By now, it should be no surprise to anyone that the UK is in the grip of some very bad weather that was largely unexpected. News reports today have talked about this being the “worst” March weather for over 30 years with many road and rail links closed due to snowfall. Additionally, large numbers of schools have closed, power has been out for several locations (as reported by the BBC News) and airports are struggling to keep runways open.
The weather today will have disrupted thousands, and it looks likely to continue into the weekend, making it hard for employees to get to work, for supplied and stock to move around and even where stock is available, it is hard for customers to get to shops to buy things.
This is where your business continuity (BC) plans need to start working.
Every organisation has unique circumstances, so this post isn’t about specifics, but instead it is a reminder that you not only need a BC plan, but you need to make sure it works and it covers the relevant, important, events you are likely to face.
One organisation we have been working with was fortunate enough to have very recently implemented a BC plan which provided flexibility for their office-staff to work remotely and a VoIP communications system to keep every one in touch.
This morning, it was implemented – not because of an incident at the main office site, but because most of the workforce were either stuck and unable to get in (or would face very long journey times) or had children in schools that had closed and now had to stay at home to supervise them.
While none of this was explicitly identified as a trigger item in the BC plans, the plans were flexible enough to allow key decision makers to realise that disruption was happening and take appropriate measures. Thanks to very good planning combined with sensible testing, the BC plan worked pretty much without a hitch and the organisation experienced no loss of productivity today – despite nearly 75% of the workforce being impacted by the weather.
If they had failed to implement the BC plan, it is estimated they would have suffered a loss of productivity which would have cost the organisation over £75,000 through direct and indirect costs. This alone makes the BC plan worth its weight in gold.
From this, there are some lessons that every organisation should take on board:
- First and foremost, have business continuity plans. Something is better than nothing and dont expect to plan every minute detail. If you do nothing else as a result of this weather, make sure you have a BC plan.
- Make your plans flexible enough that your key decision makers can identify a BC situation before it gets out of control and take appropriate measures.
- Your BC plans need to identify what is really important for your business and should enable you continue this.
- Dont just plan for a problem at your location. Look at where your employees travel from and think about what would happen if there is disruption there. Try to consider additional complications, such as what your remote workers should do if they lose power.
- Test, test and test again. BC plans are a great first step, but you never want the first time you test them to be when you are facing an emergency. Test your plans in small chunks, in table top scenarios or do full blown, full plan tests. Just make sure you test.
Business continuity plans are often an afterthought, even though they can be the difference between your livelihood continuing through unexpected situations and bankruptcy. This is a mistake and every organisation should dedicate time and effort to ensure they can cope with the unexpected.
Remember, if you want your business to continue, you need a business continuity plan.