Monday, 24 September 2012

A couple of months can make all the difference.

Lyndon Bird FBCI
After years of preparation and much scepticism in some quarters, London 2012 is now over.  Both the Olympic and Paralympic Games have been hailed globally as great achievements.   Oddly, I have received congratulations from colleagues and friends in all parts of the world as if the success of the Games had had something to do with me.   However, reflected glory is always welcome and I am not complaining that the UK is being viewed in such a positive light.
It is strange that just a few weeks ago the main media interest was in the failure of G4S to provide adequate security personnel; the possibility of an immigration officer strike; and doom and destruction predictions on almost everything from transport to infrastructure.   We constantly heard of a grid-locked London, wide-scale traffic chaos, business disruptions and 1970’s style industrial action.   Even Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the US presidency, publicly expressed his worries on the eve of the Games based upon little more than arbitrary scare stories.
Some commentators predicted massive criminality and public disorder although evidence from previous Games suggested the exact opposite.   Others saw it as inevitable that we would face terrorist attacks, resulting in possible carnage.   Those less dramatic in their predictions did all seem to agree that London itself would be over-flowing with people and that businesses would be unable to operate due to the congestion and staff absenteeism.   When pointed out that tourist numbers were down, the same opinion leaders then changed their complaint to the fact that the events were scaring normal tourists away such that hotels, restaurants, theatres and the stores on Oxford Street would soon be going bankrupt.
To my knowledge little of this happened. Sensible organizations and individuals arranged their working practices appropriately.   Maybe the short-term financial boom envisaged by some London leisure businesses failed to materialise, but the enormous gain to the reputation of London will make people who never dreamed of visiting London before put it at the top of their list as a place to see.  
The leading UK retailer “The John Lewis Partnership” reported a major increase in sales and no problem with “foot-fall” at their central London shops as well as great success at their new store adjacent to the Olympic Park.  Large organizations like BT, BA and Sainsbury’s have contributed much to the overall success but it will enhance and benefit their reputation in ways almost nothing else could.   Overall the negative impact on business has been much exaggerated.
Well did this happen by luck?  
Perhaps it is pertinent to quote golfing legend Gary Player who (when opponents claimed he was fortunate) famously said “it is odd but the more I practice the luckier I get”.   It seems clear to me that major problems usually occur only when unexpected things happen, at unpredictable times and when no-one is trained to deal with them.  Fear of the Olympics was like other potential catastrophes that failed to ignite – think of the millennium bug or two flu pandemics (avian and swine varieties).   All captured the attention of the media but caused limited or no direct impact because we knew about them and had prepared accordingly.   Where we face real problems is when the threat is impossible to foresee such as the tsunami triggered by the earthquake causing a nuclear melt-down; a political extremist running riot in peaceful Norway; or a corporate scandal getting out of control as we saw a few years ago with Enron and Arthur Anderson.
For “known, knowns”, the Olympics is a great example of integrated Business Continuity Management.   It shows that however complicated or frightening a threat is perceived to be, it can be mitigated effectively by good planning, good organisation and plenty of practice.   The Games did not just happen at random, the organisers knew the dates and schedules in detail for many years.   They had the capability and expertise of leading experts from around the world to call on, and they had time to test and rehearse everything over and over again until it was perfect.   Some things went wrong, of course, but they were managed not by panic or “off the cuff” decision-making but by fully trained and committed people using tried and tested processes.
I hope you all enjoyed summer 2012 as much as I did.   It was good for the morale of the country, great for Risk Managers in showing that risks can be managed not just avoided and brilliant for those Business Continuity professionals who contributed their time, efforts, skills and passion to making it work for everyone.

BCM World Conference and Exhibition - just another event?


Donna Monkhouse, Your BC Eye
In a previous blog, Deborah Higgins MBCI put the business case for attending the BCM World Conference and Exhibition from the perspective of a business continuity practitioner.  She certainly sold it to me, and delivered some powerful arguments that left no doubt in my mind that this is the one BC practitioners simply cannot afford to miss.  If you can attend just one event per year, then this has to be it!
The BCM World Conference and Exhibition is of course not the only BCM event in the calendar, in fact there are a whole host of BCM or related conferences taking place every year all around the globe.  So what makes this Conference stand out from the rest or is the BCM World Conference and Exhibition just another event?
The BCM World Conference has earned the reputation of reaching the parts other conferences cannot reach.  It offers BC practitioners a chance to be reunited with their allies and provides temporary release from the infamous ivory towers that Deborah describes, allowing attendees to dip into the cool pool of BCM and immerse themselves in a world where they feel safe and understood.  The Conference is the place where practitioners or indeed newcomers to the discipline can find out what’s new on the BCM horizon; meet with other practitioners from a wide range of organisations from across the globe; share, exchange and learn from their peers; and develop new-found knowledge and practical insights that you be applied to their own organisation as well as some great networking contacts. 
This year, Richard Reed, Vice President for Preparedness and Resilience Strategy at the American Red Cross will be delivering the Conference keynote, which promises to shed some interesting insights into the US approach to preparedness and societal resilience.   Reed, who was the former Special Assistant to President Obama and Senior Director for Resilience at The White House, will be looking at how major events including terrorism, health emergencies, major accidents and catastrophic natural disasters have shaped and modified the approach of successive administrations. 

