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Why business continuity software sceptics are right. And why they are wrong...

By Ian Crabb, business continuity specialist, Clearview Continuity.

There are probably as many sceptics as there are proponents of business continuity software, partly because the business continuity software that they have encountered has suffered from two opposing fallibilities: being so simplistic that it is has not really been fit for purpose; or being too complex, too opaque and required expert help to use.

In this article I would like to address the business continuity sceptics and attempt to convince them to take a second look at the new generation of business continuity software which is arriving on the market and which is epitomised by Clearview’s own software offering.

BCM lifecycle

I would like to start off by looking at the business continuity lifecycle, in particular the first two phases of understanding the organization and determining business continuity strategy:

The business continuity lifecycle

When we think of these phases, what words do we use in connection with the activity we undertake?

We talk about understanding – establishing our priorities in terms of what we do and what is essential to enable us to carry out these processes. Understanding, though, is two-way. The activities we complete not only enable us to form a picture that drives our continuity activity moving forward, but this is also a key area to promote engagement with the business, specifically promoting understanding of what continuity is all about to business managers within the organization.

Through establishing priorities and developing strategies we also seek to gain executive commitment. Whilst we will have this already in order to start our work, it is through these phases that we start to put a cost to our continuity management work and the role of the executive in supporting us becomes ever more important.

With business impact analysis, particularly, we sometimes ask whether this is science or art? Our findings need to be interpreted to match organizational objectives and management requirements put into context with that of the whole business.

All our work in these phases delivers our business continuity strategy options that form the building blocks upon which everything else is based.

In looking at these words, does software have a place in driving this activity? Clearly we use tools to help us collect and present information, but hopefully most readers will agree that these lifecycle phases are the ones where expertise, knowledge and experience really matter the most.
This is the domain of the business continuity practitioner. In this respect the software sceptics are correct: business continuity software cannot, and should not, replace human experience and intuition.

Next, let’s take a look at the other lifecycle phases, those of developing and implementing a response and testing, maintaining and review:

The business continuity lifecycle

What words do we use in connection with the activity we undertake here?

We talk about framework, structure, templates. We start to develop many of the documents that will become the main points where the business as a whole will start to be touched by continuity. Documents that describe the way in which we will manage and respond to actual events that threaten our business, widening the participation to all senior managers and around which our general awareness raising work with staff will commence. Here we start setting expectations with a wider employee audience about who takes control during incidents, how decisions will be made and, importantly, what will be expected of those individuals.

Through testing we will bring the subject to life and, for many, this will be the time where their understanding of what continuity really means to the business will develop.

A driver through all of this is consistency. Consistency of approach; consistency of information and structure; and also consistency of process. It is in these stages that we start to look at the regular processes that keep our business continuity capability up to date and ensure that our plans are current through regular maintenance.

Of course, we re-visit our business impact analysis and strategies, but how much of this is picked up through planning or through strategic decisions by the business?

It is in these phases that I believe that business continuity software has real value. Not only because of being well placed to support the establishment of regularly occurring processes that take place associated with review and maintenance, but for other reasons as well.

Staying with implementing a response and testing, maintaining and review, these phases of the lifecycle look to broaden the engagement and participation of the business in continuity, often leading to a transfer of responsibilities in these phases from the practitioner to business managers.

We talk about the plans developed as being ‘your plans’ and being owned by the business itself. It is often here that we talk about building objectives around continuity into managers’ job roles.

But a key aspect here is the balance of effort. I have spoken to many business continuity managers and the general feeling is that for many, between 25 percent and 40 percent of their time is taken up chasing plan activity.

Not the best use of an expert’s resource.

However, the use of the practitioner’s resource is not the only relevant factor. If we start to look at the number of staff that are involved in these phases, whilst they may not spend a large part of their time on continuity, when we have 20 or 50 plan owners and plan maintainers the total effort will dwarf that of the practitioner.

In large businesses this will be even more significant.

Business continuity software can have a key role to play in supporting this transfer of ownership and balance of effort.

By making software available to the business, we provide managers and business continuity plan stakeholders with the tools to do their job, not do it for them. Software can be a useful focal point around which ownership is transferred.

Software challenges

When we look at software in the business continuity environment, we also need to recognize challenges that need to be overcome and that should be important considerations in our software selection.

When I looked at business impact analysis and strategy, I talked about interpretation and putting results in context. Not words that I associate with software solutions, but with expertise.

Continuity software is one of few enterprise solutions that are not used everyday. When we compare usage to core business systems, like financial systems, enterprise resource management solutions; we see that continuity software use is sporadic. If users log in to continuity software on a monthly basis we are doing well. It is not uncommon for users to have many months between access.

This can cause problems with familiarity.

We have a broad range of software competencies in our staff base, but even the most technically un-gifted user will be able to overcome this if they use a system day in, day out to process invoices.

We also have to recognize that regardless of the great job we have done to make staff aware of business continuity, they will never be experts in the field and familiarity may be lost with process as well as tools.

In reality, with the many different job roles our users may have, from finance to supply chain, legal, marketing and administration, we should really consider our user base as members of the public.

To find a solution to this challenge we should look at how we use software in our business elsewhere.

Do we use software to set our business strategy, to set our financial strategy, to lay out our procurement strategy, to consider the legal implications of our contracts, to engage management?

No.

Whilst we use tools to present results, we rely on expertise and knowledge to develop opinions, to judge, interpret and guide.

However, software plays a key role in the processes that we undertake in support of these strategies.

Software holds our information; it pays our bills, manages our accounts, manages our stock and sends out our purchase orders.

Software is vital in performing and managing the transactional aspects of our business and it delivers benefits in terms of minimizing the resource required to do this and in ensuring consistency and accuracy.

What should our focus be?

So, taking all the above into account, when we look at using business continuity software, where should our focus be?

We need to understand the software model, know where the balance of effort is and recognize that software should address the needs of the majority of users, not just the minority: the continuity practitioner at the centre.

In recognizing this, usability must be at the core of the chosen solution.

Also, software must support business processes; the way we want to work; not make us redefine them; unless of course these changes are an improvement.

This may challenge what we currently look for in business continuity software solutions, but we must grasp that software should do what we need, not what a software development company thinks we need.

Lastly, as with any other software solution, it must fit our culture; not make us fight against it with over rigorous structures, processes and overly complex interfaces.

About the author:

Ian Crabb is a business continuity specialist with Clearview Continuity, the provider of Clearview business continuity software.

Clearview is a family of web based technologies that help businesses manage their business continuity management activity and support the processes associated with plan management, maintenance, approval, publication and measurement of BCM policy compliance.

It has been developed around a set of key principles based on the practical experience of business continuity professionals. These are:
• Simplicity and usability
• Empowerment of stakeholders, managers and plan maintainers
• Minimal central administration resource
• Supporting good BCM process and practice

It is securely hosted outside your organizational infrastructure and available whenever you want, wherever you are.

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•Date: 14th Jan 2011 • Region: UK/World •Type: Article •Topic: BC software

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