This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide “State and Local Government: 8 Tech Challenges and Solutions.” In it, we provide an overview of case studies from governments across the country. Download the full guide here.
Amid increasing natural disasters and cybersecurity threats, state and local governments need business continuity plans to minimize disruptions to employees, citizens and IT resources.
Organizations have long relied on alternate work methods in the wake of natural disasters and manmade incidents. But this approach often forces people to adapt to unfamiliar ways of working while trying to cope with the stress and uncertainty of the event itself.
In an interview with GovLoop, David Smith, National Director for State and Local Government at Citrix, explained the importance of having business continuity and disaster recovery plans, what those plans should include, and how Citrix networking solutions help agencies maintain operations in the wake of an incident.
“The first step in prioritizing and planning is doing an assessment of potential disruptions and how they might impact the overall operations of an agency,” Smith said. Disruptions can come in many forms and may impact operations in different ways. A disruption may include any event that would prevent employees from reaching their normal place of work, such as an illness, weather or traffic. Other events could be planned system outages for routine maintenance or more severe cases such as power outages, network disruptions or facility damages.
Then there are security-related incidents that can block access to systems and data temporarily or permanently. “You have to look at how these events impact your overall operations before you get into what you should do about them,” he said.
Completing this assessment is critical to developing a strong business continuity plan. Among the questions agencies should address in their plans are which applications and services are critical to their operations. Who accesses the services and how? If services and systems are impacted or shut down, how are you prioritizing which systems should be restored? If an application is offline, what is that costing your agency in terms of time and resources?
For example, if a case management system goes down, it might hinder the courts from conducting hearings or processing cases. Agencies also have to account for services that are hosted by a third party, in the cloud or via a mobile app.
These are a few of the issues that agencies have to consider when developing business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Agencies often use these terms interchangeably. But when there is a distinction, continuity of operations usually refers to smaller, less impactful occurrences. Disaster recovery generally means there was significant loss or damage to infrastructure or services that forced agencies to do things differently.
When a new system is deployed or there is a significant infrastructure change, you need to update your business continuity and disaster recovery plans, Smith said. He recommended that agencies practice their response to a disaster or disruption in operations ahead of time. Doing so will help alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty.
Smith and his team at Citrix work with agencies to ensure they take a seamless and holistic approach to disaster recovery and business continuity. In particular, Citrix enables agencies to provide secure digital workspaces to their employees regardless of location, network or device.
These secure digital workspaces are transforming the way IT organizations in state and local government enable citizen users and empower the agency’s mission. Agencies can focus more on the quality of services they provide, and they are less restricted by where the service is being delivered. They can easily adapt to different scenarios, including providing service to an employee on their personal or government device.
On the backend, data center automation and recovery make on-premises IT resources available to employees. Real-time monitoring, detection and analytics help IT ensure a good user experience, maintain compliance and prevent breaches. With digital workspaces, agencies can use their existing infrastructure without investing in separate business continuity access tools and devices. This reduces the cost and complexity of business continuity planning.
When developing or updating their plans, agencies should think broadly, Smith said. It doesn’t take a natural disaster to trigger the use of a business continuity plan. Something as routine as a doctor’s appointment affects an employee’s normal routine. Having a plan that empowers them to continue working in those and other instances can greatly improve workforce efficiencies and effectiveness.