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Solutions | 4 min read

7 Steps to Developing an IT Disaster Recovery Plan

Matt Freymiller
Written by Matt Freymiller

Whether through the media or in real life, we’ve all witnessed the devastating impact of hurricanes, wildfires, ice storms, and other types of disasters. Not only do these events destroy property, but they also disrupt infrastructures and lead to data loss. 

Although less destructive physically, software failures, security breaches, ransomware attacks, and other cyber events can significantly impact our lives both at home and in the office. 

Adding to the challenge is the onslaught of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms. As reported by Reuters, “AI will almost certainly increase the volume and heighten the impact of cyberattacks over the next two years.” 

No matter the cause, the impact and costs of downtime on business operations can be significant. If you rely on technology to conduct business, you need a proactive IT disaster recovery plan (DRP). 

Read More: What’s the Difference? Disaster Recovery vs. Business Continuity Plan  

What is a Disaster Recovery Plan? 

An IT disaster recovery plan is a formal document that outlines step-by-step instructions and protocols that an organization should follow if it’s unable to operate as normal or access important data and critical applications. 

This plan includes processes and recovery strategies to mitigate the effects of disruption so the organization can minimize downtime and resume operations quickly. 

Creating a business disaster recovery plan can protect your company and the livelihood of your team members and should include the following disaster recovery plan steps. 

  1. Identify Potential Threats 
  2. Determine Potential Outcomes 
  3. Outline Goals and Procedures 
  4. Complete a Comprehensive Inventory 
  5. Assign Clear Responsibilities
  6. Develop a Communication Plan 
  7. Conduct Regular Reviews and Testing 

1. Identify Potential Threats 

What possible scenarios could interrupt your essential functions? Does your area experience disasters such as tornadoes, floods, or heavy snowstorms? What would happen if you experienced a cyberattack that took all your systems offline? What about internal threats, like a disgruntled employee? 

Address as many possible threats as you can to decrease your chances of getting caught off guard. You may want to consider conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment and audit to help identify potential gaps in your security posture (before hackers do). 

2. Determine Potential Outcomes 

Use your imagination. What could happen if one of these threats darkens your virtual doorstep? How would it affect your operations? Write down as many scenarios as you can think of, running the gamut from inconvenient to catastrophic. 

Failing to anticipate some of the worst outcomes, including the loss of sensitive data and potential litigation, could end up costing you more than you ever thought possible. 

 Read More: The Real Cost of Operational Downtime 

3. Outline Goals and Procedures 

Another step is setting goals and developing a disaster recovery plan and data retention policy that includes the appropriate technical solutions and support to achieve these goals. This might involve a cost-effective managed services provider that hosts off-site system backups you can retrieve in an emergency to keep your business up and running. 

As part of your process, you’ll want to identify the Recovery Time Object (RTO) — each system’s maximum allowed downtime — and the maximum amount of data loss you’re willing to accept. This is also known as Recovery Point Object (RPO).  

Another goal is to identify specific data backup procedures, including where critical data will be backed up and how to recover it. Ideally, there is a secondary data center recovery site in a remote location containing replicated data that’s frequently backed up. It can be restored or switched to a backup host site if other critical systems go down. In case of a cyberattack, you’ll need emergency response procedures to mitigate the damage as quickly as possible.

4. Complete a Comprehensive Inventory 

Take stock of any hardware, software, and applications your business uses. From there, list them in order of importance and which ones need to be restored first. Each item in the inventory should have its pertinent information included, such as the serial number or tech support info. Also, create a secure list of current passwords to access everything you need.  

5. Assign Clear Responsibilities

If a natural disaster or data breach occurs, everyone should immediately know what to do. That can only happen when those responsible for deploying the disaster recovery plan are identified by name and familiar with your recovery process. You’ll need to answer questions like: 

  • Who will be in charge of getting systems back up and running? 
  • Who will make the phone calls or send emails? 
  • Who will speak with employees, the media, or law enforcement if necessary? 

Include people like upper-level IT managers and other experts on your IT team, department heads, C-level executives, your cyber insurance provider, and human resources or public relations managers. List these individuals by name rather than title so there’s no ambiguity about key roles and responsibilities. Be sure to routinely update their current email addresses and phone numbers. Finally, list a backup person in case someone is unavailable. 

6. Develop a Communication Plan 

Now that everyone knows their responsibilities, they’ll need a clear understanding of how to communicate with one another. During a disaster, regular modes of communication are sometimes unreliable. If that happens, how will you communicate with employees, vendors, and customers? You’ll need to outline disaster recovery procedures and business processes for contacting them, along with backup plans if email, cell coverage, or phone lines are down. 

As part of your written process, include plans for updating your website and any online portals to keep others informed about next steps. Some businesses even set up private social media groups for select individuals who need to be part of disaster recovery efforts.  

Communication is key for your entire workforce, so make sure no one is left in the dark. Finally, check your service level agreements (SLAs) to understand any vendor or service provider assistance that is available. 

7. Conduct Regular Reviews and Testing 

Once you’ve developed a disaster recovery plan, conduct periodic reviews and updates. Answer the following questions: 

  • Is someone who’s listed as being responsible for a critical task no longer with your company or have they changed roles? 
  • Have passwords to access or recover certain programs been changed? 
  • Have you contracted with a new Managed IT provider or installed new software? 

Technology changes at a rapid pace and, if current information isn’t listed, your plan could be rendered ineffective. 

Just as important as making sure information is accurate is making sure people know what to do with it. Schedule regular practice drills, similar to how you might schedule routine fire drills. If not regularly reviewed and practiced, people can easily forget their roles and the steps they need to take. 

Lastly, consider how and where you will store your recovery plan. In the event of a disaster regular storage and applications may not be available. Without access to this plan, you will have to rely on memory while managing the stress of the situation. 

How a Technology Management Provider Can Help 

Would you be able to keep your systems up and running in the event of a major disruption, data loss, or prolonged power outage? If not, you’re not alone. 

Having a plan helps provide uptime assurance and protection against any form of system failure. If your business needs a hand to get the ball rolling on your IT disaster recovery plan, a technology management partner like Elevity can help. Our 4S approach (Strategy, Security, Solutions, and Support) covers all the bases in what you’ll need for successful implementation, and we can even share disaster recovery plan examples. 

Want to learn how a new Technology Management approach differs from traditional IT? We’ve developed a helpful infographic that outlines the most important comparisons. Simply click the link below to access your free copy today, and reach out with any questions. 

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