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Management Strategies

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Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company Revamps its Business Continuity Plan, Constructs Disaster Recovery Facility

As part of its business continuity initiative, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company (GMRC) has built a new disaster recovery facility in Newton, Iowa.

Related Feature:Insurers View Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity As More Than IT Issues

Having identified service and stability for customers and agents as key business drivers, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company (GMRC; $394 million in gross 2006 premium) is in the midst of a major disaster recovery initiative, according to Dennis Mehmen, VP of business information services and CIO at GMRC. "The world has changed around us, and a lot of things have happened over the last few years that have made people think about what can happen and how some businesses survive at different ratios depending on how they were prepared," explains Mehmen, a recent Insurance & Technology Elite 8 honoree.

While the project includes investment in a full-building generator for the company's Grinnell, Iowa, headquarters and a revamping of its business continuity strategy, the key to the initiative, according to Mehmen, is a new disaster recovery facility in Newton, Iowa.

Previously, the insurer had an agreement with Drake University to utilize one of the school's Des Moines-based buildings in case of a major business continuity disruption, Mehmen relates. When the Drake deal recently expired, the carrier found that it had revamped disaster recovery capabilities within its headquarters but had little course of action if the main building was itself compromised. "We were concerned about everything that was happening in this building, but we never really had a place to move to," Mehmen recalls. After weighing outside options, the carrier ultimately decided to construct a facility from scratch to avoid working around an existing structure's architecture.

GMRC chose to build the facility in Newton -- a 20-minute drive from Grinnell -- because most potential disaster situations that could affect the company were weather-related. It's likely, therefore, that employees would need to stay in the general area to deal with the aftermath of a given event, Mehmen says. "We wanted something more local, so that when and if anything did happen, we wouldn't have to worry about employees having to leave their homes and their families," he notes.

The structure was completed in 2006 and includes a reconfigurable computer floor, a general meeting room and other necessities, according to Mehmen. The building can be monitored remotely from the Grinnell location. A duplicate IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) AS/400 midrange server mirrors data from GMRC's headquarters.

Currently, the focus of the project has shifted to determining what data and which applications need to be up in real time at the site. "We're taking our time and making sure that what we do put over there is working correctly," Mehmen explains. "We're really going through the business objectives to see what's the most important."

Going forward, Mehmen says, his team will have to ensure that existing and future software applications are licensed correctly. "A lot of the things that we're looking at now, when you license them, they're licensed for one location," he describes. "We have to make sure that if it's a piece of software that we need in both locations to run something, that we are licensed for the enterprise so that we can have it in multiple locations."

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