Paradigm shifts in business continuity

New thinking required?

By David Honour, editor, Continuity Central

Business continuity requirements are changing. Techniques that were adequate five years ago are starting to become out of date. The key elements of the discipline are well documented but the business world is moving on, driven by the demands of globalisation and the 24 hour, high-tech society. I believe that four areas of business continuity particularly need to be addressed; new thinking is required:

Prevention rather than cure
Business continuity grew out of disaster recovery so it is not surprising that the discipline still tends to focus on response and recovery. However, today’s business world demands much more. The need for zero downtime of mission critical processes is growing, meaning that prevention, not recovery, is now the order of the day. Business continuity managers need to recognise that they are in the business of disaster prevention, not disaster recovery. This requires a fundamental shift in the traditional approach to business continuity. Under this new paradigm business continuity truly becomes a management discipline – managing the mission critical business processes to ensure continuous availability. This is proactive, interventionist, hands-on involvement in day-to-day company operations.

Holistic continuity
In the 21st century organisation business continuity can no longer sit in its own silo, separated from IT disciplines; information security management; operational risk management; crisis communications; emergency planning etc (delete as appropriate for your organisation!) Business continuity must bring all business protection issues under its umbrella, ensuring effective oversight of all mission critical processes, giving transparent insight into all areas of the organisation and allowing effective continuity management.

In too many organisations vital mission critical risks go unmitigated because separate departments all think that the threat is being handled by someone else. This problem can only be truly resolved by taking a holistic approach to business continuity.

Flexible crisis plans
One of the biggest lessons from September 11th was that disasters are not predictable. Many business continuity plans failed because of inflexibility – recovery processes required rapid lateral thinking, not set procedures and flow charts.

Recovery plans need to be kept very simple, with much more emphasis being given to crisis team development. Teams should be trained to think outside the box and should conduct regular exercises, which must test their abilities to act quickly and calmly under extreme pressure.

If it comes to a choice, it is safer for a company to have a well trained crisis management team capable of quickly reacting to any disaster than to have a formal business continuity plan. The wise organisation will have both.

Using BIA in a different way
The business impact analysis is undoubtedly a crucial tool for the business continuity manager, however for the larger organisation it can no longer be relied upon to produce an overall picture of organisational risks. BIA tends to rely on information seeking via questionnaires and interviews and as such is time-consuming and cumbersome. When you add in the fact that business processes change and develop rapidly, the BIA often provides the BC manager with out of date and incomplete information.

To be truly effective organisations need to change their approach to the BIA from being an information seeking to an information gathering process. Business divisions need to be trained to assess their own risks and to make impact analyses. Ownership of this must be a key responsibility of a senior manager in each organisational division and a regular business impact report should be a mandatory requirement of his / her role.

In this way, the BIA is no longer an occasional ‘snapshot’ of business risks, it becomes and ongoing business continuity management tool.

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Date: 7th March 2003 •Region: Worldwide •Type: Article •Topic: BC general
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