The Conference is supported by a FREE to attend exhibition that showcases the latest BCM products and services from leading suppliers around the globe and exposes you to the latest BCM tools that will make your job and your life a lot easier.  See, compare and experience first-hand the latest trends and developments in BCM products and services and be among some of the first to witness some exciting launches.   With around 50 exhibitors under one roof, the Exhibition provides the perfect platform for some targeted investigation and market research and ample opportunity to talk directly to the vendors and ask the questions that are really important to you and your business.

The Exhibition also plays host to a FREE Seminar Programme that runs throughout the two day exhibition.   Benefit from some insightful vendor showcasing seminars on BCM products and services as well as some thought-provoking BCM case studies delivered by an interesting line-up of international experts and established BCM practitioners.  So if you don’t have the budget to attend the Conference, at least make a point of attending the Exhibition!  

Is BCM World Conference and Exhibition just another event?  I will leave you to decide.  I don't think it is.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Business continuity – a culture, not a plan

Dr Cliff Ferguson Ph.D. AMBCI
Business continuity is not just about disaster recovery – it should be a corporate culture.

This is the view of Clifford Ferguson, chairperson of the South African BCI Forum and Government Pensions Administration Agency (GPAA) BC Committee, who says that when business continuity is top of mind, companies can deal with any eventuality.

“The problem – particularly in government departments and parastatals – is that business continuity is seen as disaster recovery. But disaster recovery is only a component of business continuity. So organisations may know how to evacuate a building or locate the disaster recovery site, but they don't necessarily know how to keep their business in full operation in the event of a problem,” he says.

Ferguson says most organisations tend to draft a business continuity plan and shelve it until they face a disaster. “Most companies don't implement their business continuity strategies properly,” he says.

“A comprehensive programme needs to be put into place and be made a business culture. You need a top-down, bottom-up approach, with awareness at lower level and implementation from the top.”

Ferguson highlights his agency's experience in changing its corporate culture to focus on business continuity.

“In line with the requirements of our two major customers – the National Treasury and the Government Pensions Fund (GEPF), we had to implement a comprehensive business continuity plan. We engaged an international consultant and began training and implementation around two years ago.” 

The strategy included training and BCI international certification for representative senior management, the appointment of a business continuity committee, including three Exco members, followed by the training of other practitioners. Some staff volunteers also trained as practitioners. The programme did not end with training, however. It is an ongoing project, which includes fortnightly review meetings, desktop exercises, training and awareness days, and live evacuation drills at least once every quarter.

Ferguson says, as a work in progress, the plan is constantly tweaked and revised on the feedback of emergency services and staff.
“For example, we physically move staff to our disaster recovery centre during a drill, and then ask them to report back on possible improvements after the exercise. During an evacuation drill, the emergency services will give us feedback on any problem areas.

“This is unusual – organisations or companies could have a disaster site, but not everyone moves people to test their plan on the site. We make the people own the business continuity plan. We are doing more now and cascading the plan down so every single business unit has its own plan and its own emergency box, too,” he says.

Even though the business continuity programme is relatively new, Ferguson feels the heightened awareness has already benefited the agency.

Unforeseen incidents, such as the mail server going down or the water supply being cut off for days, could previously have caused problems. However, with the new staff mindset, these problems arose recently but caused no disruptions in the agency's work, says Ferguson.

“For example, we had no water and the sanitation facilities became clogged. In a building with hundreds of staff, this was a problem. But we were well prepared, made alternative arrangements and business continued as normal – albeit with some complaints. On another occasion, we experienced power cuts, but it was business as usual. So the training paid off.”

Ferguson concludes: “Business continuity planning is critical – unexpected things can happen to anybody. All the incidents we had could have happened to anybody and we didn't know they were coming. However, just having a plan and heightened staff awareness allowed us to continue operations without a hitch when problems occurred. If something big should happen tomorrow, we would probably be prepared, and as business continuity culture improves, so will our preparedness.”

Ferguson will address the upcoming ITWeb Business Continuity 2012 Conference, at The Forum in Bryanston, on 13 November. For more information about this event, click here.