London software testing news UK

Testing business continuity plans

Posted in Software testing by testing in London on April 21, 2007

From NCC Membership

Investment management firm Baillie Gifford has always adopted a rigorous attitude to business continuity. In recent years the issue has assumed even greater importance, and the company has increasingly integrated its planning strategy with its core business and matched investment in its IT systems with investment to ensure their availability.

With a heavy reliance on bespoke in-house developed systems, its applications are tailored precisely to the firm’s needs. If they became unavailable for any significant time, the impact on quality of service to clients and partners would be unacceptable.

It implemented its first disaster recovery provision, a PC LAN recovery contract, in 1994 and throughout the rest of the decade, regularly upgraded its strategy to incorporate further resilience and systems integration.

In 2000, the company reached a tipping point when it considered its ability to run the business ‘as usual’ in a disaster recovery scenario. Joint senior partner and CEO Alex Callander said it was no longer enough to manage clients on a care and maintenance basis after a disaster; service had to be the priority. Workplace and technology provision at the company’s recovery centre was almost doubled, and the centre itself relocated to larger premises in the city.

According to head of IT Richard McGrail, the lynchpin of Baillie Gifford’s strategy has been to maintain responsibility for its own infrastructure.

‘We’ve shifted from using the services of our business continuity partner on a rental basis to locating our kit in their centre, but we’ve stopped short of outsourcing it all,’ he says. ‘We don’t trust anyone with it as much as we trust ourselves, and that is no reflection on our partner, which has a lot of excellent technical staff. We’re essentially running two infrastructures, and we feel that’s our responsibility. We always face issues when we test, and we don’t want to be arguing with an outsourcer when it comes to resolving them.’

Regular tests range from formal technology tests every six weeks or so, when the IT department might send 15 people out to Livingston to see how long it takes to establish the network and restore certain systems, to annual exercises that may involve a ‘considerable’ number of users. They will go to the co-location centre or work from home, doing a normal day’s work in simulated crisis conditions.

‘Every three years, we also carry out a major exercise based on a realistic disaster scenario, giving our departmental heads a challenge,’ says McGrail. ‘The most recent, in 2005, led to a lot of changes.’

‘We don’t have dedicated business continuity people,’ he continues. ‘It’s simply a slice of the job for some 20 or 30 people in the company. This means it isn’t viewed disdainfully as a remote operation; it’s part of the day job. That isn’t to say it’s not a hard sell in some places! The planning committee’s ideas are sometimes rejected on the grounds of expense, for example. But the plan has grown in line with the firm; it isn’t a ‘them and us’ situation.’

Business continuity testing

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