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Real-Life Experiences with Business Continuity

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When a disaster occurs, it often reveals the true measure of an organization's preparedness. An unplanned business interruption occurred recently in the company where Rich Schiesser works. This article presents some of the valuable lessons the company learned from this event.
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During the past several years, a moderately-sized residential mortgage company in Southern California had been growing steadily into a major player among financial lending institutions. A sizable investment in IT systems helped fuel this growth, and raised the awareness of the importance of assembling a highly proficient IT business-recovery team. The composition of this team was an interesting mixture of IT technical specialists, business analysts, and professional contingency planners. Their charter was to develop and test business and technical recovery plans to enable critical business functions to be restored to full operation in minimal time following a disaster.

One of the most critical of these business functions was the company's asset-management unit. The IT business-continuity team had already developed the business and technical recovery plans for this area, and had conducted a tabletop simulation with business users to validate their plans. The next step was to schedule a full operational-recovery exercise for asset management. Such an exercise would take months of planning to ensure that the test objectives were all identified, agreed upon, and realistic—and, most importantly, would not in any way affect production. The exercise was scheduled for November of 2003. Actual events beyond the planners' control resulted in the date moving up by several months.

In late July of 2003, the manager of asset management was preparing for his quarterly meeting with investors. One of the topics he planned to highlight during his presentation was the company's business-recovery capabilities. Little did he know just how real a demonstration the investors would see. The company's IT business-continuity team was about to demonstrate its effectiveness in responding to unplanned events.

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