Superstorm Sandy has left more than a trail of devastation in neighborhoods; she continues to wreak havoc on businesses throughout the area. A friend of mine is relegated to indefinite telecommuter status because salt-water flooding compromised infrastructure at her company’s Manhattan headquarters.
Like many of the businesses in the strike zone, IT teams’ disaster recovery scenarios are under the microscope. Are there enough software licenses to cover everyone who needs to access applications remotely? Can the servers handle a maximum load of remote users all day, every day? Are employees equipped with appropriate hardware, software, and connectivity to carry out their jobs?
Businesses in New York, New Jersey, and nearby regions are finding this out the hard way right now. All others should study the responses closely, analyze their own disaster recovery and business continuity plans, perform drills in the near future, and watch for postmortems from their industry peers.
Before you can assess your ability to handle a full-time, remote workforce, you first have to analyze your workflow. Chart each person’s role, and the exact applications and centralized data he or she would need access to in a scenario. For instance, if the employee is responsible for customer service, he will not need access to the financials database. Being this specific becomes essential as your network resources are constrained. You don’t want users consuming bandwidth, server CPU, and licenses for non-related tasks.
Next, use asset management tools to gather an inventory of the software, hardware, and platforms in use across the enterprise. Check versions, security patches, and overall configurations to ensure they are able to handle the rigors of remote access. If not, budget for an upgrade as soon as possible. Users will not suffer a spinning hourglass when chaos is erupting around them.
Have all your workers telecommute for a day. This might sound crazy, but you’ll never really know how the ecosystem (human and technology) will respond until it is under that type of duress. Take note of every aspect:
What kind of support do users need? Can you offer that training upfront or pre-distribute how-tos? Will you need an emergency help desk to get users up and running?
Did the servers hit maximum utilization, and at what point? Did virtualization help balance the load, or do certain applications need to be reconfigured? Do you need to implement better prioritization so that mission-critical applications always have the CPU power they require? Performance management tools, both onboard servers and third-party, measure and analyze this data for you.
How did your bandwidth hold up? Network monitoring and traffic analysis tools illustrate capacity issues during peak times as well as usage patterns. While an actual disaster would skew these results, it gets you closer to providing a stable network for access. Again, you might have to set priorities so that voice over IP, video, and other communications get through with low latency.
Do you have enough licenses to support a remote workforce? If users ultimately have to rely on applications such as Web-based mail that they might not otherwise use, then you’ll need enough seats to accommodate everyone. Executives and HR use email in a disaster to gather and disseminate status updates and other important information.
How will you get data re-centralized? Users will be forced to work offline because of spotty connectivity and other issues. You’ll have to ensure that whatever documents pile up on their laptops gets back to the datacenter without overwriting other versions.
What is the state of your security? In a disaster, IT can be tempted/pressured to compromise on its tough remote and mobile security stance just to get people up and running. However, doing so can have long-term, destructive consequences.
A lot of people will use their own devices, so make sure they are educated and trained to safely access applications and data. Also, while it might seem a slam on productivity, if working at public hotspots is considered too risky and against compliance outside of a disaster, the same holds true during a disaster. For instance, employees cannot work with sensitive user or corporate data at a coffee shop just because it has Wi-Fi and power. Those employees might require a pre-assigned temporary office with full network security.
Most companies prepare for short-term inconveniences, such as a Nor’Easter taking out power at headquarters. Superstorm Sandy has taught us that serious geographic, operational, and infrastructure damage can take a company offline indefinitely if IT, workers, their devices, and the datacenter, aren’t properly prepared.
Will Superstorm Sandy change how you conduct disaster recovery analysis? Share on the comment board below.
@Beth The decision was probably along the lines of, let's just keep what we have rather than spend our profits on upgrading equipment. Rates go up every summer, not because the utility is spending more but because demand increases with the use of air conditioning. They drop in winter when the price of gas goes up. The thing is that when so many people are counting on these things, you'd better not rely on just shuffling through in a best case scenario but on holding up in a worst-case scenario.
Ariella, I think Cordaro captured the issue with the quote on providing cheap electric power to customers. I'd love to see the ROI work the utility has done on infrastructure upgrades, assuming it's done those exercises in determining not to upgrade. Can it deliver service to customers more cheaply on old infrastructure than it can with upgraded infrastructure and automated systems? How did storm damage play into those assessments? Was the risk of not being prepared outweighed by the low cost of the current infrastructure? (Because, let's not forget, when rates increase so do customer complaints.) I'm certainly not justifying the utlity's shoddy infrastructure -- just wondering how it was making its decisions!
