Historically IT leadership has been concerned with disaster recovery (DR), and rightfully so. Before COVID-19 disrupted life as we know it, most higher ed institutions did not offer the option to hold classes virtually outside of their existing online course offerings, generally, most employees did not work from home, and all of this meant there was no identified need for alternative solutions. The last major adverse event with global effects was the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. This pandemic lasted about 18-19 months in a world with very different technological capabilities, levels of international connectedness, and social and political climates.
In 2009 the first iPhone turned two years old, the Apple App Store was one year old, and smartphones had just gained turn-by-turn navigation capabilities. Internet of Things (IoT)was just moving from speculation to reality. In contrast, in 2020 IoT devices are everywhere, often referred to as “smart” devices, and a large number of everyday devices are Wi-Fi enabled. Video calls are mainstream thanks to FaceTime, Zoom, and other communication platforms. Not only do our smartphones function at the center of our lives, we now have little phones we wear as watches and larger devices, tablets, that function as a hybrid between computer and smartphone. Even our shopping advanced technologically. In 2009 online sales totaled 5.6% of total retail sales, and in 2019 the percentage of online sales grew to 15.8%. The list could continue regarding the differences between 2009 and present-day technologies, but I’ll stop there. It’s clear our lives today are much more connected than ever, physically and digitally. While the increased international connectedness allowed the virus to spread rapidly worldwide, the digital connection made maintaining productivity possible.
As institutions quickly implemented much-needed COVID accommodations, IT leadership found their already overtaxed departments against the ropes. Institutions were quickly acquiring solutions to make accommodations possible and almost every solution had to pass through IT for approval, if not for implementation support as well. While technology has advanced enough for institutions to cope, these same advancements are exploited by bad actors across the globe. The critical importance of security and safety added to the pressure of thoroughly vetting any possible solutions to be acquired.
It’s totally understandable if at this point you’re thinking, “yeah I know all of this because I lived it.” The point of this isn’t to tell you what you already know, rather expand on it so let’s do just that. How does all of this connect to business continuity planning?
First, let’s discuss some basics around business continuity (BC) and business continuity plans (BCP) within higher education. The purpose of BC is to ensure continuity of the institution’s most critical functions if, and when, an adverse event occurs. Higher ed BC differs from other industries because there are several mini organizations within the overall institution (ex: department, school, college, division, etc.). Each of these organizations has its own set of critical functions, applications, and personnel that need to be considered.
This brings us to BCPs. Each organization needs a BCP that includes recovery strategies for each of their critical functions, people, facilities, and applications. These recovery strategies should include the unavailability of critical facilities that deliver critical functions –think video conferencing and digital collaboration platforms. Speaking in basic terms, once you have a plan established for all four of these critical categories, you’ll want to implement your recovery strategies and test them to ensure you are ready to go. It’s important to remember, oftentimes, in our connected world BC recovery strategies will need to go through IT before they are fully implemented and executed. Each organization should continue to test its BCP and keep it up-to-date.
If BC recovery strategies are going to need IT approval, and potentially implementation support, before being fully executed then it seems IT has some stake in BC planning and operations. Gone are the days of IT being solely focused on DR. Today’s world puts IT right in the middle of creating and managing BCPs across the institution. While not responsible for developing the remote delivery options (recovery strategies), IT will be required to vet and approve them. Given IT’s limited bandwidth and resources along with increasing demands, it makes the most sense for IT to take an active role in advocating for thorough BC planning before an adverse event happens, not during it.
This can be overwhelming if you are not well versed or trained in BC practices, but it doesn’t have to be.
Adopting a solution that connects expertise from various different roles and empowers users from all over campus to be the expert in their department’s planning is the first step in improving your institution’s resilience. By actively participating in the building of your institution’s BC program, the IT leadership and organization can actively prioritize the evaluation, approval, and implementation of BC recovery strategies while managing the other numerous priorities that must be accomplished as well. Rather than being overwhelmed in the middle of an already taxing adverse event, IT can be a part of the proactive steps to ensure safe, secure continuity of operations across the institution.
The recent strain on IT as institutions responded to COVID-19 demonstrated the importance of having BCPs with vetted recovery strategies in place before the adverse event in order to ensure thorough, safe, and secure continuity of critical functions.
Knowing how to get started and where to find support and guidance for BC software solutions can be overwhelming. While resources for higher ed BC planning are limited, here are a couple of great places to start:
Kuali Ready is the only continuity planning software solution on the market designed specifically for the needs and operations of higher ed. With guided questionnaire-style forms, department leaders are empowered to combine their areas of expertise, with the knowledge of emergency managers, risk managers, IT leaders, and campus leadership to build a comprehensive BC program.
For less than the cost of an FTE, you can improve your institution’s resilience and prepare for any adverse events that may come up. Experience Ready in action through this self-paced walkthrough and to request a walkthrough tailored to your institution’s needs, please contact us today.