Wynn: Be prepared with contingencies

Continuity of operations (COOP) is not just about keeping Web pages and computer systems up and running anymore. It is about sustaining critical business and government operations in the face of new threats and disasters. When the Homeland Security Department changes its advisory system from orange to red, citizens must be able to depend on the government to function. COOP plans make this possible.

Such plans have been used in the private sector for some time to protect vital infrastructure and support the continuation of operations when the unexpected occurs. As DHS officials set protocol for continuity of government during national emergencies,

federal information technology managers have begun adding specific COOP strategies to their agencies' budgets, and they are fighting aggressively for appropriate funding.

The federal government began its COOP efforts during the Clinton administration to plan for the Year 2000 bug. Initially, COOP planning in the public and private sectors only addressed the need for the quick recovery of IT systems in the event of a natural disaster or critical systems failure. Private-sector organizations took the lead in adopting COOP plans to migrate operations to backup sites to further reduce return-to-operation time.

Federal government directives, however, consisted largely of unfunded mandates that provided agencies with little guidance or resources. As a result, no clear federal strategy was

developed to meet increasing threats to national security.

But the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the recent bioterrorism scares and last year's Northeast power blackout demonstrated that disruptions to services are becoming more complex, urgent and unpredictable.

Most organizations, for example, were not prepared for an event of the terrorist attacks' magnitude. Even corporations with the most robust continuity plans found themselves facing critical flaws in once airtight disaster planning. Christopher Baum, Gartner Inc.'s vice president of the public sector, said that the attacks exposed a lack of emphasis on the people side of recovery and a lack of planning for unforeseen scenarios.

Beyond simplified disaster recovery, these solutions have become enterprisewide strategies of continuity management — of which IT services are just one essential component of a business process. True continuity management requires a holistic approach, factoring in the full resources of the enterprise — IT, people, facilities and specialized equipment. For this to work, an agency has to operate as an adaptive enterprise in which stand-alone systems are combined and technology, processes and people are aligned to allow for greater agility and rapid response.

Most organizations realize they are still unprepared for the worst. According to a recently published Gartner survey, 620 chief information officers named business continuity as one of their top three priorities. This growing demand has led to a growing market.

With the uncertainty of the business landscape and our changing environment, the bottom line is: CIOs need to be prepared. The question on every executive's mind is how to optimize their environments to avoid or survive a business interruption — at code red. n

Wynn is vice president of sales for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s public-sector services division.

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