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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.

The Importance of a Business Recovery Plan

Recently I was in one of those chain restaurants (the middle-priced, sit-down types) and shortly after we got there, we learned that their computer systems were on the fritz. Now, my IT savvy ears picked up things like "can't get an IP address" and "bootp screen" and the like so I knew they were in big trouble. Unfortunately, we had already ordered and were well into waiting for our meal to come out so we stuck it out. However, knowing it was going to be a long wait, I started to observe the wait staff and listened to what they were saying.

"Because our computer just went down, we can't get your order to the back."

This one struck me as bad, and the reason is because many restaurants work just fine on a pen and paper system. However, it was obvious that without the computer, the wait staff didn't know how to handle getting orders back to the kitchen. I couldn't see the kitchen, but I'm sure they would have struggled with getting orders from anything other than the computer system. I can tell you from the heated arguments I heard while we were there, this restaurant not only lost sales but they also lost customers, permanently. One of those customers made sure to remind the manager that something as simple as paper and pen can do wonders. His arguments back were less than satisfactory.

What all this showed was this business didn't have a business recovery plan if they lost their computer systems. It's an issue I've seen with other organizations I've tried to help out over the years. They have no plan on how to conduct their day-to-day operations without their systems. For some organizations, I can understand this. For instance, if you're a bank and you can't get to a person's financial records, you're not going to hand out money from their account without knowing they have the money in there for it. However, so many businesses CAN run without their core systems, maybe not in an ideal manner, but enough to limp along. It just requires some planning. These folks didn't have it.

"With our computers down, we can't process your credit card."

We paid in cash, because we always carry enough to cover a meal in a contingency just like this one. However, I still no plenty of small time merchants that have one of those manual imprint devices to capture the details of a customer's credit card. Combine this with knowing how to call a credit card in and get a confirmation number and you have a backup plan. Obviously, without the computer system, you can still do this. At the restaurant I was at, they couldn't. I doubt they had the ability to manually process a credit card. They should have, but again, they weren't prepared. As a result, they lost even more customers.

"I'm sorry, I don't know how much your bill is."

Once upon a time we could use pen and paper and addition plus a little multiplication to figure out what the total is. Barring that, there's this neat techincal invention called a calculator, and most modern cell phones have a calculator as part of their software. This isn't a lack of equipment issue. This is a lack of training/knowledge problem. That irate customer that blasted the manager before pointed out that when she ran a small restaurant, they added up the bills in their heads but if it was too much to do so, they knew how to use a calculator. Again, the manager didn't have an answer.

Summing All This Up:

Obviously, there was no business recovery plan. There was also a complete failure of leadership. The processes that fell apart have tried and true workarounds, ones that existed before the age of computers. However, the management over the restaurant was incapable of trying to institute any of these. I can understand about not being able to process the credit cards if they didn't have an imprint machine. But the rest of it? As we used to say at The Citadel, "Sir, no excuse, sir!"

Here's the thing: with a proper business recovery plan, the management would have had the tools it needed to keep the restaurant up and running. Well, that is if the employees were trained on it. So it's not only important to have a business recovery plan, but it's also important to test it. Figure out what works and what doesn't. You never know when you're going to need it.


Comments

Posted by Hugo Shebbeare on 7 June 2011

Great job as usual Brian, and for those who want an open-source SQL Server DRP, please see: www.simple-talk.com/.../disaster-recovery-for-sql-server-databases-

Posted by Bill Preachuk on 8 June 2011

Absolutely right!  People aren't taught to use a calculator in the real world or to make change by hand (counting up to the next 5-10-25-dollar).  A timely article, well presented.  Thanks Brian.  

Posted by LightVader on 9 June 2011

The first job I had when I was 16, we were taught how to make change by hand.  We also had to remember the prices for everything and punch the numbers in.  We didn't add up the bills ourselves, but I still learned quite a bit there.

Posted by Vinicio Aizpurua on 9 June 2011

Short comment: No matter is you have a Contigency Plan, and I think most of us have it, if you don't test it is like have no plan at all. Great article that show us in our regular daily routine like going out to have a dinner, how important is to have a Contingency Plan. But most important is to have the determination to make things happend and being part of the solution, not the problem. Thanks for bringing that out.

Posted by Linda R. on 9 June 2011

I remember being in a Barnes and Noble several years ago when the power when out. The manager got out her emergency trays which had pencils, paper, receipt pad, calculator etc. and business proceded as usual. Can't remember if they had a credit card machine or I had to pay by check, but I was impressed by how smoothly it went.

Posted by Kenneth Wymore on 9 June 2011

I wonder if the other stores in this chain would have the same problem if there was a system failure or if this store in particular decided not to bother with training and implementation of it's contingency plan? If the corporation did not have a plan before, I bet they do now!

Posted by Carla Wilson on 11 June 2011

Just last week, I was with a group of educators, and one of them mentioned that a state department of education has decided to stop teaching arithmetic (ie. addition, multiplication, etc.) because they allow the children to use calculators anyway!  What a horrible idea!  These students will not know how to make change without the computer telling them.  I'll bet they won't be teaching them how to round and estimate either.  These are basic life skills.

Posted by SQLDraggon on 13 June 2011

It seems like no matter how out of the box we are "trained" to think ... we still think in that box (technology). Do you really know how/where your job/task fits in to the system ?? As a manager of this system do you know what your input --- output is ?? I Remember when engineering students started using calculators instead of "Slide Rule" (Google it) their answers were off by 10 fold because they could not conceive how "BIG" or 'small' there answers were.  It all goes back to critial thinking. What do I really do here ??

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