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Summit 2000 Advances IBM Business Continuity Messages

By Jon William Toigo

Hosting a disaster recovery and business continuity planning conference at Walt Disney World is ironic, to say the least. But then, so is the comment of an anonymous senior executive, quoted by a keynote speaker at IBM’s Business Continuity and Recovery Services (BCRS) conference this past May: "We spent all that money on Y2K remediation and nothing happened!"

"Disney Magic," however, did not prevent attendees from getting serious about their reasons for coming to the conference. Those tasked with safeguarding the continuity of their businesses in the wake of unplanned interruptions live and work in two realities: That of normal day-to-day business operations, and a darker realm of "what ifs." As a rule, disaster recovery planners develop skills that enable them to join in the frivolity of a corporate wine-and-cheese party, while quietly contemplating worst-case scenarios of flash fires, terrorist attacks or e-mail viruses that could close business doors forever. All things considered, the pristine calm of the Disney Resort provided a less distracting backdrop than, say, the corporate cubicle, for acquiring knowledge useful in developing continuity strategies.

That is exactly what Guy Gebbia, Manager of Business Shows and Events for IBM BCRS, had in mind. According to Gebbia, nearly 1,100 people attended the three-day BCRS Summit 2000, making it the sixth and largest annual gathering of continuity planners, IBM BCRS staff and business partners. Attendees were treated to keynote addresses by industry luminaries, best-selling authors and inspirational speakers, in addition to a full course of 50 breakout sessions, three hands-on workshops, and four "chalk talks" designed to drill into specific planning challenges.

All in all, the content of the show was significantly better – in terms of technical depth and breadth – than the majority of other disaster recovery and business continuity conferences, which tend to recycle the same speakers who rehash the same "motherhood considerations" and "war stories" each year. In some sessions, planners shared the details of their own corporate recovery strategies, while in others attendees were treated to technical presentations of application, system, network, storage and business process recovery techniques. While IBM platforms and products were ever-present in scenarios and solutions, so were products from EMC Corporation, AT&T, SAP, and others. An entire track of breakouts was dedicated to exploring the vicissitudes of continuity planning in an e-business context.

Attendees comprised an international mixture of IBM BCRS customers, IBM customers who do not use BCRS services, and others with an interest in business continuity, but with no customer ties to Big Blue. According to Director of Marketing and Business Development, Don DeMarco, BCRS extended invitations to more than 20,000 persons, "including people who do not use IBM business continuity services."

The 1-in-20 response to invitations, while respectable from the standpoint of a marketing campaign, may well have reflected an erroneous view of the show as simply a BCRS sales vehicle – an impression DeMarco tries to curb at every opportunity. He observes, "Our objective was to cater to a broad audience comprised of both business and technical professionals. Other industry conferences tend to focus on one or the other group. We want our Summit to be both educational and actionable: It is a credibility point with us that people leave the Summit with a better sense of how to address their requirements. It is a vendor-sponsored show, but we respect choices."

DeMarco’s view proved very credible to attendees. While IBM and business partner representatives were in no short supply, vendor marketing did not overwhelm the agenda of the Summit – or the breaks between sessions. Interestingly enough, vendor reps were doing more listening than selling, seeming intent upon learning what they could from the perspectives and experiences related by end users.

The paucity of press releases offered at the show further testified to its user orientation. Of the three releases issued, one covered an alliance between BCRS and U.K.-based RISC Control Inc., intended to facilitate the transitioning of the firm’s Rapid Recovery methodology, developed for recovering SP-2 systems, into other host platform environments. The other two announced point solutions in the areas of print recovery and e-commerce security that were, according to DeMarco, driven by specific "customer sensibilities."

Todd Gordon, General Manager of IBM BCRS, set the stage with his opening address, calling for the Summit to become "a unique opportunity for [attendees] to interact with the top minds in the industry and to learn about the latest innovations affecting business continuity and recovery." Privately, Gordon expanded on this theme, offering that the main value of the conference was "its networking component and the free-form interaction it enables. Our customer advisory board developed the topical areas and we worked to get the [attendees] away from their day-to-day environments and into a setting where they could aim for a higher point of knowledge. Our objective is not only to sell services ... [but] to inform and interact."

Gordon’s description of BCRS mirrors that of continuity planners in many companies. He describes IBM as something of a multi-headed hydra involved in a broad range of activities, including the sale of commodity hardware, value-add software, integration expertise and business services. Just as the business continuity planner acts as a collection point for technology services and business processes that must be supported during an unplanned interruption, so BCRS needs to be a collection point for the knowledge, expertise, services and equipment that can be brought to bear by IBM to support the continuity of its customers in the future.

In short, says Gordon, "We are working to develop a new methodology to support a continuous business outcome in next generation e-business." Through its many formal and informal customer conclaves, Summit 2000 must have provided Gordon and his staff considerable input for their new methodology.


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