A Nexus for Global Change
We've spent the last few weeks exploring Business Continuity Practices as related and impacted by the global changes we've seen in 2020, mainly and certainly not limited to the global COVID19 Pandemic.
Business Continuity Planning is the process of creating systems of prevention and recovery to deal with potential threats to the operation of a company. In addition to prevention, the goal is to enable ongoing operations during and after the execution of disaster recovery. The process itself involves defining any and all risks that can affect operations, understanding the potential impact of those risks, and implementing a plan-of-action to accommodate those findings.
With the onset of the pandemic, organizations were forced to implement a slew of fundamental changes, many of them overnight. Imagine for a moment they had ample time, knowledge, and adequate tools to prepare for a crisis of this magnitude. Armed with these capabilities, what might their business continuity plans have looked like?
What would the outcome have been? Would the same employees still be let go? How might supply chains look? Would factories have found ways to remain open? Might certain businesses be operating at near-maximum capacity? There are no clear answers, as this crisis differs significantly from ones that organizations may have already prepared for. In some cases, the notion of a global pandemic changing the landscape of their business was considered unrealistic.
The crisis differs in size, in dependencies, in impact. Business Continuity Plans typically handle smaller-scale events, while the scale of the pandemic is massive. There’s a true collective, human experience. Many compounding known and unknown variables are at play, and there are endless moving parts and dependencies that demand specific attention.
As with many processes today, Business Continuity Planning must modernize to keep pace with an increasingly interconnected and complex world. To aid this level of planning and recovery in a time of disruptive and unprecedented social change, it is crucial to reexamine old methods and identify new approaches. There is a need to handle the scope of what is occurring now and adjust for what may occur in the future.
The data required for Business Continuity Planning is often sourced from dozens of different solutions. Data on people and process. Data on applications. Data on systems, equipment, customers, suppliers. Understanding the relevance and relationships between data for this type of decision-making and outcome forecasting is incredibly valuable.
Accurate, accessible, and contextual data is a vital asset for organizations to properly characterize risk, analyze any potential impact, and improve decision-making. As such, a mechanism capable of bringing this data together to create composite views is no longer a luxury for business continuity planning. It is a necessity.
The Need For Adaptive Recovery:
Business Continuity Plans typically focus on disaster recovery after the loss of conventional assets. These assets could include areas like data, data centers, production sites, or equipment. With COVID-19, there’s an even greater loss: of people, of productivity, of goods and services, of normalcy.
(he path of this pandemic hasn’t been and likely won’t be a straight line until there is a vaccine. Thus we should not expect the path to recovery to be a straight line. Yet, standard business continuity plans are linear, designed to return something to a known state. This is why they fall short when applied to adaptive recovery situations, and especially in a scenario of a pandemic, where we do not yet comprehend how the "new normal" may look.
As a collective, we tend to optimize for efficiency with the assumption that essential elements, like people and logistics, will remain largely unchanged and uninterrupted. We optimize this way although external, uncontrollable factors are a consistent, pervasive threat.
Applying an Adaptive Recovery mindset can be hugely rewarding to organizations. Adaptive Recovery is the process of making adjustments to surrounding dynamics as they evolve. It works to optimize for efficiency while maintaining the capacity for agility to respond to both internal and external disruptions.
Big Data and Analytics are playing a pivotal role in helping organizations become more agile and assisting in true, adaptive recovery. Improvements in data, applications, and infrastructure enable more accurate forecasting and the ability to understand new, emerging patterns. Digging even further, the agility stems from the capability to place increasingly accessible, contextualized, and useful data in the hands of more people. A key to this agility is derived from a willingness to accept and become comfortable with ambiguity. Rather than trying to erase away ambiguity, we need to apply a process of curiosity towards ambiguity that we cannot immediately solve.
There's consistent, actionable insight available, coupled with greater transparency than ever before. When you have entire organizations and their employees capable of identifying even minute changes, understanding the rate of that change, and forecasting the atypical, this enables a "no-wait" plan.
The "no-wait" plan is one that empowers confidence in the decision-making and planning process, providing the ability, freedom, and knowledge to move at the pace demanded to stay afloat. While “No-Wait” and embracing ambiguity may seem at odds, the approach is removing a rush to premature solutions until the facts are understood and then move to faster decision making once the answers to what was ambiguous are solved.
Assembling Critical Information for Decision-Making:
COVID-19 transformed critical decision-making for business leaders. It went from a relatively straightforward process to a significant undertaking for two reasons:
Leaders must factor in the interdependent chains of large and complex scenarios extending beyond a single event, supplier, or service; and
Leaders must complete the impossible task of predicting an unknown duration of risk.
