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Forgotten and unloved – it’s time Business Continuity Planning has a make-over.

Business Continuity Planning (BCP) is an essential but often unloved function that organisations generally hope they never have to test ‘in anger’.

The recent Holborn fire in the heart of London saw 5,000 people evacuated from surrounding buildings and many businesses left without telephone or internet access, and is a perfect example of one of those instances when businesses suddenly find themselves reaching for their Business Continuity Plan.

The issue for many businesses, is that BCPs are often a forgotten, neglected area and are not kept up to date. Which means that when they are needed, getting back to ‘business as usual’ will not be a simple task. There is a route to improving BCP that many businesses remain unaware of – the high level of crossover between IT Service Management (ITSM) and disaster recovery.

To take advantage of this crossover and make BCP much less of a headache, those responsible for maintaining continuity planning can ‘borrow’ from the IT department.

Relying on paper is a serious risk 

The challenge in terms of managing BCP is in keeping plans up to date to ensure that they reflect changes in an organisation, it’s staffing, infrastructure and external circumstances.

The plans also need to be cross-referenced across different facilities, buildings and functions. Traditionally, investment in BCP can be patchy, with the result that planning is often paper-based, cumbersome and inefficient; it’s a process that is rarely done accurately and efficiently, and as a result, the plan is often out of date before it’s even finalised.

For example, you might hold a plan in a static Word document, which is updated on a six-monthly basis and then cross-referenced manually. This approach, which is by no means an uncommon one, leads to problems of speed, access, accuracy, and also reduces the efficiency of BCP staff.

Taking lessons from the IT department

The opportunity to improve BCP through automated, online, mobile-accessible systems is significant, and many of the latest applications developed for managing IT services are proving equally valuable in this arena. Because most organisations are so technology-dependent for their operations, there are clear similarities between managing and ensuring the availability of IT and BCP.

Many businesses now look to adapt the techniques they are using for ITSM for BCP, using cloud-based Software as a Service. The development of BCP systems based on those used for ITSM can be relatively straightforward and taking just a few months; particularly where a business is already using SaaS ITSM solutions that do not require wholesale modifications.

The benefits of a dynamic, automated BCP system can be substantial. In addition to being easy to update both on a systematic and ad-hoc basis (for example when a team changes buildings), it also gives management much greater ability to analyse and interrogate information, and check that plans are being updated on schedule.

Other valuable benefits emerge through integration with the ITSM system, ensuring that IT applications are visible to the BCP team. This enables much-improved scenario planning and risk assessment, plus better informed decisions on what investment is needed and where it is required.

The ultimate insurance policy

Taking an approach that amalgamates the BCP and ITSM functions and takes advantages of the parallels between them can help businesses identify substantial savings. For example, if an application only needs to be restored for BCP purposes within 24 hours and the IT function is currently working on the expectation of recovery within two hours, there is potential to reduce costs and free valuable resources to work in other areas.

Similarly, businesses that can identify where they don’t need to replicate physical office space in the event of a building loss – because technology and IT support services staff can enable staff to work remotely and via mobile devices – can unlock long-term cost-savings through better use of assets and resources on a day-to-day basis, supporting more home or remote-working.

Business Continuity Planning is ultimately an insurance policy, and a function that you never want to test in earnest. But this is no excuse for neglecting it, particularly when the stakes, from staff safety to financial profitability, are so high.

In addition, it needn’t be a burden but instead an investment that pays for itself, highlighting inefficiencies and flagging cost savings while helping the business perform efficiently and minimising impact on the bottom line.

Paul Cash, Managing Director, Fruition Partners.