@Sandy related to this is the question of the slow response on the part of the utlilities. LIPA has drawn particular attention to itself in this regard. Today's Newsdsay has an article, Why LIPA failed: Utility ignored warnings it wasn't ready for major storm Primarily it was because they just didn't bother to upgrade what needed to be replaced. But there was also very poor analytics involved. While ConEd could show detailed maps of outages, LIPA's didn't. As the article recounts:
"a Newsday reporter at the Hicksville headquarters of National Grid — the company contracted by LIPA to oversee operations — saw engineers who were using highlighters and paper maps to track thousands of outages, as ratepayers banged in frustration on the building's locked front doors."
Of course, the area got a double whammy with the nor'easter: "Ten days after the superstorm battered the region, more than 170,000 Long Islanders were still without power. The nor'easter on Wednesday piled on with another 90,000 outages."
My understanding is there was a similar scenario for PSE&G in NJ, though they do serve more customers overall.
But to get back to the infrastructure:
The utility's infrastructure has changed little since Gloria, said Matthew Cordaro, who served as vice president of engineering at LIPA's predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Co., when that hurricane struck.
"I think somewhere along the way they lost sight of what the primary mission of a utility is," Cordaro said Thursday, "and that is to provide cheap electric power to customers."
Alexandra von Meier, the co-director of electric grid research at the California Institute for Energy and Environment, said other utilities face similar challenges.
"I don't think it's very unusual to have very old and clunky technology in their power distribution context," she said. "If they were more modern ... restoration could be faster, and we all want that."
More than a half-million residents lost power for a week after Irene. Cuomo — who said that "at a minimum, LIPA did a terrible job of communicating" following that tropical storm — requested a review of the Uniondale-based utility.
The resulting report concluded that LIPA and National Grid did not meet industry standards in dozens of aspects concerning planning and recovery in major storms.
Even fax machines and other basic office equipment were unavailable or broken at substations, the facilities that transfer power to thousands of homes, hindering communication. One substation coordinator reported having to run to a local office supply store to purchase a printer.
Beth, it's hard to say whether the tools out there are the tools that are most needed in a situation like Sandy. In fact, I'd venture to say you'll most likely see some technology and training tweaking in the wake of this storm.
I think that as cloud computing (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, etc.) takes hold, IT has to go back to its core values of network monitoring, traffic analysis, server analysis and all that good stuff that is supposed to be standard practice. This might have been the wake-up call on that score.
As for the necessary investments, hard to say. I'm sure it varies according to the architecture of the data center, age of the company and other factors. I do believe that everyone should be revisiting their own capabilities and that this should eliminate any remaining "it's not going to happen to me" attitudes.
Let's not forget shortly before Sandy, the West Coast, including Hawaii was under watch for a tsunami. It can happen anywhere.
Sandra, do you think IT vendors are doing enough to deliver products that enterprises can use to analyze how well their network infrastructures, application performance, security, etc. are doing? And, I should add, that allow customers a way to absorb the analysis easily (for example, via interactive data visualizations on network management, app performance, or security dashboards)? And, if so, do you think enterprise IT execs are taking these types of tools seriously and making the necessary investments in them?
The storm revealed some ugly truths for businesses who are using third-party vendors -- and discovered after the fact that some of them lacked geographically dispersed backup systems and/or redundant power sources.
Diego Klabjan, chair of the INFORMS University Analytics Program Committee and program director for Northwestern University's Master of Science in Analytics program, gives his advice for figuring out where to get an advanced analytics degree.
What Works: Open Source Analytics Software International Institute for Analytics WebinarOn Wednesday, Sept. 24, join IIA CEO and Co-Founder Jack Phillips, along with featured guest Gary Spakes, as we explore the five modernization stages that analytics hardware/software have experienced. We will discuss the considerations when calculating total cost of ownership of the analytics ecosystem.
2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- Cary, NCThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SAS® Data Management and SAS® Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SAS® Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
Essential Practice Skills for Analytics Professionals Drawing on best practices from the field, this INFORMS course helps analytics professionals add value from beginning to end: listening to clients, framing the central problem, scoping a project, defining metrics for success, creating a work plan, assembling data and expert sources, selecting modeling approaches, validating and verifying analytical results, communicating and presenting results to clients, driving organizational change, and assessing impact.
Analytics 2014 The Analytics 2014 Conference is a two-day, educational event for anyone who is serious about analytics. This annual event brings together hundreds of professionals, industry experts and leading researchers in the field of analytics. All Analytics members save $500 on conference fees by using promo code ACAA.
Premier Business Leadership Series 2014 The Premier Business Leadership Series is an exclusive event for senior executives and decision makers that focuses on solving the current issues that affect governments and businesses globally. The Series is a unique learning and networking experience focused on the most innovative leadership strategies and analytic solutions for competing in todayâ€™s global economy.