In business continuity planning, risks typically assume a known duration. A standard production line, in an ordinary instance, would calculate the cost of lost sales for a downed line for a certain amount of time: two hours, one week, even a month. Our new normal provides no known duration. Likewise, we realize that there could be additional risks outside of COVID-19 that escalate and mutate durations.
The increased interconnectedness of datasets and systems also means that these timelines could shift - in real-time - as we attempt to forecast them. This makes accurate planning more difficult, and it’s why having a way to view data that can react and adapt is so crucial.
The retrieved data needs to be assembled in a way that allows information to be flexible. It should pivot rapidly to produce relevant and sustainable forecasts and calculate potential outcomes.
It also needs to be presented in a way that ensures actionable insight, making it easy for business leaders to set measurable goals. Ultimately, insights should be steeped in the very nature of the business. Some best practices for identifying the information needed include:
Guarding against bias by involving others in the process
Defining objectives, making value judgments, and asking the right questions
Identifying sources containing relevant information and how it can be retrieved
Pulling the data, observing constraints, and implementing workarounds
Succession Planning is a strategy for passing on leadership roles to an employee or group of employees. Also known as "replacement planning," it ensures that businesses continue to run smoothly after a company's most influential people move on. Succession planning should extend beyond leadership and work its way into teams and departments.
The purpose of this is to encourage greater collaboration, empower individual team members to withstand and adapt to any circumstance, improve their skills and their projects, and provide the opportunity to grow with one another.
For leaders, formalizing this process demonstrates an organizational commitment to developing and mentoring employees. Improving skills and competencies help increase the organization's talent pool rather than grooming specific candidates. It also ensures all managers are aware of key employees, and that they are highlighted automatically as strong players should roles become available.
For teams and employees, transparency regarding the next potential opportunity is massively beneficial. Informal systems do not recognize the true value of employees and their skills. Formal systems can help improve efficacy, self-respect, and self-esteem, helping to reinforce the individual desire for opportunity and development.
People Impact Analysis:
A recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers CoVID19 survey of CFO's identifies concern over the impact of CoVID19 on consumer behavior and employee productivity, while also demonstrating employee concerns over health and hygiene upon returning to the workplace.
56% of people want employers to provide personal protective equipment, such as masks
51% of people need assurances that they’ll be notified if someone they work with has tested positive
50% of employees want assurances about cleanliness and disinfecting procedures
49% of people want clear response and shutdown protocols if someone were to test positive
51% of people require customers to follow safety and hygiene practices
Assuming organizations have done their best to address employee concerns for health and hygiene, how will they audit and track that the plan is working? How will the organization collect data on the intersection of employee movement, and what will be done with that data? The following list of questions is one that - at a minimum - data and analytics platforms should be able to help organizations answer or address.
Who attended a meeting with whom?
Who came and left at what times in your facilities?
Who went where on your property, and whose path did they intersect with?
Who may or does have CoVID? Who is now at risk as a result?
Will you try to predict who may have CoVID?
Prioritizing People and Procedures:
The words prioritizing, policies, and procedures can often seem so sterile, perhaps so out of touch with the human side of an event like the pandemic, or the wave of global protests that have accompanied it.
Changing a law or guideline, writing a manual, improving training, or mandating a different behavior - even having a law in the first place - does. not necessarily equate to truly-solved problems. Too often, there is a failure or inability to stay on top of it. changes that should be made. Teams are reticent to revise written policies or procedures or to review them frequently. There is often a "Set and Forget" mindset unless a disruption occurs that leads people to consider them again.
“There is a growing consensus that the industry must plan for events of wider geographic scope and greater physical disruption than in the past, including those that involve loss or inaccessibility of critical staff or of widespread telecommunications or other services disruptions. City-wide disruptions may be the benchmark for planning purposes going forward, and regional disruptions also need to be considered...”
The day to day policy and procedures implemented at organizations can be hugely important when it is time to formulate adaptive business continuity plans. Our recommendations are as follows:
Pay attention to your people and how they continue to work (Workforce Resilience)
Communicate often and frequently with your people, even when nothing has changed, to help quell the rise of unnecessary rumors and fears
Look beyond the requirements for IT and Operational recovery - the Financial Requirements of recovery may well become the most significant challenge
Technology changes, connectedness changes, and dependencies increase more rapidly than expected
Maintain strong documentation and understanding of these impacts
Be constantly vigilant over revising and updating procedures and policies
In "Test-Driven Development Practice", by Kent Beck, developers first write a test for their code to fail and pass against before they write the code itself. We propose a similar methodology when it comes to writing policy and procedure in Business Continuity Planning.
