Friday, 25 April 2014

Does business continuity in the public sector work, and does it get the buy in it deserves?

Many larger companies which have Business Continuity Management systems produce or deliver products. Failure to deliver as a result of any interruption will very likely impact upon the business financially and could ultimately put companies out of business. Is there any wonder therefore that the management of such businesses are often quite willing to spend money on protecting their interests.

Public Sector organisations tend to be on the larger size, often having a few hundred employees at the very least and in some cases going into the several thousands of staff. So why is it that the willingness of managers in the public sector to deliver BCMs is not always on the top of the priority list? I should say at this point that I am fortunate to work for a large public service organisation that is wholly behind BC and which has continued to invest in BC despite the financial restrictions which are currently impacting upon us.

In relation to public services there is often little chance of losing business as a result of an interruption and even less chance of being put out of business as a result of financial implications. There is often a cushion of ‘the public purse’ and an assumption that we can manage without BC. However there is every chance of reputational damage being done to the organisation or even to a whole group of organisations. Damage to our reputations is probably under greater scrutiny than at any time in our history.

BC is implemented in the private sector as a matter of necessity or indeed because it is seen by the companies as beneficial. It provides protection against unintended events and may even be a requirement of insurance companies to mitigate any foreseeable risks.

In the public sector BC is often implemented because it is a statutory requirement for plans to be in place. In particular the Civil Contingencies Act 1994 imposes a duty for many public sector organisations to have BC plans in place. The feeling of having something imposed upon you without having the buy in from senior management can only be detrimental to the introduction of BC planning within an organisation.

Many Public Sector organisations utilise ISO22301 to align their BC planning to, or certify their planning against. Is this standard really suitable for the Public Sector? I have heard comments from various sources that the standard doesn’t work for certain organisations.

Many public sector organisations rely upon specialist equipment, very often things which can only be supplied by one manufacturer and sometimes with extremely long lead times. For instance if an individual piece of medical equipment, or a specialised vehicle, is rendered unavailable, no business continuity plan would provide resilience, or would it?

I firmly believe that ISO22301 provides all organisations with the opportunity to create BCMs which are appropriate to their individual requirements. Alignment to most parts of the standard can be achieved and for those organisations wishing to certify against the standard then there are ample opportunities to achieve this.

Due to the very nature of public services, usually a ‘can do’ attitude and the ability to obtain mutual aid from each other, perhaps the very existence of Business Continuity Plans provides the opportunity for us to document this reliable form of restoring services. Borrowing both staff and equipment is not unusual throughout much of the public sector. There will always be occasions when a single point of failure cannot be wholly mitigated against, but this is a rarity and should not be used as an excuse not to establish a course of action, as a minimum, should a failure occur.

In the current climate, where most public sector organisations are trying to deliver services with less financial backing there seems to be an increase in appetite for BC plans to identify resilience, especially in relation to reputational issues. It is clear to the majority that massive reductions in staff numbers across the sector lead to a reduction of services and certainly do not allow for any depth of resilience should the worst occur.

It is imperative that public services spend their available finances wisely. A small amount of expenditure spent now to provide suitable resilience could save large chunks of their budget in the future.

The smallest of changes can make a difference. BC managers should grasp every opportunity to join groups of BC professionals, enabling them to share experiences and collaborate with each other. They should take advantage of training opportunities, which don’t always have to be expensive, participation in webinars and locally arranged events are a great source of information. They should also take advantage of organised promotions to put plans in place and embed them throughout their organisations.

Russ Parramore
Business Continuity Manager
South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

Friday, 11 April 2014

Business Continuity Flash Blog

On Tuesday 18th March 2014, as part of the Business Continuity Awareness Week activities, we witnessed the first ever BC Flash Blog. This is probably a new term to most readers, it is a virtual Flash Mob – but instead of a dance routine the participants wrote and published their own blog post or article.

The event featured 22 writers, from all sectors of the BC industry – and from various corners of the globe. All the articles were on the same subject, and published at the same time. In keeping with the BCAW theme, the subject was “Counting the costs, and benefits, for business continuity”, with each writer taking their own, unique, perspective on this issue.

If you haven’t already done so, you can find links to all 22 of these blogs here. If we do nothing else, we can at least pay these writers the respect of reading their work.

For those who are interested in statistics, the page with the list of articles has had over 600 views (as of the 7th April). The list is hosted on a service called List.ly that facilitates social media style interactions with the community. Readers are able to flag like/dislike; indicate which articles they have read and, perhaps just as importantly, which subjects they would like to learn more about.

To date there have been 123 of these interactions recorded – but sadly these have come from only 11 people. You do have to register with the service to interact, which may have stopped many from casting a vote. These interactions are still open, and it would provide useful feedback to guide future articles if you could visit the site and record your thoughts.

Despite the relatively low number of interactions recorded, the feedback from a number of the writers indicates a good level of hits on these articles. While not everybody had full scale analytics, reported around 100 hits on their article and another over 180 hits. This may, in part, represent the existing audience of some of these writers as much as the BCAW promotion - but that is part of the educational value to be derived from the exercise.

BC folk need to learn about tapping into, and leveraging, existing networks and communities if we want to promote our cause and our message. The extra reader base accessed by distributed, rather than centralised, blog hosting. Just as importantly, the extended reach of the Social Media networks of the various writers and the 'priceless' publicity that was generated by the Tweets and Retweets. These are lessons we can look at applying to our own BC programmes. How we can use tools like blogs and wikis in our organizations; improving our understanding (and adoption) of the various social media tools (like List.ly) and the value of debate and interaction, rather than passive consumption, in promoting a vibrant discipline.

One message that comes through very clearly in several of these articles is the passion that BC people have for the work we do. It was a joy to see that passion from old practitioners as well as from newer ones. The passion for the work and promoting the cause also spanned geography and language.

That passion means we can at times be forceful when we debate our different views and perspectives on how to count the costs – and even what constitutes benefits and value from BC. But it also drives a genuine desire to promote improvement and learning across our practices. Without debate, and passion, no field of knowledge will develop. But debate requires engagement.

I spoke about this passion, and used three of the articles as examples, in my BCAW webinar. It is recorded and can be accessed here, it also contains some instruction on how to access and engage with the List of articles.

It would be great to hear some feedback about the concept of a Flash Blog, about the articles, or even what topic you would like to see for a future Flash Blog event. You can comment here on The BC Eye, or start a discussion in one of the many Linked In groups where this post will be promoted.

My thanks to all those who contributed articles, I hope you all keep writing! Thank you also to those who take the time to read – and extra special thanks to those who make it all worthwhile by engaging and debating these ideas.

Finally, if you are wondering why we chose to have our Flash Mob write a blog post rather than demonstrate a dance routine – then this YouTube clip (featuring one of our contributors) should provide an adequate explanation.

Ken Simpson
Director of The VR Group
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