Time for Business Continuity Management

Recently there have been many inquiries about Business Continuity Plans (BCP). My guidance to clients, co-workers and the wider community is that now is the time for Business Continuity Management; execution of the plan and instituting the needed management for the duration. Several consulting firms and pundits have recently cited that most BCP are focused on 72 hours or less of interruption. I am not sure from where they are deriving their data, but in my experience with financial institutions, technology service providers and several other industries, 72 hours emergency response window tends to be just one small part of a well thought out BCP.

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In my career, I have often been responsible for significant portions of business continuity planning, but more importantly, I managed when plans were activated, and then worked through the decisions and actions as the scenarios depart from the reality. I managed organizations, operations or programs when: a hurricane tore the wall off of a critical facility, a multi-day, multi-state blackout threatened three of our major data centers and thousands of office locations, we had to figure out how to recover a season from the loss of container loads of a "hot product" due to a typhoon and, the reduction of access to credit for months due to a banking crisis threatened our mission and the livelihood of our associates. Now we are once again moving from plan to action. Over the last several weeks, our company has now shifted to business continuity management. We benefit from being held to high standards of BCP by our clients, and already having the experience of having the majority of our work widely distributed, and often remote.

All organizations should look at the likely and worst-case scenarios for their business over the next year and decide on an operating base case. They should shift their management focus and, if needed, their organizational structure and authority to achieve the most important objectives under that base case, while significantly enhancing their sensing and analysis capability of both their operations and their economic environment (the daily, "do we believe our base case is right" determination). Key aspects to include within the scope of business continuity management are: Communication with all stakeholders and customers; addressing policy and regulatory restrictions that may impede needed changes to operating practices; new methods and measures to manage productivity under current circumstances; and the setting of clear priorities for the support needed from technology, HR, external partners and suppliers.

At UST, our objectives are the safety of our employees, assistance to our clients, and the support of our communities. Balancing these objectives means that we are working with clients to classify work, develop a joint understanding of how we can help in their communities and quickly modify policies or agreements to allow our employees to continue their work for clients from home, where possible.

As a result of these efforts, we have increased help-desk support, implemented equipment and materials delivery to homes, and expanded the bandwidth and infrastructure management capacity so that both we, and our clients, can manage and monitor our work remotely. In some countries already under severe restrictions, and where sensitive work or data does not allow work from home, we have rented residences and relocated personnel near our secure delivery centers to ensure essential personnel can minimize their travel and exposure. We have instituted several collaborative work teams, each concentrating on key issues, from personnel safety, evolving client needs, cash management, etc, and are sharing knowledge, analysis and decisions through virtual workspaces constantly and video conferences daily. And as we are a technology company whose value is often determined by the skill and expertise of our associates, we have expanded access to, and ensured time for, all associates to use our online learning tools and course content, so that we can continue to achieve our mission in the future.

We are now helping some of our clients shift to work-from-home for their own employees. The issues each are confronting have similarities, and some significant differences. However the need to transition to work-from-home securely, rapidly, and ensure productivity is common for all clients. We are helping our Retail clients, especially grocers and e-commerce firms with rapid on-boarding to meet staffing needs, and to provide off-hours or expanded infrastructure support to meet the round-the-clock operations that the current crisis demands. We are sharing our own experience with workplace monitoring for safety, and adapting practices and technology to allow in-person work to be conducted as safely as possible. For health industry and telecommunications clients, we have expanded capacity and available work hours to execute the increased number of urgent projects, and provide support for additional shifts being implemented to meet demand. For clients across many industries we are showing how quickly they can implement a finer and faster view of their operations and supply chains as well as to provide analytics and projections on numerous aspects of their markets and operations as fast as new information is available.

The current crisis is global, but has varied impact by country, state and city. Every organization will have its unique challenges. I hope that sharing some of the ways we, and our clients are addressing the management of daily changing circumstances is of some value to others.

 

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