This approach provides innumerable value, including defining how to measure your success before investing in the design of a procedure, having the knowledge that the procedure works, and recognizing the need for revision to pass the policy test.
Our recommendations to organizations are to believe in your people and demonstrate that belief by including them and their needs in your Business Continuity Plan. Write testable policies and put the data into your analytics engines. Use validation data daily in your dashboards to understand where your procedures are compliant and where you have risks. Wherever and whenever possible, take action preemptively.
Innovation, Disruption, Innovation
During this pandemic, many businesses are experiencing a complete extended business interruption due to changes in consumer desire or behavior. As such, they need to rethink how to deliver services - if they can at all. Some businesses may have had the commensurate infrastructure and business essentials for strong business continuity planning, but did not necessarily have a need for an extensive BCP (e.g. for their supply chain to the consumer). Others have nothing at all.
Solving problems during a crisis demands speeding up innovation by repurposing the knowledge, resources, and technology already on hand. Repurposing knowledge and resources constitute the cornerstone of ultrafast innovations to cope when faced with immense pressure. The specific, underlying logic of repurposing initiatives can be summarized through the following five principles.
Grasp The Innovation Problem: Quickly assess and understand the problem that innovation should target. This is key to matching the problem with existing resources, ideas, knowledge, and technology. Looking at your existing technology as a potential solution may give you a new sense of the problem. Note: the most valuable knowledge about the problem you are facing may originate outside your organization.
Map Resources: To make repurposing work, rapidly develop an inventory of “useful stuff,” including existing products, facilities, databases, software, talent, and expertise. As uncertainty and urgency increase, repurposing is most successful when organizations draw on readily available resources and knowledge, some of which might be seen as unattractive side effects or by-products. Note: a product’s complexity and proximity to a new product feature play an important role in repurposing effectiveness. As the gap between existing and target knowledge domains widens, knowledge repurposing may become less effective.
Use Emerging Technologies: Cloud computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies offer two benefits for innovation. First, digital platforms enable key actors, such as users, experts, funders, to share information and collectively create knowledge. Use this to plan and coordinate work, share protocols, insights, and research-based knowledge. Second, machine learning coupled with big data can rapidly identify promising links between needs and solutions.
Encourage Collaboration: It is crucial to encourage and support open and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Opening up internal assets sensibly can allow repurposing opportunities to multiply.
Integrate End-Users: Do not wait for market research to inform about what the urgent needs of end-users are. Promote communication channels that make it easier for end-users to voice these needs themselves, and have managers rapidly address them in the innovation process.
The pandemic is not just a health crisis; it is a nexus for global change. Individuals, businesses, and governments all over the world are either adapting to changes as they arise, or are getting caught out - struggling with issues of adaptivity, agility, transparency, and innovation.
“Analysts warn this is only the beginning of the worst wave of small-business bankruptcies and closures since the Great Depression”. - Washington Post, Small business used to define America’s economy. The pandemic could change that forever. - May 12, 2020
The willingness to review and specifically challenge perspectives and the structures that lead to policies, procedures, and operations will be critical - not only to ensure continuity in times of crisis but to ensure continuity during any external or internal change, whether an organization is in control or not.
In a world so massively interconnected and increasingly complex, acting quickly and using data-driven intuition and decision-making will be hugely significant from a business perspective. There will be a notable (and consequential) separation between those organizations that are willing and capable of enabling those practices, and those that are not.
Incorporating elements of modern-day Business Continuity, particularly in the COVID-19 Era, to business operating models will be decidedly beneficial to organizations continuing to navigate this crisis, for resuming operations, and for preparing for the future.
How will you track all the details necessary to ensure the safety and hygiene of your employees and business? How will your business assure real compliance with changes from this pandemic and maintain a viable Business Continuity Plan? How well are you able to use data to associate the interactive impacts your BCP plan within your organization? Perhaps it is now time to take a closer look at how your data is working to keep your business stronger.
Jim Szczygiel has been working as an Information Technologist since the early nineties. Most recently Jim has held roles as a consultant, product manager, data analyst, sales, and solutions architect along with working on application development agile and extreme programming teams. Jim has provided services to hundreds of different fortune 500 clients in the sectors of; Chemical and Natural Resources, Finance, Insurance, and Manufacturing. Read More...