Business continuity and high availability are not just about providing a safety net against risk and disaster. Even though as a subject it has grown rapidly in importance, in many businesses it is pigeon-holed as something they might do 'in an ideal world' or as a discipline which is someway down the agenda because the perceived risk is not as powerful as other pressures they face.
What the vast majority are actually failing to see is the opportunity it presents to move a business forward. IT personnel tied up with day-to-day remedial activity because small faults can cause big problems could actually be spending their time helping the business to develop new products and services.
One of the 'problems' that companies have with spending money on business continuity preparation, technology or services is that it can seem like writing cheques for something they will never need.
With the exception of certain businesses that are bound by regulation and therefore must make provision to recover effectively from disaster, many companies weigh up their perception of overall risk against the cost, and opt for keeping their fingers crossed and spending the money on something else.
Ultimately, it's a question of priorities - as with any subject in business that potentially can involve significant financial outlay, spending on Business Continuity solutions has always had to stand up to close examination.
Given the situation where budgets are often competed for within organisations, it is easy to see why some businesses would opt for spending on IT projects with a more tangible and immediate revenue generation slant than something which may or may not swing into action depending upon circumstances.
But businesses need to ask themselves, and indeed to study, how much time, effort and money they spend dealing with what they might see as 'day-to-day' continuity issues - those that don't affect an entire infrastructure or last a long time, but occur relatively often.
Most companies seem to accept that it is a fact of life that systems experience glitches and short-term downtime and there will always be the need to allocate finance and resources to deal with this inevitability. Yet this is more a question of attitude, convention and habit rather than forward thinking.
Any business that can foresee circumstances where their infrastructure is resilient and flexible enough to free support and technical staff from remedial and ad hoc work should also be able to see the possibilities this opens up for positive technical development and innovation.
There are very few business tools whose millions of users would accept breakdowns with the same fatalism that we all seem to do with IT, but by bringing Business Continuity in is a mechanism for efficiency, by allowing those people with the technical skills to create rather than merely repair, a company can spend more time attending to its goals and targets.
Imagine an infrastructure, designed with resilience at its core which allows skilled technical people to work on product development, on customer service technology or sales tools - what Board wouldn't want their staff spending more time on these kinds of projects and less on repairs?
Business Continuity needs to be part of the foundation of any IT infrastructure - it's not just backup with bells and whistles anymore, and it certainly should not merely sit as an adjunct to corporate IT only to be used in case of emergency.
It can be specified as part of the overall approach to IT and be justified and measured as a legitimate and, in most cases, affordable use of budget.
Good Business Continuity practice does not automatically come with an expensive price tag attached, and insisting that technology lets us down less often than we have been conditioned to expect does not have to put a nought on the end of any budget.
Creating a situation where any given employee who relies on IT availability to do their job has most of the ad hoc downtime eliminated is an issue which can be addressed via Business Continuity techniques and technology. If they don't need as much technical support, then that unused resource can be re-allocated.
Companies should start viewing Business Continuity technology and practices as an opportunity rather than a diversion or an irrelevance. Yes it can and has proved invaluable in times of crisis, and will continue to do so, but for the majority of businesses out there it should now be finding a revised role as a part of their infrastructure specification and as a tool to help them move forward.
John Smith is New Business Manager of Selway Moore Solutions - www.selwaymoore.com
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