September 11: E-mail and remote access are key

by Mike Simons, © 2002 ComputerWeekly.com Ltd. All rights reserved

Businesses can get up and running quickly using just a few key applications. But no technology or planning can replace lost staff.

Monday, 11th March 2002 - Looking back on the battle to maintain operations at Merrill Lynch, Marvin Balliet, chief financial officer of the bank's technology group highlighted the e-mail as an unexpected mission critical application. "In all our plans no one focused on e-mail as being mission critical. Yet that was the first thing our traders were screaming about, even before they were trading," he admitted.

DK Matai, chief executive of security consultant mi2g, noted that many other organisations missed this key point in their planning. "It was disconcerting to note that despite having disaster recovery procedures within financial services, 11 September put some reputable banks' global e-mail systems out-of-service for more than two weeks,"Matai told CW360.com."Many disaster recovery procedures are not up-to-date in defining criticality around e-business issues such as e-mail, intranets and extranets," he said.

Along with e-mail, remote access appears to have found a place in companies' disaster recovery plans. Until 11 September most organisations "considered remote access to be an alternate work style, as opposed to a measure that could be used in an emergency," said John Girard, an analyst with Gartner Group.

Organisations may want to investigate the establishment of remote centres to work from in an emergency, Gartner advised.

"Companies need to make sure they understand what capabilities they have from a remote access [perspective] and to incorporate that knowledge into their disaster plans," said Girard.

However this could lead to massive changes in the way the business operates Ovum warned. "Distributing the risk without revolutionising the company culture is a delicate balancing act," commented Ovum analyst Paola Bassanese.

One of the main observations from 11 September was the sheer loss of life - and its effect on businesses. As Bassanese explained:"No business continuity service can fill the gap left by the loss of staff."

Keeping emergency data on staff is critical. Giga Information Group analyst Paul Hamerman said:"The extraordinary tragedy of 11 September brought to light the need for rapid employee communications and tracking." Most companies have not made sufficient use of their human resources management systems for tracking contact information on employees and their families for emergency use. Even where systems are in use, "the real challenge is the cultural discipline and procedures to maintain the information accurately," warned Hamerman.

The loss of the World Trade Centre towers also revealed that many organisations still relied on paper based records for vital staff records, including benefits and beneficiary information.

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