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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.

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 We also had the depressing problem of finding out later on that we’d looked up the information in a document that was out of date, and that one of the family had inadvertently thrown away the new version and kept the old one.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.

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!

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.

The Bank of England has just been heavily criticised in a report by Deloitte into the unprecedented day-long
collapse of its Real-Time Gross Settlements system last October. Deloitte that found that the Bank’s officials had never rehearsed what would happen in the event of the platform going down for any length of time, and to compound the problem, Deloitte also discovered that the three Bank of England executives with responsibility for the system were all out of the country on the day the outage happened. Not only did the system fail, but the Bank had virtually no crisis management plans in place to deal with the incident.

Unfortunately, in my experience of providing Business Continuity services to a wide variety of organisations over many years, one of the constant themes that I come across is  the failure to exercise recovery plans. It’s not a point blank refusal to run an exercise that’s the problem, instead it’s the constant postponement that eventually results in the failure to exercise a recovery plan.

All sorts of good reasons are given for postponing an exercise, from the understandable fact that everyone is just too busy at the present time to the ludicrous idea that the recovery shouldn’t be exercised until it is known to work (which came first, the chicken or the egg?) And so it goes on, month after month, year after year, with everyone saying that they intend to run an exercise, but with nobody committing to a date or time.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have clients that do exercise their recovery plans, but they are in a minority and they don’t exercise every plan as often as they should. I’ve tried all sorts of ideas to overcome this problem, but none of them seemed to have worked. Is this just a fact of life, or can something really be done to make sure that recovery plans are exercised on a regular basis?

The prevailing view of the Business Continuity (BC) community is that the only benefits of not having a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) are that you’ll be saving a small amount of time and money, but with huge downsides if you ever suffer from an incident that causes major disruption to your operations. But this may have to be revised as a result of fire at a Dogs’ Home in Manchester in the UK last Thursday evening.

The fire, which was tackled by more than 30 firefighters, was a tragic event that killed about 60 animals. Some 150 dogs were saved, and from all the reports it looks as if the staff did not have a pre-prepared BCP. However, the public rallied round after the Dogs’ Home asked for people to provide temporary foster care for the rescued dogs. Large numbers of people turned up to help, volunteers at the site began collecting dog food, bedding and other items donated by the public, and a JustGiving account set up by the Manchester Evening News raised more than £1.2m. In fact so many people tried to turn up to help that the Cheshire Police tweeted: “High Volume of Vehicles at Cheshire Dogs Home to adopt dogs following the recent tragic fire. Avoid area if travelling.”

Volunteers are saying they have been overwhelmed by the response and that they now have rooms full of dog food, blankets, crates and baskets, and although many members of staff say they’re devastated by the fire, there’s a sense of optimism and comradeship as as fosterers turn up to take dogs home.

The net result seems to be that the Dogs’ Home is far better off than if they had had a BCP that clicked seamlessly into operation and hadn’t had to ask for help. So, before you decide to spend time and money on developing a BCP, ask yourself if you should just wait until an incident happens and hope that help and assistance will be provided by the public. Maybe this would only happen in the UK and to a Dogs’ Home. I wouldn’t recommend that a bank tries it!

As a Business Continuity professional, I was very disappointed to learn the other day that a major international organisation has publicly denied that it has a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) for the only product that it provides. Every other major international organisation that I come across is very proud of the fact that they have put in place measures to protect their product and services, and hence the interests of their stakeholders, by developing and maintaining effective BCPs.

And who is this organisation? None other than the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC’s vice president John Coates described Rio’s planning as “the worst I have experienced”, and although the IOC has formed an emergency task force in a bid to bring Rio up to speed, he has denied reports in the London Evening Standard that London organisers had been contacted to see if the facilities built for the successful 2012 Games could be used again in two years’ time should the Brazilian city fail to reach its construction deadlines. “There’s absolutely no plan B,” he said. “There’s just absolutely no alternative of going back to another city. We’ll work through this and we’ll get to Brazil.”

Who needs Business Continuity eh? Just tell everyone that it won’t happen, and if it does, just work the the problems as they arise and carry on regardless.

 

I was recently asked by an insurance broker to help one of his clients develop a business continuity plan because the client’s insurer was insisting on a plan being developed if the risk was to be renewed. The client is a small family owned niche manufacturing company, that’s been in existence for over 100 years, and the managing director really didn’t see the point in developing a plan – and certainly was not keen on paying anyone to help him.

Because he needed the insurance cover he had to go ahead, but to make it more palatable, my broker friend came up with what was to me, a new concept in business continuity. He explained to me that what the client required was an entry level business continuity plan, and that maybe in later years this could be enhanced.

The client seemed satisfied that this was what he required, presumably because it implies something that is quick, easy, and cheap, but it has left me with a bit of a problem. I have a few ideas, and will be meeting with the client again shortly to work with him to create his entry level plan, but the definition of such a plan doesn’t immediately stand out in the business continuity standards and guidelines that I’m familiar with.

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.

 

What is your organisation’s Business Continuity planning horizon? By that, I mean what time-scale after an incident that causes disruption  do your Business Continuity Plans cover? A day, a week, a month, longer?

Every organisation that I’ve ever come across determines some kind of time limit, which is linked to the level of service that it plans to recover to. Without such a planning horizon, recovery plans would cover the complete resumption of the organisation back to its original state – which would be far too detailed and complex, and assume that nothing would change after the incident.

This planning horizon needs to be agreed at an early stage of the Business Continuity Management (BCM) process, before the Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is undertaken. This is because the BIA needs to concentrate on those activities that need to be recovered within the planning horizon. If this boundary hasn’t been put on the BIA, then a lot of time and effort will be wasted analysing every single activity.

So what? If everyone has a planning horizon then why mention it in a blog? Because it’s something that the Business Continuity industry chooses to keep secret. Try finding it is the ISO standard or the BCI’s Good Practice Guidelines. The idea of concentrating on the urgent activities in the BIA is there, but you won’t find anything about top management deciding on a planning horizon in the BCM Programme management sections. What’s everyone being so coy about?