Shifting Priorities

Has Sept. 11 changed your company's approach to disaster?

No matter how solid the disaster recovery plan your company had in place prior to Sept. 11, you've almost certainly revisited it since then. What will be disheartening is if, having done that, your company then decides that no further action is warranted. Might that happen?

Sadly, many of the companies housed in the World Trade Center will no longer be in business in a few months or a year. Others will survive. Why? As an example of what's possible, consider that Cantor-Fitzgerald, the bond company that lost a horrifying 733 employees in the disaster, including 150 IT workers, was again taking orders less than two days after the attacks, according to a report in eWeek—a fact partly attributed to a solid disaster recovery plan.

Consultant and Enterprise Systems' columnist Jon Toigo, who has written books on disaster recovery, spent time in New York City two weeks after the attacks to help clients who were disabled by the catastrophe. His cover story on disaster recovery planning techniques in the aftermath of the attacks begins on page 34.

As a disaster recovery specialist, Jon spends a fair amount of time consulting with clients at disaster scenes. When we talked with him after he returned from New York, he said that one thing he fears after this disaster is this: As memories of Sept. 11 recede, companies won't learn and change. Instead, he cites a return to the "business as usual" mentality that he's seen again and again in clients after regional disasters. Even some companies that were directly affected by the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, Jon says, still didn't have disaster recovery plans in place. He sees a coming complacency that he hopes IT staffs will fight.

But convincing companies to budget more for business continuity planning is a huge challenge in today's economy. Although IT executives continue to shift their spending priorities for 2002, virtually no one is predicting overall growth in tech spending. Even without the impact of Sept. 11, analyst firm Cahners In-Stat Group predicts the uncertain economic times will drive IT spending down significantly, the first decline in total business IT spending in the last decade.

Spending by enterprises (defined by Cahners as companies with over 1,000 employees) will drop the most, by 18 percent of 2000 spending estimates, Cahners says. Sept. 11, of course, only worsens the picture. "One month after these events, we believe the fear and economic uncertainty following will lead to a freeze in IT investments for the next few months and will continue to negatively impact our economy and IT spending well into 2002," according to Kneko Burney, Cahners' director of E-business infrastructure and services research.

But that's IT spending overall; some expenditure areas, like communication services and networking, and some outside services, will be affected less. That's why now is the time for management to shift an increased number of budget dollars to disaster planning and preparation. Perhaps no amount of spending is adequate, but bracing for an ongoing increase in this crucial area has become a fact of business life. As Jon says, "Maybe you can't stop the actual event, but planning can help you recover from it."

Have the Sept. 11 attacks changed your company's approach to disaster recovery planning? How has it changed your thinking about the issue?

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.