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Building a disaster recovery playbook

Image: Adobe Stock / ipopba

Kristy Gulsvig, Tevora’s Vice President of Marketing, explains why why building a disaster recovery playbook should be a crucial part of a business plan.

Many successful companies attribute a part of their success to sound strategic planning. A clear business roadmap creates a path to grow and consistently deliver great products and services to customers.

But what about when things go wrong?

Challenges and setbacks are par for the course when running a business, but most organisations don’t proactively plan for a major operational disruption. These are seen as anomalies that are so rare that it’s not worth the time to invest in preparing for them.

However, this mindset couldn’t be further from the truth. Disaster planning is an absolutely critical component of any organisation, regardless the industry they’re in. Whether your operations are disrupted by a cyber attack, natural disaster, or pandemic, the right plan can be the necessary resource you need to get your business through to the other side of it.

Why a disaster recovery playbook is critical

No one wants to dwell on the “what ifs.” This is especially the case for organisations that are already maxed on internal resources and growth planning. But having a disaster recovery playbook on hand is a major component of long-term business viability.

Disaster recovery playbooks contain all of the information, resources, and processes required to get a business back up and running in the event of a catastrophic event. They have a detailed breakdown of all team members (both internal and external) involved in recovery processes and a methodical approach to isolate any persistent threats and resume normal operations.

While there are best practices when going through disaster recovery planning, there is no one-size-fits-all format. A disaster recovery playbook is unique to your business and is formatted and customised based on specific circumstances and factors in your own business requirements when it comes to risk management.

Note that for some companies, disaster recovery planning is actually required. For companies that must maintain compliance with standards like HIPAA, SOC, and FedRAMP, disaster recovery plans are necessary.

Key components of a disaster recovery playbook

Disaster recovery planning, when done correctly,  involves multiple departments working together to understand the business’ needs during a disaster, and developing a strategy for tackling them together.

While every organisation’s size and complexity will dictate how intricate this playbook can look, there are some key components that every disaster recovery plan should have:

Key components of a disaster recovery playbook

Your incident response team will be both the internal and external bodies responsible for executing all elements of disaster recovery. This can be anyone the organisation needs to lean on, whether it’s IT and business operations teams or managed service providers and other third-party vendors.

Identifying each of the relevant parties well in advance of a disaster is a critical step to ensuring that all of the processes laid out in your playbook are handled quickly and with precision.

Communication plan

It’s important during any type of business disaster that a clear line of communication is established. However, when critical systems become disrupted, note that traditional forms of communication may not be viable.

This is why establishing proper protocols on how teams can effectively communicate with one another during a disaster like ransomware recovery or large-scale power outages is important.

Inventory of critical assets

Another reason why proactive disaster recovery planning is important is that it allows organisations to take regular stock of their critical assets. Over time, and as a business infrastructure scales, it can be easy to overlook new investments in on-premise or cloud-based systems and databases.

Making sure that your playbook is regularly updated will identify each and every component of your infrastructure as well as how it could potentially be impacted during a crisis.

Detailed recovery strategies and processes

Disaster recovery planning will require diligent coordination and strategisng around all of the methods, systems, and solutions required to bring a business back to operational status. This is where the bulk of recovery planning takes place and should be incredibly detailed and well-documented.

All of the processes put in place should have a hierarchy based on the highest priority systems that need to be recovered first, as well as the teams responsible for executing them.

Data backup and restoration plan

Another critical component of disaster recovery is to have quick access to important backup files and remote databases that can be used to reestablish core systems. In the event of a major cyber-attack like ransomware that encrypts or destroys critical data, up-to-date backups stored out of network are a lifeline for organisations.

While these backups can be managed in-house, it is often best practice to work with a third party who is able to ensure secure and offsite storage as well as help to execute backup recovery services when necessary.

Regular testing

Disaster recovery planning isn’t finished once your playbook is drafted. This is often where many businesses make the mistake of thinking their disaster recovery efforts are a one-and-done process.

No different than how a business regularly reviews its sales and marketing strategies, disaster recovery planning should be embedded into the business culture as a critical, ongoing process that is regularly tested and improved on.

As an organisation grows, so do its technology needs and infrastructure, which may require updates to the disaster recovery plan. Regular testing should be staged with relevant stakeholders to ensure that the plan withstands the current and future needs of the business. This includes simulated disaster scenarios and post-testing analysis to identify areas of improvement.

Best practices when building a successful disaster recovery playbook

Below are some best practices you can follow to ensure you’re building an effective disaster recovery plan that works the way it should.

  1. Complete a SOC audit: Assessing the potential risks your organisation has is an important way to recognise where you should focus your priorities in disaster recovery planning. A SOC audit, which stands for System and Organisation Controls, is an audit that determines the effectiveness of your internal controls around IT-related processes. By comparing your organisation to industry standards, you can gauge the strengths and weaknesses of your disaster recovery plan.
  2. Establish your recovery objectives: Simply having a plan isn’t sufficient – you must also define specific goals for your disaster recovery initiatives. This means determining both Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPO). These metrics indicate the speed at which you need to restore your data and systems post-disaster and the extent of data loss that’s acceptable to the business. With this clarity, you can prioritise your disaster recovery plan to meet these criteria.
  3. Dedicate time for training: Never underestimate the significance of training in disaster recovery planning. Ensure every team member knows their role in disaster recovery and understands their duties should a disaster ever occur.
  4. Store your disaster recovery playbook safely: Make sure that your disaster recovery playbook is stored in a location that’s easily accessible – even during a crisis. Relying solely on a digital version stored on your network isn’t wise. Keep a printed version on-site and back it up on external storage devices for easy retrieval.
  5. Partner with outside security experts: Disaster recovery planning can be a time-consuming and complex task for any business. This is why partnering with qualified experts in disaster planning and cybersecurity can be an invaluable investment. These professionals can assist in preparing your business for unforeseen situations and also play a crucial role in your recovery team.

Make sure your business is ready in the event of a disaster

Ensuring your business is prepared for potential disasters is vital for its long-term success. By diligently preparing a disaster recovery playbook, you’ll protect your business’s ability to successfully navigate crises, reduce downtime, and mitigate any financial setbacks.

Kristy Gulsvig
Kristy Gulsvig
Vice President of Marketing at Tevora

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