Compliance drives telecom firm

Meeting regulatory compliance requirements and maintaining uninterrupted customer service were the primary reasons fuelling Toronto Hydro Telecom Inc.’s creation of a business continuity plan.

In effect for the past year, the plan entails ensuring basic IT systems are replicated, particularly around customer data, and network management and monitoring systems, said Dave Dobbin, president of Toronto Hydro Telecom.

“It’s all about customer service for us. We want all of our customers to have all of their systems operating at all times, therefore we have to be a hundred per cent reliable,” he said.

Natural disasters are what typically push many organizations to develop disaster recovery plans. Utility firms Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, for instance, have strategies in place that were developed following pandemics including SARS and influenza.

But this was not the case with Toronto Hydro Telecom given its established business, said Dobbin.

“We are a horse of a different colour. We’ve got this large-scale fibre optic network around the city already. We have the ability to locate our equipment in diverse, redundant sites as it is, just because of the very nature of our company. That’s one advantage that we’ve always had,” he said.

However, from a compliance standpoint the provider of managed network services needed a plan because it “had to be able to pass audit, pass muster,” Dobbin added.

In fact, the company has internally implemented a disaster recovery service that, just this month, it began offering to its own clients following a year in beta.

Tera-Recovery is a virtualization service that takes automatic snapshots of data residing on primary and backup servers and stores them in a virtual environment located offsite.

Toronto Hydro Telecom’s reasons for implementing a business continuity strategy align with the findings of a recent report that polled Canadian companies on their approaches to disaster recovery.

Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada found Canadian companies typically place the focus of their strategies on maintaining customer service, financials, and preserving company reputation.

It also found companies typically spend around four per cent of their IT budget towards business continuity – although they feel they should be devoting more resources towards such initiatives, said David Senf, director of Canadian security and software research with IDC Canada.

Toronto Hydro Telecom devotes eight per cent of its IT budget to disaster recovery, according to Dobbin.

The IDC survey also found IT was less in tune than its business counterpart to the importance of planning for business continuity – because business executives generally have closer contact to identified areas of concern, like customers and financials, said Senf.

But unlike most survey respondents, Toronto Hydro Telecom said it did not encounter this internal discrepancy nor the disputes arising between IT and business components. “This is core business for us. Remember, we are an IT company,” said Dobbin.

Such IT-business disputes typically arise from pushback received by the department that owns the disaster recovery initiative. Depending on the organization, either the IT or business department can own disaster recovery, said Marv Wainschel, director of education at Eagle Rock Alliance Ltd., a West Orange, N.J.-based management consulting firm.

Acknowledging the importance of a disaster recovery plan, Dobbin said Toronto Hydro Telecom’s strategy falls directly under his ownership, and is not delegated to another area of the business. “That’s how important it is in our business.”

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