Business Contingency Planning

3 December 2016
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Category Business
3 December 2016, Comments 0

Business Contingency Planning can be described as a process whereby the business has an alternative way of continuing its operations if the primary operations are disrupted due to an unforeseen event.

What type of events are covered by a business contingency plan?

A business continuity plan can cover many scenarios whereby the normal activity has suffered some kind of setback. You cannot really predict what this disruption is caused by but a good plan will cover a wide range of scenarios. Some examples of scenarios that can affect business are as follows:

  1. Terrorism – Nobody knows when terrorism will strike but when it does, it can be widespread and affect all areas of the business. Simple logistical activities such as disruption of transport arrangements for goods or staff not being able to reach their normal place of work.
  2. Cyber Attack – Again this can be unpredictable but if a cyber attack were to introduce a virus that would render the company’s IT systems paralysed, how long would it take to get the systems back online and what would be the impact?
  3. Mass communicable disease – Just like terrorism and cyber attacks this is unpredictable. Nobody knows how or when a deadly outbreak can happen and how widespread the effects are. Good examples of this are SARS, MERS which we have seen in Asia and it led to the lockdown and quarantine of those affected. This could have a deadly effect on those suffering from the virus, but it will also have an impact on the businesses whose staff are prevented from going about their daily duties
  4. General failure in systems eg the building power supply is cut. How then do you ensure that the activities within that building can continue?

business-contingency-planning

The contingency plan

It is advisable for the business to appoint a key person to analyse the risks and develop the plan for continuity. This person would be responsible for ensuring all the key processes and procedures have been identified so that they may be replicated in another location.

The choice of alternative location also needs some serious consideration. With global business being commonplace, some companies may be able to invoke its contingency plan and continue from an existing overseas location. In these cases it may be necessary to identify key staff to fly to these locations and continue their activity from there. Even for such large global companies the business continuity plan can be a real challenge. The alternative location needs to be large enough to accommodate the additional staff that show up at very short notice. This means having spare desks, monitors, ensuring connectivity between the different locations are seamless etc.

For smaller companies the option to fly overseas may not be viable. Other things that can be considered are a second work area recovery site in a different location to the main location. Again this is a challenge for some companies as it comes with additional cost. Imagine the duplicated premises costs and extra IT equipment that needs to be set up and ready for action at a moments notice

Communication strategy

One important thing to consider is how the plan is communicated to staff. All staff that are identified as key persons in a contingency plan must be very clear about their roles and responsibilities when the plan is invoked.

Testing the plan

There must be adequate testing of the plan to ensure that it will work when the need arises. Sometime this involves personnel physically going to the alternative location to log on to their alternative workstations to ensure that they can connect to the work they need to access. All of this should be documented in the test results so that the business continuity manager has the evidence that the plan has been tested and can work.

Invoking the plan

The company must have certain criteria and protocol for triggering the plan. Once the plan has been invoked the success and ability for the business to continue depends on how well thought out it is and the training given to execute the plan properly. If in the unfortunate event the plan needs to be executed what happens if the key personnel are prevented from carrying out their responsibilities? These kind of scenarios need to be considered as it is very possible that the scenario that you plan for has a twist and it doesn’t actually pan out as expected.

The situation can really only be recovered if there is enough strong leadership on the ground and people know what they are supposed to do and you can maintain communications at all times.

Communication in this case can be in the form of hotlines, Whatsapp Groups, dedicated websites set up to deliver information to staff but is also reliant on connectivity with the telco.

It is impossible to cover every scenario but the ones you choose to cover really depend on the risk assessment done at the start.

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