Skip navigation

Tag Archives: BCM

A few days before the recent British Airways (BA) catastrophic IT failure I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, giving a talk at the second ASEAN Business Continuity Conference entitled “Building a Robust ITDR Plan”.

The main thrust of this talk was that as IT is at the heart of every organisation, ITDR is at the heart of Business Continuity, and that it is up to the organisation’s top management to ensure that its ITDR plans both meet the needs of the organisation and are known to work.

It appears that BA’s ITDR plans did not work, and although we don’t know whether the plans were appropriate for BA, the possibility is that they weren’t. In any event, the failure certainly came as a nasty surprise to BA’s top management.

I was asked to provide a closing thought to my talk on “Building a Robust ITDR Plan”, and I used a quote from Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France in the First World War, to sum up my ideas. For those of you who aren’t that aware of the catastrophe suffered by France in that war, it lost a generation of young men. Out of 8 million men conscripted, 4 million were wounded and 1 in 6 killed.

Georges Clemenceau said “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.”

I said “ITDR is too serious a matter to entrust to technologists.”

BA will have learnt that lesson, as France did, the hard way.

Cyber and terrorist attacks currently appear to dominate Business Continuity (BC) thinking, but over the weekend we had a classic example of a good old fashioned failure of a critical IT system causing major disruption and some resulting poor incident management that compounded the problem. The company involved was British Airways (BA), and I say poor incident management because this is what the public has perceived and what BA customers experienced. No doubt there will be an internal BA investigation into what went wrong, but as a BC professional I’d love to know about three aspects of the incident and BA’s response:

  1. How long did it take from the initial failure of the system for the IT support technicians to realise that they were dealing with a major incident, who did they escalate the incident to (if anyone), were the people designated to handle major incident contactable, and was the problem compounded by the fact that BA’s IT had been outsourced to India?
  2. The system that failed is so critical to BA’s operations that it must have had a Recovery Time Objective (RTO) of minutes, or at worst, a couple of hours. To achieve this, BA should have put in place a duplicate live version of the system (Active/Active). Either BA did not have such a recovery option in place (I’m guessing that they had a replica – Active/Passive), which implies that they failed to understand the need to have a very short downtime on the system, or it had not been properly tested and failed when required.
  3. Why were the communications with customers  (people who were booked on BA flights) handled so badly? BA must have a plan to communicate with passengers, but was this dependent on the very system that failed?

For me, even before the inquest takes place, the major lesson to be learned is that the effectiveness of an organisation’s BC and incident response plans can only be assured by actually using the plans and responding to incidents. If you don’t want to find this out in response to a real incident, then you need to run realistic and regular exercises so that every aspect of your response is tested and the people involved know what to do. It doesn’t matter how good your Business Continuity Management (BCM) process is, how closely aligned to ISO 22301 it is, how good the result of the latest BC audit, or how much documentation you have. It’s your ability to respond effectively and recover in time that matters.

BA have suffered damage to their reputation , how much is yet to be seen. They will have suffered financial damage, and when the London Stock Market opens for trading we’ll see how much it has affected their share price. Maybe BA do run realistic and regular exercises. If they do, they should have identified the issues with the systems and incident response that were encountered over the weekend and acted on the lessons learned.

 

 

Finally, at long last, there appears to be some real evidence that Business Continuity (BC) works. After years of effort trying to debunk the 80% myth (80% of organisations that don’t have a BC plan fail withing 18 months of suffering from a major incident – or something similar), I’ve now seen some real research that demonstrates that BC does, in fact, have a beneficial impact.

The research takes the form of a study from IBM Security (conducted by the Ponemon Institute), which analyses the financial impact of data breaches. According to the study, leveraging an incident response team was the single biggest factor associated with reducing the cost of a data breach: saving companies nearly $400,000 on average (or $16 per record).  The study also found that the longer it takes to detect and contain a data breach, the more costly it becomes to resolve.

Admittedly, the study covers only cyber security, but at least it’s a start. It confirms the long held assumption in BC circles that being able to quickly and effectively activate a response team to handle an incident is one of the most effective ways of reducing the impact of the incident on the organisation.

Now all we need is for someone to widen the research to cover all disruptive incidents. Anyone want to do a PhD is BC?

The report can be downloaded at http://www-03.ibm.com/security/data-breach/index.html.

I have just attended a very good Business Continuity (BC) conference held in Malaysia by GRC Consulting Services in conjunction with the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), but I couldn’t help being concerned about the fact that the standards industry is producing more and more management systems standards in and around the subject of BC.

Why is this happening? Well, to my mind, there seem to be two drivers behind this trend, neither of which are good for BC.

The first one, which an increasing number of people seem to be talking about, is that the main bodies behind the development of all these standards have discovered a rich source of revenue and are now exploiting this for all that it’s worth. These bodies claim to be “not for profit”, but like many such organisations there are large numbers of people engaged in standards activities that derive considerable profit from the work that they do. The more standards that they produce the more these people profit from the work that they do.

