Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Worst Case Scenario

At the direction of the board of directors, the IT staff of a national property and casualty insurance company developed a backup and recovery contingency plan (as contrasted to a business continuity plan.) They found themselves in a bind between the board, who said the plan cost too much, and the auditors who said that it was inadequate.

Many of us have been there and I was called in to assist, i.e. to "consult." I was not terribly surprised by what I found. It seems that every time the staff thought that they had a plan the auditors would identify another case in which it would not work. The staff would add a new capability to address the new case.

The board tended to look less at the capabilities than the total cost. Admittedly, the board of a property and casualty company looks at the cost a little differently than might a bank or a manufacturer. The insurers ask themselves, how much insurance must I write to cover that cost? How much coverage would I offer for that amount if it was paid to me as a premium. How much coverage could I buy for that much money? They could not even judge the capability in the plan but they "knew" that its cost was too high.

Of course, the problem was in the failure to properly identify the objectives of the plan. Allowing the auditors to hypothesize cases clearly was not working. No matter the plan, they were always clever enough to come up with a new case in which it would not work.

A plan that can deal with the "worst case" has infinite cost. What case then? What case must the backup and recovery plan of a national property and casualty insurer deal with?

We concluded that such a company would have to recover from any disaster that both it and the majority of its policy holders survived. Certainly it has an obligation to recover from the destruction of its own premises. It must survive a community disaster like an earthquake. It must survive a regional disaster like Katrina. Of course, these are far short of the "worst case," short of thermo-nuclear war or the end of the world. Of course, the scope of the event was not the only thing that had to be agreed upon but also the expected rate.

Finally, IT had to agree with the business as to the mean-time-to-recovery and the point of recovery for each application. The faster one wants the application back, the more one can expect to pay. The closer one wants to recover to the point of failure, e.g. close of business on the day before the event, the more one can expect to pay. More on these on another day.

While these things are difficult to agree upon, such agreements are essential to an effective and efficient plan. They are necessary to being able to satisfy both the auditors and the directors.

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