When developing and testing a disaster recovery (DR) plan, it’s easy to focus on the tech side of things. But thinking about the larger business needs is crucial to ensuring that your DR plan protects you in the event of a disaster.
When something goes wrong at your business, be prepared to explain to customers, employees, partners, board members, and others what’s going on and how you’re addressing the problem. I recommend considering the following seven steps while you create a plan to ensure you’re ready.
1) Include stakeholders from various parts of the company
A DR plan should be a dynamic document that your business updates regularly as priorities shift, new functionalities get introduced, and other changes occur. That plan should include a strategy for when, how, and what to communicate with stakeholders in the event of a disaster.
To make the best plan possible, include representatives from throughout the company: executives, middle managers, customer-facing employees, etc. Having many voices will help ensure that your DR plan (and specifically the stakeholder communication part of it) includes everything it needs.
A few helpful guidelines:
- Identify DR administrators who are empowered to declare disasters, decide when to do failbacks, and make other critical decisions. In the event of an actual disaster, these people will be the ones who set recovery plans in motion.
- Define and assign tasks clearly.
- Make sure people understand their assignments.
In DR, you’ll live and fail as a team, so it’s best to get on the same page from day one.
2) Identify communication channels and messages you’ll use
Will you call employees? Maintain a status page for customers? Send an automated email? Something else?
Once you decide how you’ll get the word out, be sure your DR plan includes a strategy for maintaining the necessary infrastructure. For example, will you need an offline copy of your client list?
- Then determine specific communications for various channels:
- Write scripts for the call center or service desk.
- Draft a tweet to pin to your timeline.
- Write an error message for your website.
- Write emails that can auto-send to various stakeholders if triggered.
Doing this ahead of time ensures that when something goes wrong, you’ll be able to communicate quickly and clearly, which can help maintain customer trust.
3) Consider legal and regulatory obligations
In highly regulated industries (including finance and healthcare), there may be a legally mandated communications protocol you have to follow in the event of a disaster. Verify that your communications plan meets these requirements.
If your industry requires you to maintain certain functionalities during a disaster (for example, to be able to process credit card transactions), let customers know where and how they can continue to use your services, and what they can expect while you’re down.
4) Be honest and transparent
This doesn’t mean giving everyone the same level of detail about your outage – employees on the IT team will need far more detail than customers, for example. But attempting to pretend that nothing’s wrong or even to minimize whatever is wrong is a bad idea.
Keep in mind, too, that you may not immediately know what caused the outage in the event of a real disaster. That’s fine. A simple message to the effect of “This is what’s going on, this is what we know, and this is what we’re doing to resolve it” is plenty.
Acknowledging the problem both internally and externally will prevent rumors from spreading.
5) Offer regular updates, even when there’s no news
The worst thing you can do during an outage is leave people in the dark.
Instead, commit to updates at regular intervals, even if all you say is, “No new information at this time. We’re still working on the problem.” People are accustomed to the 24-hour news cycle, which means they may get panicky if they don’t have information. Not providing an update could even give the impression that you’re trying to hide something.
Psychologically, when people are on their own without information, they may feel resentful and start speculating. That can be dangerous for your reputation, especially if those speculations happen in a public forum like Twitter.
6) Test your DR plan, including your communications strategy
A lot of businesses have a DR plan – but not nearly enough actually test that plan and adjust it as needed. Remember: A business is not a static entity. Even the world’s best DR plan won’t be enough if it was created for the business as it existed four years ago.
Test your DR plan regularly, and when you do, also test your communications plan.
Expect things go to wrong – that’s the point of testing. When you identify what doesn’t work, you can make updates so that things will run smoothly in the event of a real disaster.
7) Remember: DR is personal
As you plan your company’s disaster recovery communications, remember to consider how personal DR can be. Customers are without a service that they depend on. Employees may be unable to meet important internal or external deadlines. Executives are worried about lost revenue and reputational hits.
In other words, emotions can run high when the system goes down. With a solid communications plan in place, though, you can do a lot to ease people’s concerns, maintain the company’s reputation, and minimize any long-term damage.
Brendan Caulfield is chief revenue officer with Server Central Turing Group, a provider of Amazon Web Services consulting, cloud-native software development, and data center services.
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