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Disaster Recovery – Vendor Selection and Testing

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 29, 2014 5:30:00 AM

When choosing a disaster recovery provider for print/mail services, all of the rules pertaining to selecting an outsourcing vendor apply. An important additional rule: actual experience in disaster recovery. An experienced vendor knows how to stay calm and react appropriately in times of crisis.

When selecting a vendor, factors to consider are capacity, site location and adaptability. In many circumstances, any event that causes a disaster at your firm will create problems for other firms in the area as well. These events could be weather-related, like blizzards; natural disasters such as earthquakes; or terrorist attacks. As such, your disaster recovery provider may be responding to several requests at the same time. It’s important to verify that they’ll be able to handle these multiple requests simultaneously. Ask if the vendor provides services for the other major companies in your area.

Ensure that your contract includes service level agreements (SLAs) that clearly indicate processing and delivery times for your documents. The company should have multiple locations to provide additional backup, if their primary facility experiences a crisis, and additional capacity in the event of a widespread disaster.

Adaptability is a key component. Most good companies are continuously improving their document process with new technology and equipment. It’s important that your disaster recovery provider is able to keep pace with those changes. Review the vendor’s plans for software and machine upgrades in the near future, and discuss any long-range plans.

Disaster Recovery Vendor Selection and TestingNo disaster recovery strategy is complete without regular testing. You must verify that all the components will work as planned in the event of an emergency. It’s important to test all the phases, from print preparation through printing and post-processing.

Three scenarios that you should examine:

Total Disaster – the absolute worst case, when your IT and document processing systems are completely inaccessible. Confirm that your entire disaster recovery system works, and that all the vendors can communicate with each other and transfer information in a timely and secure manner. Accurately measure response, processing and delivery times.

Partial Disaster – when some part of your operation is not available. Consider what would happen if an electrical failure brings down half of your shop. Evaluate how well people can prioritize the remaining work, and decide what should be transferred to your disaster recover provider. Again, measure, measure, measure.

Capacity Quandary – what happens if you’re suddenly hit with more work than your operation can handle? This isn’t a discussion of poor capacity planning, but a singular occurrence. Like a mandatory notice that must be mailed to all stakeholders within a certain time frame. Even with every machine running at full capacity, you still won’t be able to complete the job. Make sure that your disaster recovery provider is ready to step in and pick up this additional work.

Most of your testing should be scheduled with all parties being given due notice to plan appropriately. You don’t want to create a real emergency by running a test that conflicts with other priorities. However, you should have the right to declare a “mock disaster” as part of your vendor contract. You need to test the disaster recovery provider with no prior notice and measure how they perform. Although you’ll be strictly limited on how often you can conduct this type of testing, even doing it once will reveal a lot about what can happen, and how you can prepare for it.

No matter what type of testing you choose, always conduct an “after action” review. Bring together everyone who participated in the exercise, including the machine operators. Review not only the facts of what occurred, but glean the opinions of those involved. Create a consensus on what could be done better and publish the findings as a report. This report will become the baseline for measuring the success of future tests.

Good disaster recovery planning includes finding a good vendor who will be your partner in times of crisis. A partner who’s remains current with technology and regularly tests that technology. A partner who works with you to be prepared for the worst case scenarios.

 

Mail Security / Operations Management

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