As an IT professional, what would you say are the top three concerns that keep you awake at night? According to the results of a recent survey, your peers listed security, downtime (disaster recovery), and talent management, in that order.
The survey was commissioned by Sungard Availability Services, a cloud computing, disaster recovery, and managed hosting services provider based in Wayne, Pa. I had the opportunity to discuss the findings with Ric Jones, CIO at LifeShare Blood Centers, a blood donation services provider in Shreveport, La., that’s a Sungard AS customer. Jones ranked disaster recovery ahead of security on his own list of concerns, but he indicated that the two are inextricably linked.
“Disaster recovery is extremely important to the success of LifeShare Blood Centers. If the primary data center in Shreveport experiences downtime for even a few hours, it disrupts the nonprofit’s ability to collect the data needed to gather and distribute critical, life-saving blood supply,” Jones explained. “Security couples up with disaster recovery, as data breaches are occasionally the cause for a disaster or unplanned downtime. This not only impacts an organization’s reputation, but also their ability to do business efficiently. LifeShare Blood Centers houses private information from donors, and it’s vital to our nonprofit we keep their information protected and out of hackers’ hands.”
I was also able to discuss these issues with Chris Burgher, director of consulting services at Sungard AS, who added his perspective.
“With the increased average cost in data breaches reaching an alarming $5.85 million in the U.S. last year, it’s become increasingly important for organizations to ensure they have a top notch information security program in place,” Burgher said. “The frequency of reported breaches has increased, which means actual breaches have skyrocketed.”
I asked Jones what the results of the survey told him that he didn’t already know or suspect, and he said the findings were almost entirely consistent with his experience. But he said one statistic that did surprise him was that organizations across the board felt disaster recovery is undervalued.
“Disaster recovery is vital to the success of our organization, and this really hit home for LifeShare Blood Centers during Hurricane Katrina, which hit prior to [our] working with Sungard AS,” Jones said. “Katrina raised havoc for our company and blood supply. The storm closed several of our regional donor facilities, increased blood demand substantially, prevented donors from giving blood and, consequently, decreased levels of critical blood types to dangerously low levels. If the primary data center experiences downtime, we cannot collect the data necessary to gather and distribute its critical, life-saving blood supply.”
Jones added that one in three residents will require blood at some point during their lifetime, which, in some cases, may save their lives. “This means a supply must always be available,” he said.
According to the survey, when IT pros were asked which IT vendor their organization most undervalues, disaster recovery vendors ranked highest. I asked Jones why he thinks that’s the case. He said that while organizations may have a disaster recovery plan in place, “it isn’t always top-of-mind.”
“Some CEOs have a tendency not to understand the risk to not having a disaster recovery plan, and jargon of disaster recovery when speaking to those in charge of IT in their organizations,” Jones said. “The best way to break through to the CEO is to [highlight] the risk and how it can affect the bottom line of the organization,” which is what the CEO is focused on. “It takes both experience and absolute trust between the CEO and CIO to really get the most out of a disaster recovery plan,” he said
Given that organizations are increasingly relying on the cloud for disaster recovery, I asked Jones under what circumstances it makes sense for an organization to refrain from relying on the cloud for that purpose. He said every company has a different set of needs, and will focus on the spending for the disaster recovery service vs. the ROI the service brings to the organization.
“LifeShare Blood Centers came to Sungard AS for the Recover2Cloud offering, at which point Sungard AS replicated our systems in one of their northeast data centers in order to provide the company with an extra layer of protection for critical applications,” Jones said. “Twelve of these servers handle vital blood donor and inventory data, along with our payroll systems.”
“IT decision-makers also need to think about tiering applications based on business criticality. It may make sense to host certain applications in the cloud, and not others,” Sungard’s Burgher added. “A fresh business impact analysis can guide how best to invest in protecting the right applications.”
Burgher noted that many IT leaders face the enormous challenge of ensuring the security and resiliency of their IT infrastructures. Given the complexity of most IT environments today, and the absolute criticality of data availability to business operations, “IT leaders must decide how to best apply their talent and energies, and the talent and energies of their teams,” he said.
On the talent management front, Jones said that when thinking about talent acquisition, it’s important to develop your internal staff, challenge them, and provide them with external resources to assist where possible.
“Let your staff know the vendor is not there to replace their expertise,” he said. “Success will come when the vendor is able to act seamlessly with your team, almost as an extension of your internal IT team. The vendor will be there to support and teach your IT staff new things.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.