Most public CIOs are asked this simple question: Is everything backed up? The answers range from an overconfident "yes," to a dejected "can we please change the subject?" No matter your answer, I challenge you to make disaster recovery (DR) a process and not a destination.

In 1996, Government Technology published an article called Disaster Recovery Planning Gets No Respect. Here's an excerpt: "Montana, like many other state and local governments, has found that its disaster recovery plans and budget have not kept pace with the rapid growth in computing." The article argues strongly for more DR resources with facts from a 1987 University of Texas study:

  • Eighty-five percent of organizations were heavily or totally dependent upon computer systems; and
  • within two weeks of the loss of computer support, 75 percent of organizations reached critical or total loss of their function.

Two decades later, dependence on IT is greater than ever - and its impact on government even larger should systems be unavailable. Most technical operations now have 24/7/365 expectations due to the growth of Internet-enabled applications.

And yet, even after Y2K, 9/11, the Northeast Blackout of 2003 and Hurricane Katrina, CIOs still struggle with the same DR funding problems. Despite numerous studies that demonstrate the importance of planning for emergencies, many governments still give a low priority to actual spending.

Here are four recommendations:

Know what's critical. Start by identifying your critical systems and sensitive data. Assemble business and technology experts who can answer simple questions, such as: What can't our government live without? What legislative mandates apply to DR? If certain databases were lost, what would we do?

While many organizations have a hard time ranking their priorities, most can group systems into critical categories. Create an ongoing process to update this list every year.

Determine current capabilities. This "as is" analysis is harder than it sounds, and you need to know what your capabilities are before you can truly build your case for more redundancy, much less fix anything. Pick the top three or four most likely disaster scenarios and have your team figure out their potential impact to critical systems.

Don't assume data is backed up just because your tapes or other media go offsite. Has your team tried before to restore those tapes? What if the hardware is destroyed? Could you read the media with other hardware? Don't forget to examine all critical system components such as alternate power sources and networks (including the resiliency of items such as DNS and DHCP).

Get information to key decision-makers. Once you have the data from the first two steps, provide options to key business leaders who own those functions. They may be shocked by your list.

Start the dialog and agree on whatever the plan is. The bottom line is business units must be aware and willing to accept the risk for any missing pieces. On the other hand, IT must ensure expectations are met or exceeded in providing the DR services the business is paying for and counting on.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers has created some great materials to help you make your business case for DR.

Test your plan and measure effectiveness. Testing is important, and not only for well funded projects that have great DR plans. You need to test your plans at least once a year. Some organizations will neglect to test their backup tapes - and they're surprised later when recovery efforts fail.

I encourage CIOs to have their teams work with emergency management coordinators so technology recovery is built into broader emergency response efforts. Participating in important exercises on potential disasters, such as pandemic flu, will create opportunities to highlight and correct weaknesses in systems that need repair.

You can improve DR by ensuring your customers know your current status and by keeping business continuity as one of your overall IT priorities.

Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann  |  Contributing Writer

Daniel J. Lohrmann became Michigan's first chief security officer (CSO) and deputy director for cybersecurity and infrastructure protection in October 2011. Lohrmann is leading Michigan's development and implementation of a comprehensive security strategy for all of the state’s resources and infrastructure. His organization is providing Michigan with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with Michigan assets, property, systems and networks.

Lohrmann is a globally recognized author and blogger on technology and security topics. His keynote speeches have been heard at worldwide events, such as GovTech in South Africa, IDC Security Roadshow in Moscow, and the RSA Conference in San Francisco. He has been honored with numerous cybersecurity and technology leadership awards, including “CSO of the Year” by SC Magazine and “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine.

His Michigan government security team’s mission is to:

  • establish Michigan as a global leader in cyberawareness, training and citizen safety;
  • provide state agencies and their employees with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with state of Michigan assets, property, systems and networks;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive security strategy (Michigan Cyber Initiative) for all Michigan resources and infrastructure;
  • improve efficiency within the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
  • provide combined focus on emergency management efforts.

He currently represents the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on the IT Government Coordinating Council that’s led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also serves as an adviser on TechAmerica's Cloud Commission and the Global Cyber Roundtable.

From January 2009 until October 2011, Lohrmann served as Michigan's chief technology officer and director of infrastructure services administration. He led more than 750 technology staff and contractors in administering functions, such as technical architecture, project management, data center operations, systems integration, customer service (call) center support, PC and server administration, office automation and field services support.

Under Lohrmann’s leadership, Michigan established the award-winning Mi-Cloud data storage and hosting service, and his infrastructure team was recognized by NASCIO and others for best practices and for leading state and local governments in effective technology service delivery.

Earlier in his career, Lohrmann served as the state of Michigan's first chief information security officer (CISO) from May 2002 until January 2009. He directed Michigan's award-winning Office of Enterprise Security for almost seven years.

Lohrmann's first book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, was published in November 2008.  Lohrmann was also the chairman of the board for 2008-2009 and past president (2006-2007) of the Michigan InfraGard Member's Alliance.

Prior to becoming Michigan's CISO, Lohrmann served as the senior technology executive for e-Michigan, where he published an award-winning academic paper titled The Story — Reinventing State Government Online. He also served as director of IT and CIO for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget in the late 1990s.

Lohrmann has more than 26 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a U.S./UK military facility.

Lohrmann is a distinguished guest lecturer for Norwich University in the field of information assurance. He also has been a keynote speaker at IT events around the world, including numerous SecureWorld and ITEC conferences in addition to online webinars and podcasts. He has been featured in numerous daily newspapers, radio programs and magazines. Lohrmann writes a bimonthly column for Public CIO magazine on cybersecurity. He's published articles on security, technology management, cross-boundary integration, building e-government applications, cloud computing, virtualization and securing portals.

He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

NOTE: The columns here are Dan Lohrmann's own views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the state of Michigan's official positions.

Recent Awards:
2011 Technology Leadership Award: InfoWorld
Premier 100 IT Leader for 2010: Computerworld magazine
2009 Top Doers, Dreamers and Drivers: Government Technology magazine
Public Official of the Year: Governing magazine — November 2008
CSO of the Year: SC Magazine — April 2008
Top 25 in Security Industry: Security magazine — December 2007
Compass Award: CSO Magazine — March 2007
Information Security Executive of the Year: Central Award 2006