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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 We also had the depressing problem of finding out later on that we’d looked up the information in a document that was out of date, and that one of the family had inadvertently thrown away the new version and kept the old one.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 Unfortunately, more often than not, they are difficult to use in a crisis, contain unnecessary information, and are out of date.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.

One of the questions that I ask delegates on the Business Continuity Management courses that I give is “What should the maximum size of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) be, in terms of the number of pages?” The whole point of asking the question is to get the delegates to discuss the issues of plans not being used or maintained because they are too large and contain too much information. At a course I gave in London recently, one of the delegates stated that each of her company’s plans were on a single sheet of paper (printed on both sides). In response to a general sense of disbelief, she opened up her handbag and drew out an example, which was neatly folded down to the size of a cigarette packet!

We had just been covering what should be in a BCP, so we went back to the checklist to see if her single sheet plan contained all the things on the list, and it did. Everyone was very impressed and asked for copies so that they could go back after the course and try to achieve the same feat with their own plans. I was no exception.

I can now report that I have managed to get Merrycon’s BCP down to a single sheet of paper, and what’s more, it’s on a single side. This BCP really does contain all the information that it required to respond to an incident that might cause disruption to Merrycon, and I was quite surprised at how easy it was to take the existing 27 pages and reduce them down to one.

There are two secrets about how to do this. The first is to make sure that the recovery team is well trained in how to use the plan, which means that all the explanatory text that is found in the plan can be removed. The second is to minimise the contact and reference information held in the plan to only that which is really required in the first day or so and might not be immediately available elsewhere (such as details of  how to get to a recovery site – all you really need is the address and telephone number). All the rest of the contact and reference information that might be needed until computer systems have been recovered can be held on a secure website, or downloaded as a PDF file on to devices that can store such documents (such as a Blackberry). Simple.