This driver is simply the age old story of people making a profit when they can, and is not too dangerous as it will eventually come to an end when the people buying and using the standards come to realise what’s going on. The second driver though, it much more dangerous, as it strikes at the heart of BC and has the capacity to cause enormous damage.

This second driver is the desire to make something that is difficult, complex, and demanding, and which requires considerable skill and experience, simple to implement through a process that can be implemented by a management system. To see what I mean, you need look no further than BS 65000, the recently published Guidance for Organizational Resilience, which, to quote the body that produced it – “This landmark standard provides an overview of resilience, describing the foundations required and explaining how to build resilience.”

Organizational Resilience is something that every company continuously tries to achieve. It is nothing new, and has been an essential goal ever since the first company was founded. Few manage it over the long term, and the life of most companies is very short as the products and services that they produce become outdated and overtaken by new trends, ideas, and inventions. If explaining how to build resilience can be described in a short pamphlet and implemented by anyone with the capability to read and follow a set of procedures, then how come it was missed by so many millions of people involved in the running of the hundreds of thousands of companies that have failed?

The international standard for Organizational Resilience (ISO 22316) is due to publish in 2016, which must be a great relief for all those organisations that are struggling to survive in the ever more competitive markets in which they operate. All they now have to do is implement the standard, be audited for compliance, and get the certificate. So much easier than researching and developing new products, finding new markets, producing the products and services at competitive cost, controlling cash flow, hiring and maintaining the right people with the right skills, complying with ever increasing legislation, developing and enhancing reputation, etc.

 

I have been further convinced of the need for the Business Continuity (BC) profession to get back to its fundamentals by the juxtaposition of the publication by the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) of a comprehensive list of legislation, regulations, standards and guidelines in the field of Business Continuity Management (BCM) and the experience of many business that were affected by the recent floods in the north-west of England.

Some small businesses, mainly those that operate and serve very local markets, have temporarily closed until their premises can be refurbished, but others are up and running and continuing to trade even though their premises were badly flooded. The businesses that are back up and running had implemented BC, but not in the way envisaged by the BC profession through its standards and guidelines.

These businesses had taken steps to ensure that they could recover from incidents like the recent flooding by doing such things as backing up their data, implementing cloud computing, knowing where they could obtain replacement premises and equipment, being able to redirect their telephones, and having adequate insurance cover. They are also managed by people who know how to respond to incidents, are committed to the continued success of their business, and know what needs to be recovered by when without having to read a plan.

None of these businesses had implemented a formal BCM programme, none of them had followed any guidelines, and none of them had implemented a Business Continuity Management System (BCMS) or been certified to a BCM standard.

The publication by the BCI of a comprehensive list of BCM legislation, regulations, standards and guidelines is very useful, and I’m not decrying it. But, and it is a very big but, the purpose of BC is to enable organisations to be resilient to incidents that affect their ability to operate. The people who own and run business in the north-west of England that had taken steps to ensure that they could recover from the recent flooding are practising the fundamentals of BC, and by and large have never even heard of BCM legislation, regulations, standards and guidelines.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with BCM legislation, regulations, standards and guidelines, but they are not the end in itself. I sometimes think that BC professionals lose sight of this.

As most people are only too well aware, the way that we find and use information is going through a radical and fundamental change, which is being driven by the Internet. What doesn’t seem to have permeated the world of Business Continuity though, is that this change is revolutionising the Business Continuity Plan.

Not too many years ago, in our house, we used to keep a telephone directory and combined bus and train timetable near our front door, close to where we had our telephone. Today, we have neither of those things, and if we want to find a telephone number or the time of a bus or train we’ll simply use the Internet, and rapidly find what we’re looking without wading through pages and pages of small print trying to decipher how the directory or timetable is organised before getting to the information that we want. We also had the depressing problem of finding out later on that we’d looked up the information in a document that was out of date, and that one of the family had inadvertently thrown away the new version and kept the old one.

Telephone directories and timetables are just two examples of documents that are being used by fewer and fewer people, and most of those are older people who find it hard to change a lifetime’s habits. Using printed documents to find information is becoming a thing of the past, as anyone who mixes with youngsters will confirm. Why then, do we persist with documents in the world of Business Continuity, what’s wrong with just finding the information that we need from the Internet?

The problems of document based Business Continuity Plans are only too well known. Unfortunately, more often than not, they are difficult to use in a crisis, contain unnecessary information, and are out of date. What we really need is something that is simple to use, delivers exactly what is required, and provides the latest information. That is an App.

