Why Cisco picked a Blue Bell firm to cope with disasters

Cisco Systems, the computer-networking equipment maker, has renewed its three-year contract with Strategic BCP, a 25-person, Blue Bell-based software firm, to use its ResilienceOne platform, which tracks people, facilities and systems to speed decision-making in disaster-recovery and business-interruption situations.

Cisco first picked Strategic BCP in 2013, Keith Cantando, Manager of Global Risk and Resiliency Management at Cisco, told me.  

"We are a global company. We have a portfolio of 2,700 applications, all inside the company. That is a large volume of work for our information-technology disaster recovery," Cantando told me. "This allows us to combine different restoration needs and bring things back up."

Cisco has 28 business units on the system. "It could take days to develop plans" for replacing damaged facilities or systems in case of disaster or business interruption," Cantando said. "I'll be determining what the impacts would be if an application went down. Is it a million-dollars-an-hour impact? You work with an algorithm to determine how necessary that application is. And you build plans," workarounds, replacements. "But now it can be done with a tool."

Even with all the pricey enteprise software systems sold by Oracle, SAP, IBM and specialized companies, the dirty secret of American I.T. is how much even sophisticated businesses still rely on Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. "It really slows people down" when it's time to transfer all that between systems, or review them for a crisis, Cantando notes.

"The Number One value of a tool like ResilienceOne, it turns me, a data gatherer, into a data analyst. What took me 24 or 48 hours to fully understand a situation  and implement plans. it's gone down to about five minutes.

"If we lose a building to a fire -- let's say --  rather than calling people at 3 a.m., I bring this up, boom, here are the people, location, activities, interdependencies. Because nothing operates in a silo. We gather the list of vendors, the supporting components...  It makes a huge amount of difference.

"We used to store information in folders. It might not get looked at for a long time. Now everything stays up to date. It lets me notify people when deliveries are coming due. It's like a Microsoft Project-type tool, built into the system. It connects with our HR database. So we are not sending out confidential emails to people not with the company."

Is it unusual for Cisco to deal with such a small vendor? "It's great when my relationship is with the CEO," Frank Perlmutter, who started Strategic BCP in 2004.

"And the cost is not huge... There's annual fees. They have a very good help desk and support model. so there is not a huge amount of day-to-day IT support needed. I was able to eliminate 120,000 out of my personnel budget -- we shifted them elsewhere in the company. We're now in Version 8 and it just about runs by itself. I'm very pleased." (Corrected, a previous version posted what BCP said was an incorrect price.)

Big as Cisco is, why not build its own? "There's no silver bullet for business continuity tools," Cantando said. "I could (customize) something. But this is scaleable. We usually go year-to-year with smaller (software) providers. But this company is pretty high up on the Gartner Magic Quadrant [of efficient software managers]. It's great working with small organizations, sometimes."