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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Training Tips For Ships - Tip #23: Is Your Training Technology Disaster-Ready?

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

April 7, 2021

© canjoena/AdobeStock

© canjoena/AdobeStock

A customer once told me that they had just completed a business continuity analysis and had identified their LMS as their second most mission-critical technology - second only to payroll! Take a moment to consider how much you rely on training technologies to sustain your operations and compliance. How long could you comfortably go without your employees having access to training? How long could you go without access to your compliance records or your employees’ certificates? Since training (and proof of training) is required for compliance and safe operations, the answer is typically “not long”. It is time that we all realize our training infrastructure is mission-critical, and that we treat it as such.

Mission-critical systems require special consideration in any business. Most importantly, there must be a well-designed, vetted and regularly tested disaster recovery plan (DRP). When an IT disaster strikes, so begins the unforgiving, and often harsh, test of an organization’s DRP policies. And it will happen. Just a few weeks ago, on March 9th, a fire broke out at Europe’s largest cloud provider in Strasbourg, France. The damage was catastrophic. This impacted 3.5 million websites and applications across the world including government agencies, banks, online retailers, news websites and a good portion of France’s .FR domain. It also impacted MarineLMS for some of our European customers. At that moment, the Marine Learning Systems DRP was, indeed, tested. Fortunately, we were ready. Are you?

In creating and maintaining a DRP, there is much to consider. Much more than can be included here. However, now is a great time to reconsider your own DRP, or to create a DRP for your mission-critical learning systems (and other technical systems). Let’s identify the basics.

The first step is to create a full list of your mission-critical technology-based systems. What technologies do you rely on? Order them by how long you could live without them.

Next, consider the cost of the permanent loss of all LMS training records or the data in your other systems. Preventing data loss in the event of a disaster is the most fundamental requirement. For this, backups are your friend. Do you have them? How often are they taken? Are they immediately transferred off-site to a secure location? Guidelines vary according to the size, value, velocity, and complexity of the data, but generally backups should be very frequent - as often as every 15 minutes. Also, they should immediately be moved off site to a location that is physically distant from the live data. To do this efficiently, there are software tools created for exactly this purpose.

Next - while backups prevent data loss, they don’t ensure that systems are restored quickly. If your LMS datacenter had a fire, what is the process for restoration at another datacenter, and how long would it take? Remember, in the event of a significant catastrophe, there will be sudden competition for new datacenter space, so finding a replacement may be impossible. Redundancy costs money, but it’s the only reliable remedy in the face of a significant event.

Finally, how often do you test your DRP processes? This is not the kind of plan that can be written, implemented, and then shelved. That effectively guarantees that it will fail when you need it most. These plans need to be fully tested at least monthly.

What about the systems you rely on that are managed by your vendors? The principles are all the same as for your own systems. Do THEY do all of the above? How do they prove it to you? Do you have direct access to vet that the backups exist, are in a safe location, and are accessible? Do they maintain redundant systems at a different location and have a process for failover in the event it is needed? Can that process be demonstrated to you, using your data? This is important enough that it is a business’ responsibility to not only trust, but verify. Contractual promises are great, but not sufficient.

In next month’s Training Tips for Ships I will share some elements of our DRP processes to shed more light on this topic. Until then, sail safely!

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