning of the cloud’s central role in business continuity and disaster recovery efforts.

The cloud’s vital role in disaster recovery

The start of widespread business use of the cloud at the very end of the 2000s and into the early 2010s marked another strategy shift for IT leaders’ continuity plans. The cloud enhanced remote storage and recovery capabilities, prioritizing the security of the backup system and the network used to access it more than the location of a backup center. This ease of use, coupled with stringent security standards, means businesses are agile and responsive in disaster recovery action now more than ever.

Of course, the cloud by itself isn’t an answer to questions about disaster preparedness and access to IT infrastructure following a natural or man-made disaster. The cloud is the most efficient and easily accessible backup system currently available, but there’s far more to effective disaster recovery strategy than the tool used to safely store a business’s digital foundation. Staff members should have clear instructions for their roles in activating and following through on backup protocols and the right skill sets to do so. To effectively lead these efforts, senior IT managers should:

● Assemble effective short- and long-term recovery strategies well before any disaster occurs.
● Implement safeguards to stop or reduce the impact of catastrophic events.
● Conduct simulations to determine the effectiveness of all recovery plans.
● Regularly review and update those strategies.
● Fill an important leadership role during normal business operations when preparing plans.
● Take on a critical position in overseeing the process and getting directly involved in making sure IT infrastructure is up and running.
● Review plans and action taken following a disaster, and revise and improve plans accordingly.

How leaders craft effective disaster recovery strategies in the age of the cloud

Speed and reliability are the two most important advantages the cloud offers for business continuity and disaster recovery efforts. Work that once took many hours or a few days, with staff working long hours and facing an array of stressful deadlines, is now condensed into a far faster process. The shift to widespread cloud use is still relatively recent. That means the industry is still adjusting to and, in some cases, improving on a new model that has proven particularly valuable but hasn’t yet been fine-tuned to complete perfection. Considering businesses’ needs can vary significantly in terms of business continuity plans, IT leaders will continue to play a major role in setting policy, developing the most efficient plans for disaster response, and honing a strategy that puts their companies in the best possible position for recovery.

One major consideration individual businesses have to make involves hybrid and cloud-only recovery models. Because cloud-hosting providers are only a service and don’t actively involve themselves in recovery efforts, there is still room for problems to arise during that process. Businesses must make decisions that result in the safest, most reliable storage and access methods possible. Whether it’s a mix of physical and cloud storage or a different strategy that provides the best results for a company’s needs and available resources, IT leaders have to conduct the analysis that reveals the past approach and then ensure proper implementation in both concept and execution.

Preparation and testing are not only vital for the successful development of a business continuity plan, but they’re also likely the most frequent tasks the IT department and its leadership may take on in the realm of disaster recovery. Major incidents are thankfully rare, which means reviews, improvements, testing exercises, research into new recovery workflows, and similar tasks are more common than an actual disaster response. With a live situation so rare and the consequences of one so dire, the many tasks related to preparedness and testing are extremely valuable. This is another area where IT leaders should have deep technical skills and strong leadership abilities. They need to ensure simulations are accurate and response plans are effective while seeing those plans through on a high level, putting the right employees in the right response positions, and effectively managing any personnel or technology-related problems that arise during the response effort.

One more vital area to consider is the selection of the right support products and vendors. Some organizations have the resources to build their business continuity strategy and response tools entirely in house, but many others turn to specialized providers that offer restoration services in a variety of formats. Every organization has unique needs for recovery. In many cases, it’s up to the senior members of the IT department to vet the various options available, weigh pros and cons, recommend the best solutions to the executive suite, and develop internal business continuity strategies that further secure and strengthen the services vendors offer.

Developing business continuity skills in the MS MIS degree program at UAB

An advanced degree program that features a dedicated concentration in cyber security management — an entire class focused on incident response and business continuity — is an extremely valuable asset for IT professionals interested in furthering their careers. The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a completely online learning environment for those seeking to further their education with a Master of Science in Management Information Systems while continuing their current careers and managing family and other personal responsibilities.

The UAB MS MIS program is ranked No. 19 in the country among the Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs by U.S. News & World Report (2017) and offers a cutting-edge curriculum developed by a council of experienced IT professionals. To learn more about developing IT leadership skills and disaster recovery competency, get in touch with an advisor today.

Recommended Readings:
10 Formidable Corporate Security Risks in 2017
3 Ways an MS in Management Information Systems Degree Can Make You an Asset to Any Company