Thursday, March 6, 2014

Plan B

Whether You Are Trying to Keep Your Software Organization Flying or Afloat, Disaster Planning is No Longer "Optional"

Being stranded at Heathrow after one of the most recent winter storms gave an invaluable insight into how a company handles events of this kind. In the context flying, delays and cancellations—thanks to our less than accommodating weather of late—seem to happen more frequently.

Emergency Planning is Often an Afterthought
Why? It involves effort and expense but delivers nothing tangible in return. "Plans Bs" have grudgingly been developed to cover areas at greatest risk. That's why you get to hear the mandatory safety briefing every time you get aboard an airplane, and why office buildings put up plans showing evacuation routes and emergency exits.

Although an emergency in the software development field may not pose a dire threat to human life, it can spell death for the organization. If you provide payroll, but don't have your product up and running, there could be some very disappointed people around when checks are being cut. If that happens too many times, most of those people will turn around and look for other options.

Larger organizations are not immune to occasional misfortune, but they usually have the necessary resources to 1) fix the situation quickly; 2) woo back the disappointed customers. Emerging organizations typically have neither.

Back to our not-so-miserable non-flying incident. Having experienced it a few times, Virgin Atlantic was clearly prepared. During our three-hour wait on the plane regular briefings from the staff kept us in the loop. Food and drink were circulated to temper the pangs of hunger. After being herded back to the terminal, we were briefed by a member of staff (alas only one) on the next steps and directed towards the buses waiting to take us to the hotel, whose staff, in turn, was waiting with room keys in hand. While we didn't get to our destination on time, the company did do all they could to put everything right. So, we'll be coming back.

Thinking about Plan B
In the context of a software organization, it makes sense to think about Plan B even when the coast appears to be clear. What will you do if your data center goes offline due to a massive power failure? A key component of your server farm disintegrates? Your one and only network guy or gal leaves? You may not have the resources to come up with a fully-fledged solution, but going through the process will give you insights into your vulnerabilities and offer the opportunity to mitigate the risks pro-actively.
The reality of today's software space is that your prospects and clients will be expecting you to be prepared for these eventualities. Not having a Plan B in place could now have an adverse effect on your ability to secure your client base.

When Disaster Finally Strikes…
Nothing good about that obviously, except you find out at first hand whether or not your plan works. That and you may also get an opportunity to learn from experience and adopt better practices. However, keep in mind that with the business continuously driving towards better efficiency, disaster planning may get relegated to the backburner—until the next time… leaving the only remaining other option in place to deal with disasters: when in danger or in doubt run in circles scream and shout (hopefully not!!)

What disaster planning activities are key for your organization to succeed?

Rachel, Dan, & Dmitry

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