Scenario planning, in which you seek to identify higher risk and higher probability causes of business interruption, attracts both supporters and cynics.
Good business continuity training helps managers and enterprises prepare business continuity plans. However, they’ll also need to deal with a further factor – human error. This element is a cause of anything from small business failure to nuclear power plant meltdowns. A little information on the subject can help make business continuity that much more robust. Although sophisticated analytical techniques exist to assess human reliability, in the first instance we’ll take a common sense approach. This also makes it easier to apply error-prevention measures to your organisation and boost your business continuity still further. Compare them also with the theory and principles of business continuity from your training classes, and exercises you do to test BC plans.
Risk certainly marked the year of 2013, with knock-on effects on business continuity thinking. However, in a year picking up the pieces after different disasters, the real message was a reminder that while we collectively now know a great deal about risk, we don’t always prepare or take action appropriately. The devastation caused by rainfall in the Uttarakhand state of India was one example. Environmentalists blamed what they considered to be haphazard preceding development projects of roads, resorts and hydroelectric stations for the subsequent high level of damage and deaths. Meanwhile in the US and for much of 2013, New York was applying lessons learned the hard way following Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 to produce an improved city resilience plan.
How do you view Business Continuity? Is it all about avoiding business outages for a given speed of business, or should it also contribute to increasing that speed? After all, if business continuity is designed to move an enterprise away from slowdowns, then logically it should be moving the enterprise towards picking up the pace of planning, forecasting, deciding and executing on those decisions. Whether or not you consider that business continuity should lead the way in accelerating business, sooner or later BC will be involved; if only because competitors will also have speeded up in the meantime.
While good planning and processes are at the heart of business continuity and disaster recovery, technology can accelerate the benefits as well. We live in an age of cloud computing and smartphones. Both can be used to help an organisation get back on its feet after incidents, or simply ride them out without severe or permanent consequences.
Necessity as they say is the mother of invention. Business continuity planning sometimes needs some outside-the-box invention, especially in the case where a major functional component of an organisation becomes unavailable. This has been the case for a museum (Le Museon Arlaten) in the south of France, founded in 1899 with the mission of conserving records about the area known as “Provence”. An important part of the museum’s activities is also to organise concerts and shows that bring out traditional Provence performing arts using the large stock of artefacts and architectural remains in the museum’s possession. The BC planning challenge was simple – continuing to draw and satisfy a public for the next three years, during which time there will be no museum…
At the risk of labouring a point, here’s some further information on a particular business continuity good practice guideline – that of understanding where to look for the most likely threat. A survey from the Neverfail Group, a systems software vendor, earlier this year indicates that that the real danger to business continuity is from isolated hardware and software failures, rather than earthquakes, floods and nuclear accidents. What was striking about the survey was the discrepancy between what companies spent their time preparing for, and what in fact really impacted their business continuity.
From time to time, it’s instructive to look around and see what organisations are doing with business continuity. With business continuity management now an increasingly important part of good business practice, business schools are led to include this in their courses, and hopefully practise what they preach. A visit to the website of the London School of Economics shows that the LSE has defined plans and procedures in this area, although it also leaves one question open.
Henry Ford would have appreciated the Wiley publishing company’s approach to business continuity management. In keeping with the rest of its “For Dummies” books, Wiley will (September 2012) be bringing out the “Business Continuity for Dummies” edition, mass-produced BCM in something of a one-size-fits-all approach. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – BCM deserves a wider audience and popularising some of its principles and techniques can be a good way to raise people’s levels of awareness at all levels of an organisation. The open question is whether or not people will “internalise” business continuity any more after they’ve read the book compared to before.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter now have a lot in common with mobile phone networks. They are accessible to millions of people and they also stay up and running even if disaster strikes an enterprise and shuts down its corporate IT system. Anything that is that “continuous” merits examination in the light of business continuity plan best practice. Indeed, some very large organisations are now leveraging the power of social networks for crisis management, although some cases of social media handling in the context of BCM fall short of best practice, and even of acceptable practice.
If you’ve picked a business continuity plan template for your organisation and you want the various departments to use it, your sales skills or charm may impress your colleagues at the start. But how do you ensure that their enthusiasm won’t totally evaporate afterwards, when you’re back at your desk, and they’re back at theirs – staring at a blank form? Ideally, looking at the template would bring the same surge of eagerness as before. If it can’t do that, then it should do as little as possible to dampen it. How? Believe it or not, government tax forms may hold the key.
Innovation in business continuity doesn’t always have to be technological, as one award-winning approach to a business continuity plan has shown. Sometimes the real innovation is simply in the point of view – the “how” of business continuity, instead of the “what”. That was what the New South Wales Police Force revolutionized to win the Australian Business Award for Innovation in 2008, winning organisations being “those that display exceptional leadership in their industry, and are role models for other organisations seeking business and product excellence”. A BC framework is essential to a police force as an emergency service; what is unique about the one used by the NSW Police Force is that instead of being driven by incidents, it is determined by consequences.