Disruptions to business operations around the world resulting from the catastrophic combination of natural and technological disasters in Japan serve to remind us of the importance of having a fully developed business continuity program. The ability to rapidly respond and recover from any type of disaster that can directly – or indirectly – impact a company’s operations and ability to deliver its product or service is essential to any business. The reality is that for most companies the disaster they experience will not necessarily be a headline-generating occurrence. Yet, whether a disruption of operations results from a natural disaster or terrorist attack or is the result of a burst water pipe flooding your facility, an IT system crash, or the sudden and unexpected shutdown of a service provider or supplier, continuity planning can make the difference between a manageable crisis and a significant, long-term disruption that leads to an inability to meet customer needs, damage to brand and reputation, and ultimately, an erosion of the bottom line.
Developing and maintaining an effective approach to managing business continuity takes take time, effort, and commitment. To begin a new program or assess one already in place, consider the following continuity best practices.
Business Continuity Plan
I have heard having a business continuity program compared to having a spare tire that you hope you never need to use. Like that spare tire, don’t procrastinate until you need a continuity plan and it’s not there. Develop a proactive enterprise-wide business continuity program that includes well thought out strategies, actionable plans, and regular training and testing to ensure the plans will work when needed. Identify the most time-critical business functions in all business units and develop proactive strategies to continue those functions in an acceptable time after disaster strikes.
Supply Chain Continuity
To avoid inheriting risks, take into consideration your suppliers, outsourcing companies, shippers, and other business partners in the planning process. In addition to price and quality, look at business continuity capability when selecting contractors, vendors, or service providers or renewing existing contracts. Consider including business partners in the continuity planning process. Partnering with your suppliers, service providers, and outsourcing companies is mutually beneficial and the most effective way to establish and maintain comprehensive business continuity capability.
Plan for People Issues
A reminder: employees are your organization’s most valuable asset. Start with a policy statement from senior management that makes official the company’s concern for staff welfare and convert that policy to action. Implement plans to keep employees in the loop following a disaster with information such as when and where to report, and what progress is being made to fully restoration of operations. Ensure that staffing for critical operations is available through cross-training. Develop succession plans for all key employees.
Reviews and Updates
The world is not static, nor should your business continuity plans be. Frequent reviews and revisions to address changes in operations, supply chain links, regulatory requirements, facilities, and technology will ensure that the plan will serve your company well when the need arises. Assessing the plan with regularly-scheduled tests and exercises will also help identify required changes and enhancements.
Avoid the Continuity Attention Cycle
The cycle begins with the ostrich syndrome, with most people in an organization avoiding the fact that a disaster “could ever happen here” and turning a deaf ear to those who make a case for developing or improving a continuity program. Then, a major disaster occurs and becomes the focus of media attention; or a competitor, supplier, or nearby business experiences a disaster. There is alarmed discovery and the realization that there could be a threat to the organization accompanied by a rush to “do something” with committees being formed, meetings being held, and announcements being made.
While this is encouraging, the all-too-often accompanying reality is that once memory of the disaster that caused the actions begins to fade, the level of attention to business continuity planning begins to wane, and heads go back into the sand. Risks are always present; disasters will continue to occur.
It’s time to step out of the continuity attention cycle and take action.
- Make continuity planning a core business practice.
- Identify an executive sponsor for the company’s business continuity program.
- Establish corporate-level planning standards and policies to provide guidance and direction for development of a successful program.
- Assign ongoing program ownership and responsibility; make the position a direct report to executive management.
- Involve representatives from all key business units in the planning process.
- Throughout the planning process, consider both internal and external risks.
Perhaps most importantly, make a commitment to initiate and follow through with the development and ongoing maintenance of a business continuity management program tailored for your company.
Betty A. Kildow has been a Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) with the Disaster Recovery Institute International since 1998, and was named a fellow of the Business Continuity Institute (FBCI) in 2002. She has specialized in business continuity, disaster recovery, and emergency management consulting for more than 18 years. She is the author of A Supply Chain Management Guide to Business Continuity and Front Desk Security and Safety.