Business continuity (BC) projects have recently become more likely to be considered components of enterprise corporate governance strategy. Managing a company's risk exposure to business interruptions and keeping business operations running at acceptable levels under duress is a critical component of overall corporate strategy. BC dashboards are the latest class of business intelligence (BI) applications, as senior management desires more transparency - both proactive and reactive - into their organization's crisis management infrastructure and methodologies. "The business need for BC dashboards becomes more apparent every day - across all industries. Early adoptors of BC dashboards have reaped measurable competitive advantage by being able to better control multiple categories of risk from one dedicated physical location and logical perspective," says Cris Solomon, a San Francisco Bay-area senior consultant in business continuity.
Many corporate data supply chains have become more mature in terms of integrity and distribution; however, not enough attention is paid to BC in associated service level agreements. As supply chains have lengthened, sophisticated new architectures and technologies have not necessarily meant better risk mitigation and reduced exposure to serious outages in continuity. System and process dependencies continue to become more tangled and less centralized despite innovations in the service-oriented delivery of information. In addition, cutting-edge technical solutions have resulted in a reshuffling of accountability and responsibility so that business impact assessment (BIA) remains a difficult chore. Data supply chains are complicated and can be composed of any number of entities - classified as systems, facilities, applications, people, vendors or hardware. All dependencies in the data supply chain must be understood if one is to get to a place where quality BIA can be conducted in order to gauge and assess a company's readiness and risk of disaster. All along the supply chain are points of hand off or collaboration that require service agreements for capacity, timeliness, integrity and beyond. Such characteristics of system and data flow need to, at a minimum, be codified and saved as metadata or, better still, be reflected in a rules engine or mapping tool that will be able to reproduce all dependencies and interrelationships as both relational content and graphical flows. Eventually, this information will be used to seed the BC dashboard as well. An enormous amount of data - coming from disparate enterprise silos - about system and business entities/assets will have to be merged with BC-specific facts such as recovery time objective and recovery point objective in order to get a picture of BC resilience in all of its flavors. (Note that because BC resilience is somewhat difficult to measure in pure data terms, creative key performance indicators [KPIs] will need to be brainstormed and incorporated into the dashboard.) Once an enterprise system discovery has been completed, not only will it be easier to support business continuity policy, future data integration projects will become more streamlined and controlled because all interdependencies will be mapped and thus better poised to drive and adapt to business and system changes.
A BC dashboard may go outside the proactive realm, morphing into more of a portal by introducing reactive tools and measures in order to directly assist in managing a crisis or business outage, incorporating real-time feedback as part of a control center. Such a system would be driven by a regimen of indicators and alerts that track the current state of affairs in enterprise systems and notify the proper responders to address problems in their domains of responsibility. Responsibility should be defined by an incident command structure (ICS) and be implemented in a highly available distribution model, which will accommodate "in the field" first responders who may only have access to the system via handheld remote devices. During a crisis, the BC command chain or ICS must be able to make status adjustments to situational scenarios according to checklists and report them back up the chain of command. All incident history will be logged and archived so that it can be used for future trending and BIA analysis in order to develop better response strategies and methodologies. Because BC portals are large undertakings, merging the proactive with the reactive, they are usually done in lockstep along preselected business silos, phased to show return on investment in the quickest possible fashion. One interim option to portal construction is virtual integration, meaning that although heterogeneous data is not truly integrated and still exists in a siloed state, it is assembled for consumption in one place dynamically.
Senior executives badly need to get their arms around their organization's capability and readiness to respond to all classifications of disasters. Like other categorizations of BI data, information gleaned from a BC dashboard is an outstanding candidate for graphical data analysis (using a state-of-the-art data visualization tool), which enables top-level management to see trends, relationships, risks and exposures painted with a broad brush for lucid and quick decision-making in budgeting, accountability and reporting to stakeholders. Because BC cuts across all enterprise business segments, product lines and classes of assets, the biggest challenge to achieving robust BC intelligence will be the integration of data about a highly complex and complicated web of related systems, process, people, information and other assets.
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