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Averting catastrophe: The importance of business continuity management

31 July 2012

Following the impact of the Olympics, discussions about business continuity management (BCM) have never been more relevant and widespread.

The purpose of business continuity (BC) is to ensure organisations can continue to operate on reduced resources long enough to give themselves time to return to full operational activity. Anthony Taylor argues that Business Continuity should be considered at every point in the lifecycle of a building’s existence, and it should impact on the role of many property professionals.

A robust BC plan should concentrate on identifying and protecting the critical elements of a business, rather than the event itself. These plans should not just focus on catastrophic events, it is in fact far more common place to have interruptions to business due to relatively ‘minor’ systems or process failures as opposed to a major event. Indeed, often seemingly small matters can rapidly build and have profound effects on the capability of businesses to function, ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’. Indeed, all property related businesses should therefore consider the potential implications to their own organisation in the event of a crisis.

The RICS paper: ‘Business continuity management: Planning for business continuity’ provides an overview and guide to effective BCM specifically for the property industry, including facilities managers.

By way of example occupiers will assume their facilities manager will ensure that the building is able to survive most foreseeable threats to its successful operation. This could include everything from coordinating occupiers’ emergency response planning, with, potentially local or regional plans, to assisting to ensure deliveries of occupiers’ supply chains are not impeded.

In practical terms for facilities managers, they will need to agree with the client and occupiers where the responsibility for business continuity starts and stops. This should be at the point of initial occupation and not post-event when lengthy arguments over responsibility could arise. For example, it will be the facilities manager’s role to ensure uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) and emergency generators are working by full testing of both at regular intervals where these are installed. If they are not, occupiers and facility managers should investigate alternative and appropriate utility provision to protect their operations in the event of power (or any other utility) being disrupted.

Planning for disaster
BC seeks to deal with the two elements involved in managing the consequences of an evolving and dynamic interruption to ‘business as usual’: the immediate and short term aftermath (incident and emergency management); and the longer-term necessity to ensure the survival of business operations and quick recovery to full operational capacity.
While both should be considered and planned in tandem and must be complementary to each other, they are seeking to execute separate goals.

? Incident/emergency planning and execution deals with the immediate event and will be in operation for hours or even days. Those dealing with incidents must have strong leadership and control skills and be able to make good decisions rapidly under stressful conditions.

? Continuity/recovery planning and execution is about maintaining the organisation’s ability to function and recover despite a catastrophic event. It may include months of slow but steady progress back to full operations. Those working to achieve this will require clear understanding of the operational procedures and the priority in which these need to be brought back into operation.

Strategic planning will need to cover the development of the BC structure from board level buy-in through to deciding in advance which individuals are to be given authority to manage the response. In addition, it will be necessary to identify which products, services or clients are to be given priority if the organisation cannot meet all of its commitments.

Tactical planning, for the immediate emergency response, will need to identify which individuals are responsible for managing different aspects of the plan, including evacuation, media interest, sourcing replacement equipment, identifying new premises and keeping staff informed. In the longer term, those responsible for returning the organisation to ‘business-as-usual’ need to be identified along with a location for them to be based.

This planning process begins with what is often termed a Business Impact Assessment (BIA), an exercise to identify business functions, processes, and people that enable the organisation to deliver its ‘product(s)’, and to whom. It will include evaluation of the importance of what is brought into the organisation by its supply chain, and any critical dependencies the organisations’ suppliers may have that could be impacted by a crisis.

Having identified the critical issues, the plan should be developed to ensure preparations are in place to protect the critical points, people and processes to enable the organisation to continue to deliver its services or products. This must be at an adequate, pre-defined, level to stay in business long enough to maintain its customer base while the company rebuilds to full operational capacity.

Communicating throughout a disaster
It is vital to be able to maintain an appropriate level of communication during times of crisis, and continue doing so until the business is on the road to recovery. There are many examples of organisations that have suffered irreparable reputation damage (including collapse in share prices) due to lack of, or inappropriate, communication. The advent of social media and instant messaging, telephone video/photography and 24-hour news has made this matter even more critical.

There are three necessities to consider in relation to communications:

? Ensuring communications for and, critically, between those managing the immediate incident/emergency, and those concentrating on activating the business continuity plans to maintain the pre-determined operational functions;
? Ensuring customers, clients (perhaps also suppliers and other stakeholders such as tenants), and the media get appropriate and consistent information;

? Ensuring that employees understand what is happening, and indeed what is required of each of them on an individual basis as the incident and subsequent recovery period evolves.

Without business continuity management organisations potentially leave themselves vulnerable to collapse when critical events arise. Crises can, however, offer businesses an opportunity to reflect on previous operating methods and develop into stronger businesses in the long-term. Through effective planning (including BIA and communications) businesses can be well positioned to handle any crisis - large or small - and fully recover; without planning they will be prone to failure and collapse.

To download the RICS business continuity paper visit rics.org/propertyintheeconomy.

For those looking for further information, there is a host of other official frameworks and standards that have been developed, a guide to which can be found on the Business Continuity Institute’s website (www.thebci.org). The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has brought much of the best practice together and recently published ISO 22399, ‘Societal Security – Guidelines for Incident Management and Operational Community Management’.

Anthony Taylor, of GVA Facilities Management, member of the BCI and RICS H&S Advisory Groups, and author of ‘RICS Business continuity management: Planning for business resilience’ paper


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