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February, 2011

International insurance provider Markel International takes an unregimented approach to business continuity (BC) that in these days of red tape and bureaucracy is highly unorthodox. But it is a policy that has proved highly successful for over three decades.

“What we do for our clients is manage their risk. Managing our own risk is an extension of this.”
 
Steve Fountain, IT director
Markel International
 
Given its remit, Markel’s own risk management must be exemplary to maintain market confidence. In line with its belief that BC should be an integral part of Markel’s business as usual operations, rather than an ‘add on’ handled by a central department in isolation from the rest of the business, responsibility for BCM has been fully devolved.
 
Markel’s company values of spontaneity and adaptability are reflected in the simplicity and flexibility of its BCM programme, which was shortlisted in both the ‘Strategy’ and ‘Excellence in BC in Insurance’ categories of the prestigious 2010 CIR BC Awards.
The insurer has long relied on SunGard Availability Services for Workplace and Technology Recovery services and has thoroughly embedded BC into its company culture. “Everyone takes collective responsibility for BCM, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom,” says Markel’s IT manager Nigel Poll. “But because we’ve tested our response so thoroughly, it’s become second nature.
 

The global economic downturn has forced companies to refocus on their core business. As a result, many are now reconsidering the merits of outsourcing on-core business areas, such as management of the organisation’s IT infrastructure, to specialist third party providers. SunGard availability Services believes the role of the in-house IT department will increasingly become one of governance and architectural design and that this will become the ‘new normal’ due to the numerous business benefits created by an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model:

In-house data centres SunGard Availability Services

Cost-savings
Research conducted by SunGard into the relative costs of ownership of IaaS, Managed Services and in-house solutions revealed that on average organisations can reduce total IT expenditure by as much as 55% when moving into SunGard’s secure, virtualised, cloud environment. These savings come from many sources: the soaring cost of data centre development and operational costs is one obvious area, while the savings to be gained from using a shared infrastructure rather than creating new platforms on an application by application basis is another example.
 
Removes management burden
While a decision to outsource IT infrastructure may originate as a cost saving exercise, the real benefits of outsourcing actually come from saved management time, which can then be used to focus on more strategic activities.
 
CapEx to OpEx
This is particularly relevant in the current economic climate where banks are reluctant to lend and funding is scarce. The cost of building or upgrading a data centre today is huge, requiring a multi million pound investment to be diverted into a non-core business area where it will be tied up for years to come.
The OpEx model of outsourcing gives back balance, control and predictability of costs, enabling organisations to continue to invest in the revenue-generating areas of the business.
 
Business demand driven agility
Whether businesses are conserving resources to weather a feared ‘double dip’ recession or want to be in a position to take advantage of the hoped-for upturn, the ability to scale services and the workforce support up or down according to business demands is a prized feature. With outsourcing, IT assets are not left unused in ageing data centres and companies pay only for what they need now, rather than tie up valuable capital in anticipation of future growth.
 
Greater resilience
The levels of redundancy built into SunGard’s highly resilient data centres require capital and operational investments that often cannot be commercially justified by one company alone. With utility costs alone for a 100,000 sq ft data centre averaging £3.7m a year*, the gold standard of data centre management practised by specialist hosting and managed service providers such as SunGard is beyond the pockets of all but the largest firms.
For instance, even the incidental expense of an annual deep clean of a single data centre, incorporating zinc whisker and air particulate tests, runs to tens of thousands of pounds.
 
Environmental benefits
The shared services model is inherently a more environmentally responsible form of computing. In the light of issues associated with real estate, power draw, cooling and other resources, a shared data centre that can service multiple organisations is intrinsically a more sustainable model than companies trying to buy, resource and power their own standby facilities.
 
Despite the clear benefits of outsourcing management of a data centre to a third party and harnessing cloud computing technology, some still doubt the security and reliability of public clouds. There is no question that choosing a trustworthy cloud partner with a demonstrable track record of security, resilience and financial stability is vital. For this reason SunGard’s own private cloud is proving popular with organisations that want to reap the benefits of an enterprise-class, cloud computing infrastructure without any of the perceived risks.
 
*Datacenter Journal 1/9/9

 

Centrica hotfoots to SunGard so customers are not left out in the coldA recurring telephony fault meant some of Centrica’s most vulnerable customers were unable to get through to its busy British Gas call centre to top up their meters and get heat and power during one of the coldest periods of the year.

Centrica understands the importance of business continuity management (BCM) and has a longstanding contract with SunGard Availability Services for Workplace Recovery services, which enable the company to continue providing vital services to its millions of customers, no matter what.
 
The fault hit Centrica’s Edinburgh call centre twice in the space of two months but on each occasion Centrica didn’t miss a beat. It relocated its agents, who handle up to 10,000 calls a day, to a nearby SunGard recovery centre where well rehearsed plans and a fast, efficient service from SunGard meant Centrica could operate business as usual. In fact, customers were completely unaware that their calls were being handled from a different location!
 
“All the testing and preparation we’ve done over the years led to this moment. SunGard delivered when we needed them to – they were beside us every step of the way.”
 
Mario Pascoe, head of business continuity
Centrica