Thursday, 4 September 2014

The development of organisational resilience

With the search for the comprehension and understanding of the meaning of organisational resilience gathering pace with each passing month, the Business Continuity Institute is now well embedded, perhaps even pivotal, in this latest quest to push forward the boundaries of the thinking and theories that relate to protecting and maintaining the value of organisations. The debate about what organisational resilience means in practical terms to organisations and industry practitioners is ongoing, but the recent publication of the BS 65000 – Guidance on Organisational Resilience – as a draft standard for public comment by the British Standards Institute is clearly another step forward in this search for the 'Holy Grail' in enterprise risk management.

The debate about organisational resilience is fascinating because it has been led by a number of academics and academic institutions, which is slightly counterintuitive in the field of social science research and organisational management studies. The usual methodology in the field is for phenomena to occur, the academics then research the phenomena and attempt to understand the causation, context, applicability and the whole myriad of considerations that underpin a theory in the social sciences arena.

With organisational resilience however, this has not been the case. Academics have postulated on the theory of organisational resilience without having the case studies to investigate and sense check their theories against. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that organisational resilience can be a point in time phenomena, so no evidence of the measurement of an organisation’s resilience over a protracted period of time has been published to date. To the contrary, one recently published study stated that an organisation was resilient in its operations, despite the fact that the organisation under consideration no longer exists and its demise was well documented and planned in advance. This situation seems to be counterintuitive to the theory, especially when there is some measure of consensus amongst academics and practitioners that capacity to adapt to change and evolve and thrive in a structured and strategic manner is a key part of what may constitute the state of resilience for any particular organisation.

The BCI has worked to address the gap in the understanding and meaning of organisational resilience by leveraging the wealth of experience and expertise that can be found in the ranks of its members and actively worked to support the development of BS 65000. The BCI also actively participated in the development committee’s deliberations, inputting member’s views and thoughts throughout the development cycle, exactly as it did with BS 25999 Parts 1 and 2, BS PD25666 on Testing and Exercising, ISO 22301, ISO 22313, BS 11200 on Crisis Management and the many other relevant industry standards that have been published nationally and internationally over the past six years.

So back to BS 65000 on organisational resilience and what is happening now, the comments that were submitted from the public consultation phase have now all been collated and the standard’s development committee is now considering those comments and amending the text of the draft standard where that is necessary. After completing the development process and gaining all the necessary approvals required for its final publication, and then the real challenge will commence, as organisations will hopefully take the guidance in BS 65000 and use it to either enhance the resilience of their organisation or sense check or benchmark their current arrangements against the guidance in the standard and then feedback and share their experiences.

It is important to remember that standards and the thinking contained in standards evolves all the time to mirror advances in the relevant industry or activity sector. The new BS 65000 standard not only represents the next big step in our understanding of organisational resilience, but it is also the next phase in the quest for that understanding and the meaning of organisational resilience and it seems quite clear that the quest is still far from complete.

Kevin Brear is a ‘Strategy and Business Systems’ PhD Candidate at the University of Portsmouth and played an important role the development of BS 65000 through his position as a member of the BSI Standards Committee.

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