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What’s Different about Business Continuity?

© 2007 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Many of us in IT focus on the quality of our system backup— or, at least we intend to.  System backups are essential, but are they enough?  What if the process of recovering from a disaster will be lengthy?  Like with Katrina?  Or 9/11?

That’s when we’ll need more than a disaster recovery strategy.  We’ll need a business continuity strategy.

First Baptist Church in Gulfport, MS - Associated Baptist Press Photo by Greg Warner, used with permission

First Baptist Church in Gulfport, MS – Associated Baptist Press Photo by Greg Warner, used with permission

Rarely Needed
Some never think about this need, and many who do aren’t willing to underwrite the cost.  And though the cost can be minimal, we in church and ministry management strive to focus as much of our budget on program as possible.

Thinking about the kinds of disasters that require a business continuity strategy, we usually figure that the odds of one affecting us are slim.  The problem, though, is that those kinds of disasters are often when our communities need us the most!  Increasing the likelihood that we’ll be able to minister in those troublesome times can make a huge difference in the lives of many.

Disaster Recovery Strategy
Good backups are a way to be certain we can recover from a disaster. This is an IT strategy essential.  We should be backing up our data often and testing our backups to be sure they’ll work when we need them.  Here’s what our firm recommends:

  • Backup your entire system every night.  If your backup device doesn’t have enough capacity to do that:
  • Backup your data and system files every night.
  • Backup your program files whenever they change, or at least monthly.
  • Test your backups every night by configuring your system to do a full verification of what it just backed up by comparing it to the source files.  Review the verification logs daily to make sure all is well.
  • Test your backup monthly by restoring a folder branch.  This will:
  • Make certain the backups are working properly (there’s almost nothing worse than finding out they haven’t been working properly when you are in disaster recovery mode), and
  • Keep you familiar with the process of restoring files.

This will help protect your team if disaster strikes.

Business Continuity Strategy
Simply put, a business continuity strategy helps ensure that we’ll be able to continue doing what we’re supposed to while we’re recovering from a disaster.  Our firm recommends:

  • Take a tape (or other media if you’re not using tape) off-site every week, preferably the one following the day when your team usually does the most database and accounting updating.  For churches, we recommend taking the Monday night backup tape.  Each week bring in the last tape taken off-site and exchange it with the current week’s tape.  This is probably the simplest and least expensive business continuity strategy you can employ.  In a worst case scenario, you will have to wait for new hardware to restore the backup, which might take two or three weeks.
  • A larger strategy includes copying your data to another location so it can be accessed securely over the Internet.  That location should be in a different part of the country.  This should be done for your database and accounting system, and might also include other critical data files.  The key for this step is that the location your database and accounting system is copied to should be able to run them for you in a hosted mode until you’re able to restore that functionality in-house.  Anything less is disaster recover, not business continuity.

When Katrina hit (that’s what this article’s picture is from), church members and staffs evacuated in all directions. Very few had a plan that would allow their staffs to access their database and accounting systems while they were dispersed throughout the country. Yet those members who were able still wanted to contribute, vendors still needed to be paid, and staff still needed paychecks.

How About You?
Do you have a business continuity strategy?  While we pray that you’ll never need one, the reality is that you might.  And being a good steward may require that you had one in place when disaster hit.

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