Keep calm and carry on
Is your organisation prepared for the worst? Ron Farley, NQA’s Business Continuity Sector Specialist, shares his top tips on how to create and use an effective business continuity management system.
The concept of creating a management system to organise your business’s ability to continue performing despite unexpected setbacks is still a fairly new one. However, an increasing number of organisations both within the public and private sectors are turning to business continuity, and the British management system standard for business continuity BS 25999-2, to help ensure they are best placed to cope with any interruptions to normal service.
The importance of business continuity was highlighted again this winter by the disruption caused throughout the UK by unprecedented levels of snowfall and freezing temperatures. As airports closed, roads were blocked and rail services interrupted, meanwhile in some parts of the country power supplies failed and water mains burst. This had a negative impact on organisations’ ability to perform as employees struggled to come to work and suppliers were unable to deliver goods.
Recent weather has revealed many businesses weaknesses in their current set up and the need to rectify plans designed to enable business as usual. At NQA’s head office we took the step of giving all staff access codes to enable everyone to log on to our computer network and access the email system if they were unable to come into the office due to the snow. This step then meant that two weeks later when the office’s heating system failed, this was not a major problem. All the staff left the office at 2pm, but within an hour many had logged into the computer system over the internet and were able to clear emails, answer queries and examine reports as usual. This is a simple approach that prevented many man hours being wasted.
This is not to say that having a business continuity management system in place can guarantee your business will always continue. There are some events that will halt your business no matter what plans you have in place. Take, for example, the Buncefield explosion in 2005 or the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. It is often worth considering whether you are able to continue your business at another location set up specifically to replicate your office? If this is the case, getting staff to this location to understand what they need to do once they are there can be a valuable exercise. Do you know who is on your business continuity team in the event of a major or unforeseen incident? However, having business continuity plans in place will keep your downtime to a minimum, because should the worst happen, you know what your next step should be and who and what you need where. There may be a hiatus as you get everything into place, but it’s immeasurably better than sitting out in the cold asking: “What do we do now?”
As with other management systems, the first crucial step is to gain the support of your senior management team because without their input nothing will happen. This doesn’t simply mean having them agree that business continuity is a good idea, but the commitment of both resources and time to the system. You also need to have the power to be able to change things.
Equally important is the engagement of all of your colleagues. You can have the fantastic business continuity plans but they will amount to nothing if no one else takes them seriously. How often has your organisation held a fire drill where staff members drift out with their coats and bags, on their mobile phones? This attitude shows that they do not take such drills seriously. To combat this you have to impress upon people the seriousness of the situation and get everyone involved in creating the business continuity management system.
At the heart of your system is the need to define the risks to your organisation and the likely impacts of those risks. The key is to have a system that is focused on ensuring that the most important part of your business is least effected by interruptions and can be up and running again in the least amount of time possible.
The most effective way to accomplish this is to consult as many of your staff as possible. Get them involved in risk analysis exercises, as those at an operative level may see lots of things that aren’t on the radar of senior management. Ask them for feedback and ideas about how your organisation should go about tackling the problems they have identified.
A great way to do this is to send a group of staff members away from the office for a day. Ask them to consider what would happen if your building blew up? What would the organisation need to cope? Get them to think about security of data, continuity of service through relocation and the possible impacts on your stakeholders. By drawing them into exercises like this you get them to see that business continuity does affect them and great ideas for your continuity plans should begin to prevail. It’s crucial that you have a good team behind you and a strong leader that won’t panic.
Lastly, once you have your business continuity system in place you need to exercise your plans regularly because that will reveal any shortcomings in those plans. You can then review what you are doing and better it. As with other management systems, continual improvement will ensure your business continuity is best placed to ensure your organisation stability through any crisis.
Published: 09 February 2011