2024 Gartner® report: Tips to bolster your disaster recovery program
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March 11, 2024

5 steps to executing an IT disaster recovery plan that actually works

You’d think that by now, in a time of inevitable power outages, cyber attacks, global crises and ever-present human error, organizations would have fortified their technology by developing solid IT disaster recovery plans. But the reality is, nearly a third of enterprises have outdated IT DR plans. They haven’t evaluated or updated their IT disaster recovery plans in the last year or more which can expose business operations to serious risks.  

This article presents five essential steps in developing an IT disaster recovery strategy for businesses.

Walking blindly through IT disaster recovery tests

Another issue that fuels overconfidence in IT disaster recovery plans is too much faith in testing. In a Cutover discussion entitled “Have we been fooling ourselves about testing?” at DRJ’s March conference, Northpointe Bank CTO Michael Gibeaut recalled drawbacks he encountered with traditional, time-consuming testing: “We walk through these exercises blindly … we check the boxes we worked with risk, we work with our compliance partners but [the test] truly isn’t what would happen in an actual event,” he says. “So, we have to change the way we think.” 

The need for new ways of thinking about IT disaster recovery planning and testing is growing more urgent. Data breach costs reached $4.24 million, the highest average total cost in 17 years, power supply threats surged, and software issues caused major disruptions and recalls.

“Technology is now at the center of company operations,” says Darren Lea, Cutover Product Manager for IT disaster recovery. “Along with that increased focus and attention on having the right technology, should come an equivalent focus and attention on ensuring those technology services are resilient. That starts with an IT disaster recovery plan to recover if things go wrong.”

We’ve gathered insights from Lea and other experts to help you create a resilient, realistic and effective IT disaster recovery plan.

IT disaster recovery plan steps

IT disaster recovery plan outcome

These 5 steps to creating an IT disaster recovery plan can set companies on a course to:

  • Prepare more effectively for increased regulatory scrutiny
  • Define and prioritize risks properly
  • Better meet customer expectations
  • Help trim costs and save time

Step 1: Know thy organization 

To begin your IT disaster recovery planning the first step is to confirm the technology services and infrastructure that underpins the services you provide to customers. Take a frank look at gaps in your current ability to handle a crisis and consider different scenarios you might face. Examine the risk vs reward of testing your plan, create an IT disaster recovery program that everyone can see and understand and make sure every person involved in your plan embraces it. You also need to be able to understand which IT DR plan components you can be flexible on. 

Step 2: With an IT DR plan, practice how you play

The next step is to determine when and how often you need to test your IT disaster recovery plans and work to make your tests as realistic as possible. Evaluate how much time you currently need but aim to reduce IT disaster recovery planning to better reflect how you would react in a real crisis, and involve stakeholders at all levels in test activity to more accurately replicate what would happen in an actual incident.

Most importantly in the IT disaster recovery planning process, practice how you play.

Step 3: Executing IT disaster recovery procedures

Communications and transparency are key to making your IT disaster recovery process run smoothly, so make sure you have an effective communications strategy in place. This includes clearly outlining priorities to ensure that the most critical business operations are prioritized.

Step 4: Lessons learned after the IT DR plan 

Once your recovery is complete, revisit your IT disaster recovery plan, dig into the details of the timing, and look at how both your people and your technology performed. It’s important to have a full understanding of which steps of the IT disaster recovery plan were on time, late, or not started/canceled. Dissecting and analyzing the plan at the task-level, provides the level of detail needed to refine it going forward.

Also, give all of your teams and stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback so you incorporate broad-reaching improvements for next time.

Step 5: Automated runbooks for IT disaster recovery plans

IT disaster recovery incidents are inevitable — it’s never a question of if — it’s always one of when. But with solid IT disaster recovery plans and a platform like Cutover, you can minimize outages and save on the costs associated with them

There are also many intangible benefits to creating IT disaster recovery plans using automated runbooks. Both the testing time and actual incident recovery time can be greatly reduced — and that can give employees their weekends back. In an era where companies are struggling to retain IT talent, the right IT disaster recovery strategy and platform can provide an environment where people can do more high-value tasks, have more free time and can empower you to let your tech team do what they are most motivated to do.

“We still come across firms that don’t have adequate IT DR plans,” Lea says, “But they get that they should. And that their spreadsheet-based IT disaster recovery planning isn’t enough. When you have many people doing many things in a time-pressured and time-precious scenario, Cutover is a highly effective way to sequence and orchestrate your activities.” 

Standardize and automate IT disaster recovery plans with Cutover 

Cutover’s Collaborative Automation SaaS platform helps enterprises standardize and automate IT disaster recovery plans. Transform your IT DR plans with automated runbooks, schedule a demo to learn more today.

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