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How to secure boardroom buy-in for backup and IT disaster recovery

By David Blackman, general manager of Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Acronis.

During 2011, thousands of businesses were affected by political strife, economic turmoil and environmental disasters that shaped the year. Many of those hardest hit will never fully recover. IT managers around the world have been given a wake-up call to reassess their backup and IT disaster recovery (DR).

A recent global study of 6,000 IT managers, which was conducted by Acronis and research house Ponemon, found that the disasters of 2011 have been a catalyst for positive change. However, too many strategic-level negatives still linger.

Most disappointing is a 13 percent drop in boardroom level support. Almost half (47 percent) of IT managers feel that business executives are not supportive. When questioned, IT managers cited reasons such as: “executives prefer to focus on the good news and disaster recovery usually means bad news”, “we are embarrassed by our backup and DR” and “we operate in a silo from other departments”.

IT managers need to plan for the worst but in order to do this effectively, they must get backup and IT disaster recovery to the top of the boardroom agenda. It’s no longer acceptable for it to be purely the responsibility of the IT department, too much is at stake. A business’ livelihood depends on its data.

This article sets out a four-point framework to help IT managers secure their business executives’ support for backup and IT disaster recovery.

Number one: reducing risk
Getting every part of the business on the same page is an important step. By aligning the IT to the business’ needs it instantly becomes more meaningful. One way to do this is to illustrate how much could be lost.

Our figures show that 86 percent of businesses experience one or more instances of system downtime, which on average equates to 2.2 days a year and costs $366,360 a year. This results in lost revenue, missed opportunities and lost productivity. Imagine what you could otherwise invest this money in. You could actually hire four more senior members of staff.

It’s also about being able to recover all the data. In certain industries including the financial, legal and public sector, organizations have to adhere to strict regulations such as the UK Freedom of Information Act, whereby data needs to be stored securely and safely for the long term. Losing data could result in penalties, including in some cases a serious monetary fine.

To avoid costly lengthy system downtime IT managers need to demonstrate how they can put the right backup and recovery strategy in place. They need to help executives see how it fits into the bigger picture and get other departments on board. For example how would the customer service team be affected by a disaster and do they have any action plan in place? A plan needs to be agreed. Position it as a long-term investment and compare the amount of money needed now versus having to pay out thousands later. This makes the extra budget sound like a cost saving.

Number two: innovation
Although a downturn is a time when the economy retracts, it's also a good time to streamline and transform processes. An IT department that takes the lead in showing innovative plans for improving business processes and cutting costs will impress the boardroom.

Recent innovations in technology can help IT managers improve backup and recovery processes without breaking the bank. Cloud computing is a perfect example.

Many small and medium sized businesses can’t afford an offsite data centre for disaster recovery and, worryingly, almost a quarter don’t have an offsite backup strategy in place at all. Most are not taking advantage of the easy offsite resource that cloud computing offers. However, using the cloud for backup and recovery has many benefits including lower IT operating costs, additional or flexible storage space and improved compliance.

IT managers should think about breaking down the amount they want to spend, versus the long-term cost-savings made, to show the board the potential benefits. Calculate what extra storage you would need and how much it would cost if you didn’t have a cloud solution. Propose the additional IT projects you could focus on with the time and money saved.

Number three: vendor criteria
No successful business would ever buy anything without researching the market. IT managers need to demonstrate they have done their research and explain the benefits of the solution they intend to spend the money on. If cost efficiency is one of the main benefits it’s probably more likely to get executive approval, but it’s by no means the most important criteria.

The first step is to collect vendor collateral and understand the different solutions. Talk to your peers and ask for sales references with demonstrable ROI. Rather than specifying exactly what you want to purchase, you may want to ask suppliers for their suggestions. Compare the suppliers in terms of what matters most to you.

IT managers should also consider the bigger picture and consider the implications of constantly adding new solutions to their IT infrastructure. Our research shows that 53 percent of businesses are using separate backup solutions for their physical and virtual environments, which is one of the reasons companies do such a poor job of backing up and why budgets are not being used wisely.

Businesses failing to consolidate their disaster recovery tools are making the management of backup unnecessarily more complicated and time-consuming, therefore more costly. A comprehensive solution linking physical, virtual and cloud protection would offer the most significant enhancements to their backup and disaster recovery operations.

Number four: budgets
Our research shows that disaster recovery budgets have stayed flat year on year. Over half (67 percent) admit to spending 10 percent or less of their IT budget on backup and recovery operations and 22 percent admit to spending no budget at all. It’s no wonder that over a third cite lack of budget as a reason why their backup and recovery is not given enough priority.

There are three key criteria to bear in mind when persuading your CEO to spend more budget on backup and IT disaster recovery:

  • Emphasise that a solid backup and disaster recovery strategy is needed to reduce risk. Having the right tools to do the job has a direct impact on the ability to recover quickly in the event of system failure.
  • Highlight that there is a direct correlation between those companies that have the most confidence in their backup and budget spend. Use the average worldwide spend of 10 percent as your benchmark.
  • Stress that it is important to get the basics right before you can focus on innovation. Backup and disaster recovery is not an area to cut corners or you could end up putting yourself out of business.

Budget and IT resources are the main barriers to successful backup and disaster recovery. When thought through logically, after its people, data is quite possibly the company’s next most valuable asset. If this is lost, a business is effectively obsolete. IT does not operate in a silo from other departments: it underpins the whole business.

The one common ground all businesses share is their desire to take the right steps to protect their business-critical digital assets. CEOs need to take backup and disaster recovery more seriously in terms of investment and resources.

Businesses face a triple whammy through 2012. They need to protect more data, fund it from a shrinking budget, and do it across more environments than ever before. This requires IT managers to get smarter.

If IT managers can put a strong case for backup and disaster recovery forward to their business executives, it shouldn’t be hard to get their support. It’s important to think about how you’re going to present your case and focus on what it means for the company as a whole. Rather than just asking for more money demonstrate what you will do with the extra cash and why a business executive should support your backup and disaster recovery plan.

Author: David Blackman, general manager of Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Acronis. http://www.acronis.co.uk/

•Date: 1st May 2012 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: ICT continuity

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