In order to 'do my bit' for Business Continuity Awareness Week, I thought I would write something about business continuity, what it means to me and what's in it for you, the reader.
Firstly, a brief overview. What is it? What is this business continuity thing we keep talking about?
The capability of the organisation to continue delivery of products or services at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident (Source: ISO 22301:2012)
So what does that mean? It means doing now what we need to in order to prepare for when that nasty stuff hits the fan, so that we can continue to function at an acceptable level during and after the clean up process
Respond | Recover | Resume
Why? Why do we do this?
Well why wouldn't we? We work hard to build a business, to make it successful and then something happens, an accident, a key person leaves, Telstra has an outage (we've been there recently) and suddenly we can't do our normal day to day 'stuff'.
Or how about the positive side? We suddenly have an influx of new work and find ourselves struggling to keep up with demand.
What do we do in that situation?
Australia is a hard task master. We endure severe weather extremes, distances between cities can be huge making transport and network connectivity difficult and culturally we consist of a cosmopolitan mix of nations, behaviours and languages. All of these present marvellous opportunities for disruption to our businesses and to our lives.
Business continuity is just 'common sense'. It's about taking responsibility for our business and doing what we can to enable us to stay on track whatever we are faced with. It's about looking at what we do and how we do it and making provisions around how we can continue to do those things under less than positive circumstances
Keep calm and carry on
Who is it for?
Business continuity is for everybody and, if we think about it and take it to its natural conclusion, it's not just for work. Think about home, all our personal files, photographs, memories. What could we do now to protect ourselves and our homes against the dreaded fire, flood or just the breakdown of our PC?
Ladies (and maybe gents too), how many of us have a pair of 'fat day jeans'? You know the ones I mean, the ones we wear on those days when our normal jeans just feel that little bit too cosy and we need a little more 'waist space'; we have our mobile phones set to automatically back up to Google or Apple and carry a spare pen 'just in case'
Or how about the pashmina we keep in the desk drawer for when the A/C gets too fierce; the breath freshener mints or the charging cable for our phones.
These are all contingency provisions we have devised against anticipated disruptions and we do them almost without thinking.
What's in it for me?
The biggest thing we can hope for is that we never need to use our business continuity provision whatever it is. But the peace of mind that comes from knowing that if we do need it, it's there, appropriate, current, correct, in place, waiting for us to use it, apply it and really appreciate it. Decisions are pre-considered, processes and actions are documented, people are prepared.
Where is the value? What is it worth?
The obvious value of business continuity comes from having it ready on the day we actually need to use it. But beyond that, what about when everything is running nicely and there is no disruption? Where is the value then?
There are a number of more subtle values to having a business continuity process in place:
- Customer peace of mind knowing that we've gone through the analysis process and devised a solution for 'just in case', we've thought about it and we're prepared. As a marketing tool this level of security for our customers can help secure new clients.
- For some industries there are legislative requirements to be fulfilled which business continuity provision can address, and in some cases is a legal requirement.
- Insurance premiums can drop as a result of having developed and tested business continuity provisions in place as claims may be reduced.
- Employee confidence and engagement that comes from being part of a formal recovery process.
- Opportunities for process improvement can be identified as part of the development process whereby new ways of completing tasks can be devised. Just because we've always done something 'that way' doesn't mean we should continue to do it that way.
Without naming names, some of my clients have benefited from developing business continuity provision in the following ways:
- A regional digital hospital with reliance on networks to connect every aspect of patient care, right down to meal ordering and patient entertainment, has experienced successful activations following power outage, loss of communications networks, and as preparation for an incoming cyclone.
- A state-wide hospital group developed a contingency process for a newly deployed, automated process as part of the testing and implementation of the new system.
- An international bank developed a dedicated contingency site to be used in the event of a disruption, but enhanced the value of the site by using it as a training location, hot desk office and testing site for new systems before live deployments.
Return on Investment
Whatever the reason, business continuity is more than just an overhead, it is a good investment and can make the difference to post-disruption survival. It can also make a huge difference to the attitudes of our employees, our customers and even our competitors.
If we have gone through the process and the competition hasn't, having a business continuity provision in place could be the differentiator between us and them. It could make prospective customers take us more seriously as it demonstrates that we take our business and our responsibility to our customers more seriously, and have taken the time and effort to put in place a system that is as much about protecting them as it is about protecting ourselves. To paraphrase JFK: " Ask not what your customers can do for you ..."
On the day it all goes to pot, wouldn't it be nice to be able to call your customers and say " Yes, we are suffering a disruption, but we've activated our business continuity provision and it includes continuing to look after you as a priority, here's what we're going to do ..."
Sheena Downey is an optimistic pessimist (or is that pessimistic optimist?) who hopes for the best but prepares for the worst. Sheena loves exploring 'what can go wrong' and 'what can we do about it' questions and has spent the last 10 years working with her clients to help them develop business continuity management systems for real world business use.