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Business continuity is focus of disaster recovery

September 1, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

If you're looking for a highly visible IS career in which no two workdays are alike, you may want to consider specializing in disasters.

Or more accurately, recovering from disasters, which can range from a flooded data center or disabled communications network to a boardroom scandal or bomb scare.

They are all in a day's work for a growing number of ``business continuity'' specialists, such as Susan Decker, a business recovery supervisor at Ford Motor Credit Co. in Dearborn, Mich.

Decker's job and title didn't exist three years ago. Back then, disaster recovery meant bringing crashed computer systems back to life.

Now, Decker, who reports to the company's executive committee, must keep the $2.1 billion auto loan business up and running in the event of a disaster. ``It used to be, `Can we get the data center back up and the LAN back up?' Now it's, `Can we get the business back up?''' said Decker, a former systems analyst.

Companies more and more are expanding their definition of disaster recovery beyond technology to cover whatever it takes to keep a company running all without missing a beat because of a disaster. That can include everything from prearranging for alternate office space if workers can't return to a smoke-damaged office, to cross-training employees so workers from a finance department, for example, can do the work of customer service representatives.

``Business recovery is about when the emergency is over, people have evacuated the facility, key resources are taken away and how you do business without them,'' said Michael Kadar, an information protection analyst and former computer hardware engineer at Detroit Edison Co. in Detroit.

SOBERING NEWS

Like many other companies, Detroit Edison began to consider business recovery much more seriously following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and 1995's devastating bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

The utility is drawing up a comprehensive emergency management plan, which includes recovering systems, business applications and business processes such as customer support, Kadar said.

At Capital One, a large credit-card processor in Richmond, Va., business continuity ``involves making sure the customer doesn't see anything he shouldn't. It's making sure what could become a disaster doesn't become one,'' said contingency planning manager Martin Myers.

For example, during a huge winter storm last year, when snowbound employees couldn't get to work, customers who regularly call in to a support center in Virginia had no idea their calls were being routed to a backup call center in Tampa, Fla., Myers said.

The company's contingency plans included redundant systems as well as personnel to work overtime to handle the increase in calls.

Another key point that distinguishes business continuity from disaster recovery is that contingencies are thought about ahead of time and accommodated in all new computer systems. Business people and information systems professionals are required to work very closely on project teams, Myers said.

Source: Computerworld