Business Continuity Planning: Are You Planning for Tomorrow or Yesterday?
Recently DATAMARK, Inc., held a webinar on Business Continuity Planning. The three panelists discussed what was missing or did not receive sufficient attention in business continuity plans and the repercussions it can have for businesses worldwide.
The panelists were largely in agreement that many plans fall short when assessing the human impact of a potential disaster such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Most plans tend to place a disproportionate emphasis on physical things like buildings, transportation arteries, communication networks and data centers.
While these need to be addressed in any business continuity plan, businesses also need to expect the unexpected. Planners need to think in non-linear terms so they can see around corners and continue to plan for the unimaginable.
A Question of Scale
Most planners largely assume that when disaster strikes their employees would still be there, ready and able to produce. As Carol DeLatte, CBCP, MBCI, a Senior Business Continuity Manager at Exeter Finance noted, many companies have plans for the loss of a senior executive or two, or even the entire top level of executives, and the succession planning chapter is dusted off and put into place.
Losing half the senior executives, while tragic, is very different than losing half your workforce due to a pandemic. When your business or your factory is suddenly not accessible on short notice, then what? While working from home is an option for many in the knowledge-based services industries, you can’t assemble a car, make sausage or give haircuts over Zoom.
I Don’t Work for You
Stephen Clancy, CCWP, brought a unique perspective from his work as Senior Director of Contingent Workforce Strategies, Knowledge & Research at Staffing Industry Analysts. Most companies think of their people in their business continuity plans as employees of their company, but that’s not always the case. Many companies manage a small army of contingent workers who are supplied each day by outside entities.
For some companies, this can be half their workforce and represent more than a billion dollars of payroll. So when disaster strikes, how will you reach these people? Do you even know who they are, can you reach them directly or do you have to go through their actual employer who has “leased” them to you?
Do you have a contingent workforce to fill in when a large swath of your existing contingent workforce cannot work? How long can you limp along? What provisions are provided in your contract, and is it essentially a moot point when the problem is something as widespread as a pandemic? Do you still have to pay these people, and for how long, if they are not doing work for you?
If the government locks down your business, what does the contract say? It’s not an “Act of God.” While customers are normally compassionate when disaster strikes, when the dust settles they will refer back to the fact that they have a legally binding contract.
Spread Your Risk
Another key principle of business continuity planning is geographic diversity. It is not sufficient to have eight delivery centers spread across one common geographic location, or it can create a single point of failure. As Mark Conard of R+ L Carriers noted, “For those that have engaged BPO partners [as R+L has] the concern is the concentration of work sites in a single global region (i.e., India), even when that risk maybe spread across various sites within a country. If all the sites are within the same geo-political area (i.e., a single country) that gives pause for concern.”
In discussions with large businesses regarding their post-pandemic procurement of services, business continuity planning is something universally cited as an area that will get increased scrutiny during the vendor due diligence phase. For some, it will be a pass/fail deal breaker.
Be Real and Be Focused
As Carol DeLatte noted, “During complacent times, it is hard to keep people focused on “what ifs.” Once, while facilitating an exercise, I pushed hard on the “what ifs” and was nearly fired for scaring people!" One of the main challenges in business continuity planning is gaining executive-level commitment.
As one industry consultant noted, “In many of the business continuity exercises that include the C-Suite, the participants were more concerned with which brand of coffee would be served than they were on the intent of the exercise and decent conversation.”
It has been said that life is about 10% of what happens to you and 90% about how you respond to it. The same can be said about most good business continuity planning. Every “i” does not need to be dotted and every “t” does not need to be crossed.
What is essential is for the business continuity plan to be flexible and adaptive, much like Marines going into battle. We may not be able to predict what calamity will befall us next, but with proper, realistic planning, we can be better prepared for how we respond.