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Disaster recovery vs. business continuity: They’re not the same thing

Published: July 23rd, 2015 By: Jeff Jedras


While some may use the terms interchangeably at times, disaster recovery and business continuity are most definitely not the same thing. You need to understand the differences, and you need both plans in place to be successful.

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It’s useful to begin with definitions. A business continuity plan can be described as a plan to continue operations should be the business be impacted by a disaster or disruption. Disaster recovery is a set of policies and procedures to recover key IT systems following a disaster or disruption.

The difference is subtle but important. Disaster recovery is focused on recovering IT systems after a disruption and restoring service to the desk of the employee – after that, the employee is on their own. It’s inwardly focused. Business continuity puts it into the business context and looks beyond just the restoration of IT services to how the business as a whole can get back to full operations following a disruption. It should include things such as the identification of key personnel and critical business processes, the recovery of vital records and critical supplier information, and a plan for contacting key vendors and clients.

You can have a disaster recovery plan without a business continuity plan, but then you’re perpetuating the isolation of IT services from the business side and not adding the value that IT should be bringing to the organization. Conversely, a good business continuity plan will by necessity include a disaster recovery plan, and will be developed hand-in-glove with business unit leaders and employees to ensure they are able to get their critical business services back up and running as expeditiously as possible.

Disaster recovery is technology-centric, but business continuity is business-centric. Indeed, the difference is embedded in the terms. It’s recovery vs. continuity, getting back up and running vs. maintaining and continuing normal operations. Recovery is tactical; continuity is strategic.

When you’re thinking in a continuity context, you need to consider how long the recovery should take, with your decisions driven by business criticality. You’ll want to consider what needs to be recovered first to continue critical business operations, what your customers need in order to be assured of the stability of the business, what partners require to continue fulfillment and delivery, and which vendor relationships are most important.

Your disaster recovery and business continuity plans will by necessity be interdependent – you need both. Each will cover some of the same ground, but each will also cover key ground the other doesn’t. You’ll want to merge them both into one integrated plan to ensure all your bases are covered and duplication of effort is minimized. A trusted advisor such as Rogers can help you evaluate your needs around disaster recovery and business continuity and develop the right plan – plans – for your business.

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