Disasters require financial institutions take swift actions so as not to fail members and customers. However, getting an institution back up and running is a complicated process that can take hours, loads of manpower, and leave an organization hemorrhaging cash. Every second offline works against a credit union or bank’s credibility, reliability, and bottom-line profitability.

Financial institutions are already working in environments where consumers demand better digital experiences, so the pressure is mounting to ensure organizations execute innovation towards digitization. The benefits of having an automated process are near immeasurable when it comes to disaster recovery. Automation is constantly working in the background, essentially on autopilot, to ensure data is replicated to avoid prolonged downtimes and expedite failover processes so that organizations can quickly resume normal operations when disaster strikes.

Without the direct intervention of IT members, disaster recovery automation will enable organizations to retain their crucial information and IT assets in the event of a significant outage or system failure. When disasters on this scale occur, every second counts. Automated disaster recovery solutions ensure that business continuity processes spring into action without delay, maximizing enterprise functionality in the face of an emergency.

When Disaster Strikes… Without Automated Recovery

When a credit union or bank faces a disaster, even the most equipped organizations will feel the burn. The recovery process represents many moving parts and institutional knowledge, and the recovery can look different for everyone. Regardless, this is always a stressful situation with complicated paths to reconciliation.

Without automation, a recovery team must oversee the entire recuperation timeline, from declaring the disaster to executing recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO). This requires all hands on deck, and if one piece of the puzzle is missing or erroneous, credit unions and banks confront tremendous obstacles and consequences. Each successive step in a recovery process depends on completing the previous one. With the process dependent upon so many people, RTOs are difficult to meet, leading to further stress. Human error, exacerbated by stress, is all too common in such an event.

Preparations for Manual Response

Businesses implement procedures and do what they can to prepare for disaster, but this can be an ever-evolving process. Preparing for one of these situations can require an organization to constantly plan and train to ensure their response to potential threats will be keen and coordinated. Those involved must meet regularly to review and revise their plans, but key personnel often have limited valuable experience in handling the process when disaster strikes.

Business continuity plans are proactive measures to ensure the continuation of service during an event. They detail who to contact during emergencies, how to operate in offline mode, and what steps to take to keep the doors open – figuratively and literally. Disaster recovery plans outline how to keep systems operational when an event impacts or destroys data, infrastructure, or premises. Disaster recovery efforts don’t start with an emergency event—they start with planning.

The Costly Consequences of Not Looking Ahead

The collateral damage that comes with manual disaster recovery can quickly mount. In fact, in an IT Intelligence Consulting report, 91% of organizations surveyed said just one hour of downtime that utilizes mission-critical server hardware and applications offline averages a cost of more than $300,000. This steep price tag comes from lost business, productivity disruptions, and remediation efforts. In one use case, disaster recovery at a larger credit union with more than 50 branches took nearly three hours. During that time, the organization could not serve more than half a million members. Based on the data reported in the Intelligence Consulting study, the total cost of the disaster would have landed near $1 million.

Simplifying Disaster Recovery

When disaster strikes, a platform that automates disaster recovery can enable an organization to restore critical business functions in a fraction of the time it takes a team of experts to execute manually. Workload automation and orchestration (WLA&O) empowers credit unions to avoid prolonging unscheduled downtime by expediting failover processes so the organization can resume its normal business operations. Automation eliminates the likelihood of human error and maximizes uptime while minimizing losses. In one credit union use case, the database was shielded from possible corruption, and the recovery time objectives (RTOs) were reduced by 83%, saving employees over 300 worker hours.

With WLA&O, what used to take a team of experts multiple hours to solve is simplified through automation, often requiring just one operator to initiate the process and allowing the computer to take care of the rest.  By reducing the number of staff working on disaster recovery efforts and freeing them to work on more strategic and proactive initiatives, institutional knowledge is preserved and does not walk out the door when your staff does.

How Automation Will Help

Some financial institutions might have a couple dozen disaster recovery steps – others have thousands. Each of those steps is often tedious in practice yet absolutely mission critical to a successful outcome. As such, they require proper training and manual operation, introducing inefficiency and the risk of human error. Inefficiency and human error are large proponents of why disaster recovery often takes so long—and why recovery time objectives (RTOs) are hard to meet. Removing them from the equation virtually eliminates those risks.

WLA&O automates the bulk of disaster recovery processes, reducing the reliance on key personnel to oversee and perform recovery tasks. These solutions automatically handle the complex, interconnected recovery processes or with the click of a button, allowing people to pursue other recovery tasks.

Many critical recovery issues can disappear with automation, including:

  • Data inconsistencies
  • Incomplete runbook
  • Insufficient or missing resources
  • Authority, user, or access issues

WLA&O in Action

When disaster strikes, WLA&O does the heavy lifting. Automation in a complex IT environment can help in disaster recovery efforts by:

  • Monitoring for and detecting issues that require a failover scenario
  • Initiating the failover process to
    • Bring impacted system(s) offline
    • Redirect services/systems to failover environment
    • Bring system(s) back online
  • Running tests to ensure system(s) are running successfully
  • Any and all alerting required for these processes

Human errors put data at risk, and if the database is not replicated successfully, the database at the secondary site will likely be corrupted and defeat disaster recovery efforts. Removing the need for disaster recovery teams to manually initiate and support this process best ensures a swift recovery.

In many cases, IT environments do not have a fully redundant site that is receiving replicated data. Instead, they will need to bring up their secondary systems and then re-process for several hours of operations. A strong WLA&O strategy will best ensure members and employees are not impacted by a core disaster.

Proactivity Bolsters Institution and Member Well-Being

Disaster recovery is a critical component of any business continuity plan. It’s also one of the most challenging facets thereof, considering it’s impossible to plan for the unplanned. Fortunately, automation offers a more straightforward answer to disaster recovery preparation. There are so many long-term perks that come with implementing WLA&O, but the value of arming a financial institution with automated disaster recovery is priceless. Disaster recovery automation eliminates human error and saves valuable time. Being proactive in the security and overall well-being of a financial institution and its members benefits everyone and will positively impact the bottom line.

About the Author

Todd Weiss is the Vice President of Product Management at SMA Technologies. He is responsible for setting and owning product strategy as well as managing the product roadmap for SMA’s solutions. Prior to joining SMA, he has spent the last 20 years leading product teams and organizations to solve business challenges, drive meaningful outcomes, and deliver profitable results to market. Todd has spent the last 15 years working in the FinTech space helping to deliver solutions to the market with companies like Fiserv and Deluxe Corporation. Todd holds a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington. Away from the office, Todd is an avid reader, loves to ski, and is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Todd also enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife and two teenage children.