2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- BostonThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SAS® Data Management and SAS® Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SAS® Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
Data Exploration & Visualization Get hands-on training that focuses on the critical steps in the process of analyzing data: accessing and extracting data, cleaning and preparing data, exploring and visualizing data. This INFORMS course will use several of the most popular software tools intensively, and provide an overview of the range of software options.
Foundations of Modern Predictive Analytics In this INFORMS course, learn about modern predictive analytics, the science of discovering and exploiting complex data relationships. This course will give participants hands-on practice in handling real data types, real business problems and practical methods for delivering business-useful results.
2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- AtlantaThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SAS® Data Management and SAS® Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SAS® Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
LEADERS FROM THE BUSINESS AND IT COMMUNITIES DUEL OVER CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY ISSUES
The Current Discussion
Visual Analytics: Who Carries the Onus? The Issue: Data visualization is an up-and-coming technology for businesses that want to deliver analytical results in a visual way, enabling analysts the ability to spot patterns more easily and business users to absorb the insight at a glance and better understand what questions to ask of the data. But does it make more sense to train everybody to handle the visualization mandate or bring on visualization expertise? Our experts are divided on the question. The Speakers: Hyoun Park, Principal Analyst, Nucleus Research; Jonathan Schwabish, US Economist & Data Visualizer
The hospitality industry gathers massive amounts of customer data, and mining that data effectively can yield tremendous results in terms of improved CRM, better-targeted marketing spend, and more efficient back-end processes. Roger Ares, vice president of analytics at Hyatt Corp., discusses the ways he and his staff use big data.
Charged with keeping track of travel assets, including employees, iJET International relies on data management best-practices and advanced analytics to keep its clients in the know on current and potential world events affecting travel, Rich Murnane, Director of Enterprise Data Operations & Data Architect, told All Analytics in an interview from the 2014 SAS Global Forum Executive Conference.
Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer for the Center for Generational Kinetics and keynote speaker at last month's SAS Global Forum 2014, describes how Gen Y professionals are enhancing the makeup of multigenerational analytics organizations.
From analytics talent development to the power of visual analytics, All Analytics found a variety of common themes circulating throughout the exhibition floor and session discussions at the 2014 SAS Global Forum and SAS Global Forum Executive Conference events held last month in Washington, DC.
Talking with All Analytics live from the 2014 SAS Global Forum Executive Conference, Eric Helmer, senior manager of campaign design and execution for T-Mobile, discussed the importance of customer data -- starting internally -- in devising the mobile operator's marketing plans.
The big-data analytics market can be a confusing place. Among the vendors vying for your dollars are traditional database management providers, Hadoop startup services, and IT giants. In this video, All Analytics editors Beth Schultz and Michael Steinhart sit down in a Google+ Hangout on Air with Doug Henschen, executive editor of InformationWeek. Henschen discusses use cases for big-data analytics, purchase considerations, and his recent roundup of the top 16 big-data analytics platforms.
At the National Retail Federation BIG Show last month, All Analytics executive editor Michael Steinhart noted a host of solutions for tracking and analyzing customer activity in retail stores. From Bluetooth beacons to RFID tags to NFC connections to video analytics, retailers must find the right combination of tools to help optimize the shopper experience, streamline operations, and boost revenues.
The days when historical shipment trends and gut feelings were enough to forecast retail demand accurately are long over. SAS chief industry consultant Charles Chase outlines the benefits of pulling real-time sales information from point-of-sale and product scanner systems, then flowing that data into dynamic forecasting tools from SAS.
With today's advanced visual analytics tools, you can stream data into memory for real-time processing, provide users the ability to explore and manipulate the data, and bring your data to life for the business.
Dynamic data visualizations let analysts and business users interact with the data, changing variables or drilling down into data points, and see results in a flash. Advance your use of data visualization with tools that support features like auto-charting, explanatory pop-ups, and mobile sharing.
No doubt your enterprise is amassing loads of data for fact-based decision-making. Hand in hand with all that data comes big computational requirements. Can traditional IT infrastructure handle the increasing number and complexity of your analytical work? Probably not, which is why you need a backend rethink. Big data calls for a high-performance analytics infrastructure, as Fern Halper, a partner at the IT consulting and research firm, Hurwitz & Associates, discusses here.
Redbox's bright-red DVD kiosks are all but ubiquitous these days, located in more than 28,000 spots across the country. Jayson Tipp, Redbox VP of Analytics and CRM, provides an insider's look at how the company has accomplished its phenomenal nine-year growth.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), a seven-brand global hotelier, has woven analytics into the fabric of its operations. David Schmitt, director of performance strategy and planning, shares IHG's analytics story and his lessons learned.