For the first time since I moved here in 2003, I’ve seen snowfall in the Kansas City area that rivals that of my hometown in Minnesota. February 2013’s 20.5 inches of snow ranks as the 7th snowiest month over the past 125 years across the KC metro area. While my friends back home may roll their eyes at this total, 20 inches of snow over two weeks was more than enough to impact a variety of activities across this region. However, throughout this weather, I’ve been intrigued at how our overall productivity has remained constant during the snowy conditions. Through planning for these types of scenarios and having the right technology in place, our jobs – and our business – did not come to a screeching halt. Luckily, we had planned in advance on how to handle the weather and ensure everyone was safe.
Don’t Let Your Hard Work Melt Away
Business continuity management (BCM) is, of course, more than just preparing for natural disasters. However, it often takes a disaster or a newspaper headline to get our full attention. Although I would never wish for this to happen, take a moment and imagine what it would be like if a natural disaster (like an earthquake or hurricane) struck your workplace. It doesn’t take too much creativity to envision a variety of issues and challenges that would arise. Have you finished running the simulations in your head? Good, now try to imagine what you would do the next day? The following week? The remainder of the month? While technology can certainly alleviate the work outages that follow a natural disaster, it won’t make any difference if the organization doesn’t have informative and complete business processes in place to deal with the fallout and ensure the safety of the team.
There are a variety of situations that can interrupt your business beyond natural disasters. Computer outages, employee sickness and accidents can all get in the way of your daily operations. Anticipating every possibility can be overwhelming, especially in mid-size and small organizations. Yet, without quality processes and procedures in place to mitigate an incident, the very existence of your business may be at risk. If you’re new to BCM or part of an organization that has yet to clearly define their strategy, there’s no time like the present to start moving forward and planning ahead. It’s not reasonable to start out by planning for every contingency, but it is reasonable to put four key pieces of a BCM program in place:
- Prepare: Know what your business is made of: the processes (think placing orders, responding to customer requests, etc.) the technologies and the key personnel needed for managing them.
- Prioritize: Once you have a list, determine which items are critical and rank them. In a business interruption, you won’t have the resources to recover everything immediately. Understanding in advance what matters helps you make informed decisions in the middle of a crisis.
- Plan: Put down, in writing, a series of steps for recovering your key assets and processes. Set goals for how quickly these items should be back up and ready for business. The industry term for this is “Recovery Time Objective” (RTO).
- Practice: Set a schedule for testing your plans. Steps and procedures may look great on paper, but when acted out, surprises can occur. Ensure your RTOs are reasonable and achievable based on a practice walkthrough of your plans.
Put Your Fears on Ice
Good BCM planning enables you act with more confidence in the face of uncertainty. However, never rest on your laurels. Periodically review your assets and ensure you have them prioritized properly. Keep your plans current and up to date. Things change and your BCM program needs to change as your business does. Here are a few more tips that will help you make the most of your business continuity planning:
- Account for a damaged/unavailable workplace. Do you need a physical meeting place to carry on your operations? If so, what are your potential relocation options?
- Plan for unavailable staff. What if more than 50% of your staff can’t work? Is it possible to transfer essential job functions to the available team members?
- Regularly educate your employees on business continuity policies and procedures. The best plans are worthless if no one is aware of them.
Capping It Off
If you’re a seasoned BCM professional you’re likely familiar with much of the content discussed in this post. If today is the first time you’ve been exposed to this information, though, it’s time to get to work. While the KC area is likely (hopefully) done with winter, spring is just around the corner, which means a new series of surprises to prepare for. (If you’re unfamiliar with what springtime means for professionals in Kansas, ask Dorothy and her little dog Toto for a clue.) What challenges will your business be facing in this upcoming season? What challenges do you face – regardless of season – on a daily basis? Don’t discount the need for up-to-date plans for your business and don’t wait until it’s too late. There’s no time like today, to prepare for tomorrow.
–Nick Butcher, OrangePoint