The effects of Covid-19 have significantly raised awareness of Business Continuity Planning, not least because many office-based firms have adapted and applied their plans and worked from home. However, the operational impacts could not have been foreseen by many others, including manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and events companies. Why? Because virtually all their pre-planned fallback positions faced the same extraordinary challenge - lockdown with frozen budgets, stalled production and a broken supply chain.
Covid-19 has affected organisations in ways we cannot influence, and with outcomes we could not have anticipated. Even now, its unpredictable path and universal effect mean we are unable to plan or invest with anything approaching certainty. It means we have by necessity become highly adaptive, reacting and responding on a continual, sometimes daily basis.
Our previous blog suggested how we might do this. We now pose two further important questions: what can we learn, and how can we improve business continuity planning to better deal with systemic risks like Covid-19?
Looking back: Could you have planned for Covid?
Yes and No.
Most conventional business continuity plans focus on scenarios that directly affect the organisation. In those plans, we tend to assume that most of the environment, market and supplier population is unaffected, providing multiple points of stability we can lean on to leverage recovery. But remove people from this global equation and all bets are off.
Some plans do include pandemic, containing strategies and tactics to deliver an assumed acceptable response. But few if any, could have anticipated the timing or outcomes of government decisions, the unknown and still-changing behaviour and effects of the virus, an absentee workforce, loss of supply chain integrity, and economic uncertainty affecting whole-market behaviour. On a global scale we have a chaotic, uncertain and changing situation that a fixed-shape plan will struggle to accommodate.
However, business continuity has helped many through the pandemic and will continue to do so, creating an organisational platform for anticipating and tackling changes, restrictions and risks as they arise. It means plans can be taught, tested and practised in peacetime, creating the structures, discipline, culture and the support we all now need. They provide crisis management and communications to help navigate the developing situation, and tactics that can be selected, combined and fine-tuned to reduce business impact. They offer a flexible and adaptive capability that has helped many weather this particular storm.
Looking Ahead: What should you do now?
If you don’t have a well-formed plan
Business continuity is probably more relevant now than ever, as we face a drawn-out relaxation of the lockdown with disruption and instability potentially lasting years for some organisations. During this time, conventional high impact risks will remain, their effects amplified, leaving us less time to recover and no room for error. Because of this, we can expect stakeholders, including regulators and customers who have experienced the disruption to be more risk-aware and more risk-averse, so expect more stringent due diligence checks, including BCP.
Our website provides valuable free resources to help you write a basic BCP, with some listed below.
For more complex requirements such as manufacturing, regulated, multi-site and international organisations, we offer practical consulting solutions which we are happy to discuss without obligation, via the contact details in the footer of this page.
If you already have a strong BCP
We are already be experiencing the after-effects of Covid-19 on business and society, and this will in turn re-shape many business continuity plans. You may like to consider the following five points to improve your capability.
- Consolidate what you learned
Look back at how your organisation dealt with the onset and development of Covid-19. Critically review decisions and changes at all levels, and explore how they might be improved with benefit of hindsight. Decide if they can be usefully adopted as tactics in your BCP. Inoni created a web-based risk management system for clients that does this, adding risks as they emerge and managing risk treatments via focus cards and dashboards.
- Embrace the discipline
Many view business continuity planning as the production of documents, generally intended to satisfy auditors, customers and regulators. They are produced and remain static for two, maybe three years, becoming progressively less relevant as organisational change takes place. This misleads stakeholders who reasonably believe the plan will work. Embracing business continuity as a discipline means developing capability in people , supported by practical content and control mechanisms that keep the system current and working.
- Update your response
It’s easy to imagine that BC response strategies conceived before lockdown will hold good; however, for any conventional disruption, such as systems failure or loss of a warehouse, we are now compounding this with a pandemic-weakened and unfamiliar state, attempting to co-ordinate a potentially complex response from home. It needs adaptation. Planning assumptions may no longer be valid and acceptable downtimes reduced as liquidity and insurance pay-outs become less certain. You can refer to our earlier blogs to see how to continually reassess and update your response.
- Review the risks you face
Every organisation's risk circumstances have changed to some extent, and you may need to adjust your defences to take account of this. Buildings are empty, employees are individually at risk from Covid, and reliance has shifted from purpose-built offices and networks to the Internet and home technology. Because of this, we suggest you review your organisation’s risk profile, its risk appetite and its ability to tolerate disruption. You may find all have changed due to the pandemic and you may need to modify many areas to maintain acceptable governance.
- Manage your supply chain
Every organisation feels Covid’s effects slightly differently, through its relationships with customers, operations and suppliers. Each point raised in this article potentially applies to each of these parties, thereby exposing you to some or all of the risks they face. It makes good sense to understand their position and the effects an incident affecting them may have on you. You might consider requesting additional transparency or imposing new due diligence checks to ensure none pose an unacceptable risk.
Conclusion: Take this opportunity to design or redefine your BCP
Business continuity planning helped many organisations who had implemented it fully at the point when Covid-19 struck, and also during its prolonged aftermath. And for those who could not benefit directly for whatever reason, their continuity insights and preparations are there to be applied as soon as circumstances permit.
Looking ahead, embracing business continuity as a management discipline as opposed to a document will become more important than ever, helping us prepare and respond to potentially a new wave of systemic and existential risks.
So, if you don’t have a BCP or if it didn't help you, now is the perfect time to embrace it. The world is changing and you need to be ready.
Inoni provides organisations of all sizes with BCP and resilience solutions. If you need an effective, best-practice BCP designed please see our Essentials page or use the contact form in the page footer below.