Continuity Planning: Holding the Line, in Rain or Shine

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Government does not have the luxury to operate on a strictly 9-5 to basis. To deliver critical services to citizens, agencies of all sizes must be running seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

But what happens during a natural disaster or cyberattack? How do agencies continue providing vital services to their constituents?

To address those questions, GovLoop, along with industry leaders Four Points and RSA, hosted an online training on preparing for the next crisis through an effective continuity of operations program (COOP).

The panel featured the following speakers:

  • Kelley Dempsey, Senior Information Security Specialist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Christopher Kozicki, Senior Manager, Crisis Management and Business Continuity, Sallie Mae
  • Patrick Potter, GRC Strategist, RSA

You can view the entire presentation here and be sure to check out the recap below:

COOP Planning: Testing Isn’t Optional

Kelley Dempsey understands that to many, continuity planning can seem labor-intensive and distracting from primary job duties. But the reality is that planning is a necessary component of ensuring that you can do your job, even in a hurricane or when the network goes down. “If you have a plan that’s documented, and you have practiced your plan, then hopefully you’ve taken care of the details so that you are not running around like chickens with your heads cut off when the crisis actually happens,” said Dempsey.

Of course, no plan is truly viable if it hasn’t been tested. “I really can’t stress enough the importance of testing a plan,” said Dempsey. “There is no point in going through the trouble of writing out a plan just because it is mandatory. Try to make the plans work. To do that effectively, you have to test them.”

The Benefits of COOP Automation

As Dempsey stressed, the difference between ‘going through the motions’ and having a viable, actionable plan can mean all of the difference in contingency situations. One very effective tool to that end is automation. Christopher Kozicki discussed the benefits of automating COOP processes at Sallie Mae. “We just recently transitioned our planning process from a very mundane, twice a year process of updating [Microsoft] Word documentation into an intuitive, interactive application.” According to Kozicki, the manual process was time-consuming, tedious and not entirely effective. He highlighted a number of benefits to automating the process, using a tool called RSA Archer:

  • Customization: Rather than use Word templates, Sallie Mae was able to customize the tool to fit its current processes.
  • Data Import: Sallie Mae is now able to integrate data among a number of other business systems (such as HR).
  • Data Export: Kozicki’s team focuses primarily on the business side, but now they have an ability to seamlessly export information to IT units.
  • Automation: Perhaps the most significant benefit is the ability to automate processes at every step, which precludes the need to manually draw out data or make changes.

Looking Forward: Strategies for Meeting the Next Challenge

As agencies are faced with increasing threats of service disruptions, the stakes couldn’t be higher to adopt the right COOP architecture. “In today’s world, disruptions are not only inevitable, they are happing with greater frequency,” said Patrick Potter. “Many times they are simultaneous. It is a much more complex environment.” Therefore, agencies need a new approach to continuity that is robust enough to meet the new challenge. Potter outlined a few suggestions for those looking to get started:

  • Increase Alignment Across Groups: This means looking at your operations holistically, from IT to business operations to the crisis management team.
  • Think Across the Organization: Most business processes don’t exist in isolation, which means we have to start thinking about the different ‘ecosystems’ that reside within our organizations. It will also be necessary to prioritize resiliency across the entire enterprise.
  • Focus on Reporting: There is a lot of noise generated throughout the organization, but it is important to focus on metrics and analyses that help you understand the areas in which you are making progress and where you have gaps.
  • Exploit New Trends: Relatively recent technological innovations – such as cloud, mobile and the ‘Internet of Things’ – can be threatening because it means more organizational complexity. But can also provide opportunities to get ahead – try to use technology to your advantage.

The complete webinar features a wealth of information on all things COOP, including:

  • How to get started
  • An outline of moving from manual to automated processes
  • COOP financial resources for cash-strapped agencies
  • And much, much more

Additional COOP Resource

Event sponsored by: