Monday, 22 April 2013

Debate Unlimited – A glimpse into the Executive Forum

With this year’s Executive Forum running on 12th and 13th June in Brussels, it seems a good

Lee Glendon CBCI
Head of Research & Advocacy
time to look back at the two earlier Forums.  What does happen when 600+ years of BC experience converges on Brussels each year for two days?

As a recap, the purpose of the Forum is to generate informed debate among experienced BC professionals wrestling with ideas about the strategic direction of business continuity, while keeping a firm eye on what is achievable within a real organisation.
Perhaps, the two most memorable ideas that emerged from the 2011 Forum, was that ‘business continuity is not about compliance, it is about embedding resilience through silent running’ and secondly that a key benefit of BC was to identify and prevent ‘sideways bleeding’.   
The debate on compliance started with an academic view that BCM was about compliance:  BCM had become a discussion, which assumed that you can stop things happening if only people followed the rules; BCM lacked emotional intelligence and was seen as a tax on people’s jobs in some organisations; and standards weren’t helping either as they were based on bad organisations and stifled creativity.  With the gauntlet firmly thrown down, an electrifying discussion ensued which ultimately led to the conclusion that BC should actually free-up minds, as it actually assumes that things do go wrong!  While it was acknowledged that ‘tick-box’ might be the starting point for BC, it is not the final destination. There is a need to develop a roadmap and engage and sustain the interest of top management to realise the full potential that BC can bring.
As part of the debate on compliance, there had been extensive discussion around whether BC should look for value add, let alone articulate the next step of what the value would be.  Some asserted that BC was not about helping the financials and in the short term it was a cost, and others argued that adding value is not the same as stopping failures from bringing down the business.  Some questioned whether raising the ability of the organisation to respond to incidents before a major disruption occurred was adding value or capability.   In a sign of conversations to come, one delegate felt that the value add of BC was to be found in facilitating the mission of the organisation and its contribution to the sustainability of the organisation.
The ‘sideways bleeding’ idea came out of a workshop discussion where one participant articulated that external strategy consultants had been retained by their top management to bring about significant cost reductions.  The consultants advocated a vertical approach to securing the costs savings in IT.  The BC team could see the consequences of this initiative as the savings secured in one area of the organisation were effectively nullified by increasing costs and productivity losses in other areas.  This generated a healthy debate about the service that BC professionals should be offering their organisation – while the operational level BC service may be well established in many firms, what would a strategic level service look like?
The 2012 Forum picked up the challenge of defining the strategic level service and identified its key components from developing a centre of excellence in contingency and continuity to engaging top management through crisis response and focusing on the risks that concern them through exercising and scenario analysis.  Value measurement became a hot topic of debate with a very blunt statement from one delegate that reporting to executives that you were doing the job they pay you to do was not ‘adding value’ and BC professionals should take advantage of reporting structures to articulate the value that BC could bring beyond what was expected i.e. compliance to regulations.   Two areas dominated subsequent discussions:  supply chain resilience and horizon scanning.
The academic re-framing of supply chain complexity in terms of layers and networks rather than supply chains was brought to life over the two days with examples ranging from overlooking single points of failure beyond tier one suppliers to unforeseen cascading risks at the logistics level.   One organisation highlighted how its ability to maintain its supply chain during the Arab Spring - through preparedness and enhanced security - secured increased market share.    Supply chain risk was confirmed by all as one risk that can raise the profile and relevancy of BC.  But where should you start?   The advice was to use your analytical skills and look for single points of failure and examine outsource deals; from here you can offer to run an exercise and see what you learn – you may well highlight unknown vulnerabilities and win the mandate to bring in BC.
Horizon Scanning was seen as both a technique to change the conversation with executives from general loss scenarios to a more engaging discussion of specific threats and their strategic consequences.  It was seen as an essential source of developing a situational picture to improve not just the response to events but anticipation of events as well.  The ‘BC radar’ was introduced as an accessible model to set requirements for capability development and ensure readiness in the right areas.
Finally, in 2012 the Open Forum sessions were brought into the programme.  Here delegates proposed and prioritised seven topics of their own choosing to take advantage of the collective experience and expertise of fellow delegates.  Topics included the establishment and composition of ‘resilience councils’, the synergies between BCM and Security disciplines, and Eurozone contingency planning.  For those who take a look at the 2013 programme they will see that some of these topics are going to be developed further this year.
The Executive Forum is a rather unique event:  it seeks to bring together best practice from within the profession while drawing on inspiration from outside.  Participants leave refreshed and invigorated, ready to march towards the sound of gunfire!
The Reports from the 2011 and 2012 Forums will be available to purchase from the BCI Shop in May 2013.
To find out more about this year’s Forum please visit the BCI website:

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