An App is short for an Application, and is quite simply a piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose, and is downloaded by a user to a computing device from which it can be used. Apps can be used to obtain information, and when designed to provide the information required to respond to an incident, they are an ideal and powerful tool.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that holding a Business Continuity Plan as a PDF document and making it available on the Internet via an App is the same thing as an App designed to enable someone to respond to an incident, it’s not. You don’t look up the time of a train on the Internet by opening up a PDF document and searching through it, do you?
A Business Continuity App can provide responders with clear, action orientated, and time-based direction, while allowing quick access to relevant and up to date support information. Exactly what we want to achieve.

This revolution has profound consequences for world of Business Continuity, and if you’d to find out what these are, then come and listen to me present at the BCI World Conference and Exhibition in November. The Business Continuity Plan, as a document, is dead, long live the Business Continuity App.

There seems to be a growing under current of opinion that is seriously starting question the current direction of Business Continuity (BC). It is best summarised by three issues that have been identified by David Lindstedt: it isn’t evolving; executives aren’t engaged; and there aren’t any meaningful metrics. To these I would add a fourth issue, and this is that the profession seems to have backed itself into a standards corner.

By pure coincidence I’ve just come across a new way forward for BC whilst undertaking research for a paper that I’ll be presenting at this year’s BCI World Conference and Exhibition in London in November. The title of my paper is “The BC Plan is Dead!”, and whilst looking for a practical example of the ideas that I’ll be presenting, I came across a novel and exciting approach to BC that has been implemented by a major UK company. I don’t want to spoil the presentation, so I can’t reveal yet who it is and what I’ll be saying, but a representative from that company will, as part of my presentation, show a new approach that is measurable, adds value to the business, has the active support of the Top Executive, extends the traditional boundaries of BC to include all disruptive incidents, and puts BC in front of the Top Executive on a regular basis.

On the assumption that this new approach “holds water”  when publicly presented, I intend to explain and document it after the Conference. I have to admit that it’s not an approach that I’ve developed, I just stumbled across it. However, I’m so impressed by what I’ve seen that I believe that it needs to be properly put in front of Business Continuity professionals.

Despite my best efforts, I’m still unable to kill off the myth about “80% of companies without recovery plans failing within 18 months of having a disaster”. The myth comes in many statistical guises, and the latest example appears in a white paper from AVG, the online security company, which contains the quote from Touche Ross “The survival rate for companies without a disaster recovery plan is less than 10%”.

Depressingly, this quote is used by a large number of organisations that should know better, and is usually stated in the format “A Touche Ross study found that the survival rate for companies without a disaster recovery plan is less than 10%”. I have tried very hard to find this Touche Ross study, but to no avail. Touche Ross has not existed as a separate company since 1989 when it became Deloitte Touche , so this is hardly a recent study, even if it actually exists.

I have searched the Deloitte web site and cannot find any reference to the study in question, and have now made contact with Deloitte to ask if they can try and find the study, and whether or not they stand by the quote. Watch this space!

Finally, there is real concrete evidence that an organisation’s ability to recover is central to its immediate survival. Not its ability to recover after an incident, but its ability to demonstrate its recovery capability as perceived by others before any incident occurs. Business Continuity is now firmly center stage.

According to The Times, senior UK government officials “want the Co-operative Bank to be sold to a bigger player that could stabilise its IT system, which is feared to be so precarious that the bank could not cope with a serious problem.” For years I’ve been telling senior executives that not being able to demonstrate the existence of credible and tested Business Continuity arrangements could mean the difference between survival and failure, and now I can point to a real example. Business Continuity is not just for use in response to an incident – it must be demonstrable to interested parties well before any incident takes place.

Apparently, In the risk factors disclosed in its annual report, the Co-operative Bank has stated that “whilst a basic level of resilience to a significant data outage is in place, the bank does not currently have a proven end-to-end disaster recovery capability”. How many organisations can really hand on heart state that they have a proven end-to-end disaster recovery capability? Not that many.

Business Continuity has been practised in the banking industry for more than 25 years, and many of today’s accepted Business Continuity ideas and practices started in banking. Where banking leads in Business Continuity, other industries follow.

How long will it be before organisation’s in other industries are put at risk because they do not have a proven end-to-end disaster recovery capability?

Another day, another politician that thinks that contingency plans shouldn’t be developed. This time it’s the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who has told his officials not to work on contingency plans for Greece’s possible exit from the euro. Why? Apparently it’s because the plans could be leaked and cause turmoil in financial markets.

In other words, Europe’s top politician has effectively told everyone that he believes that Business Continuity planning is a dangerous discipline and that Business Continuity Plans should not be developed just in case they are leaked to the media.

Trying to sell the benefits of investing in Business Continuity is hard at the best of times, but now we have Jean-Claude Juncker and his helpful ideas. It’s not as bad as the person who once told me that he didn’t want to develop a Business Continuity Plan as it was tempting fate, but it’s getting close.