Convincing the boss about the need for disaster recovery

Convincing the boss about the need for disaster recovery

You’ve done your homework and you understand that you need a disaster recovery plan. You know that your job and the jobs of your co-workers and livelihood depends upon your computer systems being up and operational at all times. You know that if there is some kind of disaster, perhaps even a relatively minor one, your computer systems will become non-functional. This would put your job and the job of everyone at your office in danger.

For me it was even more critical, as the computer systems that I manage run the payroll software as well as all of our other applications. One day our computer simply stopped working and it took the entire day to get it repaired. Unfortunately, that was the day payroll was to be run for the office employees, and because of the crash checks had to wait an extra day. We all got pretty tense, as at the time we were not sure we could get the computer going in less than a few days (parts on back order).

This kind of event really underscores the need for disaster recovery. If we had a disaster site at the time, we simply would have brought it up and printed the checks.

So how do you go about selling the need for a disaster site to your boss? One fact is absolutely true – disaster recovery solutions are among the most expensive things that an IT person will ever have to confront. In addition, they can be very difficult to implement, and oftentimes management simply does not understand the reasons why such a plan is necessary.

One of the factors that makes selling a disaster plan so tough is there is no return on investment in the classical sense. Normally you can determine how long it will take for a system to return back the money that you spent. This might be measured in increased sales, improved productivity, reduced operating expenses and so on.

It is difficult if not impossible to perform these calculations for disaster recovery plans because, well, the systems just sit there until there is a disaster. They don’t produce anything, they don’t save anything and they don’t sell anything. They are just ready. It’s kind of like buying a second racehorse, just in case the first one gets sick and cannot race. The second horse does not gain you anything unless the first cannot race, yet it costs you money to purchase, to feed and to care for.

Before you go any further, be sure you’ve done your homework as described in the previous article in this series. You must understand exactly why you need a disaster plan, what it entails and what threats you are protecting against. You need to be ready to answer questions about why, when, how, where, how much and who.

Another thing to remember is to be aware of timings. If you have a “just-in-time” system, then even an hours downtime may be unacceptable. On the other hand, your company may be able to live without computers for days. Ask each department what they would do in the event of a computer failure, and how long they could survive. You may be surprised to find out one department can run just fine without computers at all, while others stop work almost immediately.

Be especially prepared to discuss the priorities of recovery systems. Some of your applications and computers may need up-to-the-second availability of the disaster site, others may not need to be at the disaster site at all. It just depends on how critical the system is to your company’s day-to-day business.

A common comparison which appeals to management-type people is with an insurance policy. Business people may not understand computers, but they do know about insurance.  Be sure you use this analogy often, but do not depend upon it. Disaster recovery systems are often a very expensive form of insurance.

Perhaps the most successful technique I’ve used to sell disaster sites is to use current disasters to their fullest advantage. In fact, one of my most important rules of survival is simple.

“You went to a lot of trouble to have a crisis. You need to learn as much as possible from the experience so you don’t go through it again.”

It’s even better if you can predict a crisis, get your boss to see it as well, and prepare for it in advance.

For example, here in California everyone was terrified of the El Ninõ weather pattern that was developing. The news was full of reports of how we were going to experience flooding, high winds and unseasonable cold.

I had been trying unsuccessfully for years to get my boss to install a generator. Our computers were down at least twice a week due to power failures of one sort or another, and this was leading to data consistency problems. It was also annoying the heck out of our users.

My boss, however, did not understand at all. I think he did not know how to sell it to his boss. It didn’t matter how much I lectured or how many presentations I gave, he just did not get it.

One day I was driving home from work and listening to the radio. They were talking about the El Ninõ crisis again. I was about to turn off the radio when I stopped – perhaps I could use this to underline my points?

What I did was use this crisis, which was fresh in my bosses mind, to stress the importance of a generator. I wrote a memo (one of my best ever) which explained how the computers could be down for days due to lack of power. This would cost our company millions of dollars.

This put it into terms my boss could understand. There was a near-term crisis approaching (El Ninõ), a dollar amount of damages (a couple of million dollars in lost sales per day) and, most importantly, it was a crisis that he could get his arms around.

Between he and I, we managed to sell his boss on the concept and within a few short months we had our generator. El Ninõ turned out to be very disappointed as crisis’s go, but it served it’s purpose by giving me something concrete and real to give to the boss.

This brings me to my next point – don’t give up. Presumably you understand the reasons why you need a disaster site and a plan, otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to sell it to your boss. So if he doesn’t see your point of view right away just do some more research, look at the numbers again and figure out a different approach.

Another approach that I’ve found to be very successful is to break the project down into small, understandable pieces. Your boss may not be able to get the funding for a fully operational disaster site. He may, however, be willing to let you purchase a server or two to back up your most critical system.

Be sure and get some allies from as many different departments as you can. The operations people will almost certainly be on your side, as the company stops without computers. Accounting might be useful, human resources and payroll will certainly be helpful.

Use these allies carefully to build company-wide support for your project. Be very careful not to bypass your boss or embarrass him in any way. If you do that, you may as well give up on any chance of getting anything approved soon. Your goal is to build a consensus, not create an enemy out of your boss.

Learn from each refusal, each no answer. Question your boss to find out his reasoning – this gives you the information you need to come back again later with a new proposal.

And remember another important motto:

“No is not an acceptable answer”.

This is very important – presumably you know what you are doing. So if your boss says no, just dust yourself off, learn what you did wrong, and try again. Eventually you’ll find just the right way to sell your disaster concepts to your boss.

I know it’s possible, because I managed to create a fully operational hot site which is ready to take over at a moments notice.

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