Business Continuity vs Disaster Recovery

Midway through International Business Continuity Week, someone asked me when Disaster Recovery Week started. Although, in the Euro area, it appears that Disaster Recovery Week is every week, most people don’t really see what the difference is between ‘business continuity’ and ‘disaster recovery’; that professionals continue arguing over these terms also doesn’t make life any simpler for the average business person trying to work out how to prepare for life’s little (and large) challenges.

The distinction used to be a very easy one to make, and I’m reminded of a fire that happened in the Utrecht branch of a tool hire company (HSS Verhuur) that I was managing, many years ago, in Holland. In those days, and in that industry, what we now call a ‘minimum tolerable period of disruption’ was measured in days, not hours or minutes. The local management were able to rescue some of our kit and, because they were resourceful, managed to have a mobile office delivered to an adjacent car park within a matter of hours. We has no computer systems to worry about – we just needed a new stock of paper hire contracts and similar stuff, which we could ship across from another branch. We were able to divert the telephone line quite easily and our equipment suppliers started shipping replacement equipment within a day or two. Everything that was already out on hire stayed out on hire, so we were able to continue generating revenue.  Within a couple of days, we had a workable, makeshift set up in operation and were able to post a ‘business as usual’ sign. That’s a good example of a business continuity process in operation – of course, we later drew on this experience to develop a more refined business continuity plan which we could rely on in the future to respond to any similar disruptions.

Nevertheless, we still didn’t have a permanent depot. This is where what I would call the Disaster Recovery phase took over. Once we’d concluced negotiations with the insurers, we had to recover and refurbish our premises – an overall process that took many months. Eventually, the new shop was ready to open and we were able to discontinue our temporary operations in the mobile office and relocate all our activities back into the (much warmer) new site.

The simple lesson is this: the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery phases of a disaster response are seperate activities, not different names for the same activity. They should run in parallel – the role of the BCP is to ensure that adequate temporary measures are brought into play as fast as required so that ongoing customer activity is maintained. The DR phase focuses on getting the original facilities back into full working order as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, so that the organisation can transition back from its temporary arrangements to more permanent ones.