Key insights for an effective business continuity plan and execution
Automate repetitive communications tasks
Business continuity management (BCM) automation helps focus manual efforts on managing the exception or edge scenarios and business continuity outcomes, rather than managing the process. During a test, much of the manual effort is directed at receiving acknowledgment from those staff who have not been accounted for.
During an activation, much of the manual effort is directed at activities that are not critical to the actual impacted site or business recovery, such as basic staff queries, customer relations, media updates, etc.
A 2015 Forrester study for the Disaster Recovery Journal shows that while the adoption of automated communication technologies has grown to 54 percent (up from 23% in 2010), a large percentage of organizations also continue to use a mix of highly manual communications modes. These include sending out a corporate email (77 percent) and manual call tree lists (69 percent).
The resulting workload means most organizations only test their BCPs once per year, with close to two-thirds reporting never running an organization-wide full simulation, leaving the business at risk of being unable to execute under the pressure of actual potential threats or natural disasters.
The choice of continuing with manual business processes or advancing to BCM automation platforms can be charted as a trade-off between the likelihood and consequences of catastrophic failure, vs the system investment, as shown in Figure 1 below.
BCM automation - the triple benefit
Easier exercises lead to more frequent testing - improving resilience posture
Decreased time and cost of exercising
Speed organizational response and situational
Awareness during an activation, for reduced
and reputational risk
Empower BCM champions and coordinators to run in-country, rather than as an HQ-led exercise
Incidents always happen in at least one country, and only sometimes across a region, however central planning is often applied across all of an organization’s spheres of operations. Local BCM ownership and empowerment allow country or business unit-specific BCM processes to be applied, which are able to better cater to local market nuances.
HQ-led business continuity planning tends to drive one process and apply it equally to all regions because this benefits consistency in documentation and ease of running the process, but often this does not benefit the outcome.
This tends to be the case when BCM communications are not automated, as manual processes must be simplified and uniform throughout the organization, whereas the most effective programs actually embrace diversity in processes... and that’s okay.
Moving to automation necessitates revisiting the thinking behind the process, creating the conditions for localized planning and ownership. Human intervention is also reduced, lowering the risk of error, and allowing contingency plans and service workflows to be conceived and executed at scale.
Be aware and make the best use of country-specific mediums
To maximize successful message delivery and recipient’s response, use the strengths of multiple communications channels – for instance, send SMS+email+mobile+web messages once to deliver content, while in parallel, send voice calls with auto-retry for maximum disruption until content is acknowledged.
Bear in mind, that several factors can affect the reliability of communications delivery, such as; SMS may be sent across many different routes during delivery to a handset, however, not all routes perform the same. Some paths will result in high delivery, while other routes can result in latency or even non-delivery.
SMS may be reliable in some countries, while it may be filtered for content and blocked if originated internationally. Carriers apply various conditions which may limit message delivery, including regulatory, content, and spam filters.
Voice is largely very reliable internationally, however as a standalone channel, it has clear limitations in terms of content and point-in-time delivery. BCM communication platforms allow cross-channel communication workflows to be configured and have advanced geolocation and targeting capabilities to segment and target audiences by location.
Integrate common social messaging and chat apps, or event-building management systems into your business operations
Chat apps in particular have become an entrenched communication standard in many markets, often replacing traditional contact channels, and offer a fast, low-cost initial method for reaching this audience.
Many of these apps are relatively unknown outside of their core markets, but their reach is undeniable. WeChat, for example, reports over 600 million monthly active users, predominantly across Asia, while Kik Messenger is a growing force in the United States, with over 240 million registered users.
Deploying a dedicated out-of-the-box organization-wide mobile app for BCM communications provides a high probability of effective reach, with automatic escalation to traditional channels (eg SMS, mobile-web) where there is no initial response.
Allow staff to proactively check in or respond during tests, activations, and power outages
Direct response from affected staff may not always be possible on the expected channel, for a range of reasons. Staff may be located in high-density areas, and some will receive the communications before others. Also, staff members may not have a mobile device with them, but are in the company of someone who does, so provisions should be made to allow a colleague to account for them on their behalf.
Allowing the use of secure inbound contact routes – mobile, web portal, text-in, or voice call-in will maximize the speed and accessibility of staff acknowledgment should a disaster strike.
Make full use of smartphone capabilities
The powerful features and highly connected nature of modern smartphones make them the logical centerpiece for essential workflow acceleration during normal operations. Advanced BCM communication systems typically offer their own customized mobile applications, which embrace the full power of these devices, including:
Messages can be sent in multiple ways that optimize the chances of delivery, including voice, SMS, social media, in-app, rich messages, and email.
Vital information can be delivered quickly and at scale, when needed, and in-field staff can respond accordingly – sharing updated information such as site reports or pictures of affected areas, for improved situational awareness.
GPS-enabled smartphone applications allow users to share real-time location information, allowing BCM coordinators to communicate rapidly and reliably with people who require access to information. Mobile-web or in-app rich messages can be used to receive and run communications workflows.
Preplanned conditional logic (eg if x and y and z, then A, for the next B hours) collapses multiple simple communications steps into one, relieving BCM coordinators of simplistic decision workloads and instead, reserving this critical resource to focus on more nuanced observe-analyze-decide steps.
Keep stakeholders informed via self-service dashboards and published content
One of the most disruptive issues to BCM team members is keeping upline stakeholders informed at any given moment, while also managing the unfolding incident response.
Mobile and web dashboards are features of quality incident management systems and can be deployed with secure access for selected stakeholders. The event can be managed in real-time, with timely information flows including executive dashboard views, analytics, and reporting, as in Figure 4 below.
Pre-planned communications with re-usable templates should be ready to publish to social media, the company website, and other external media with pre-approved, timely content. Again, corporate communications should focus on external media exceptions, rather than the preparation and release of standard media holding statements, and other non-urgent responses.
Make use of an integrated communications platform
Best practice BCM programs are built around cross-channel communications platforms, which provide interactive, responsive communications, comprehensive reporting, and message delivery status transparency for key staff and senior stakeholders.
Communications automation and workflow acceleration, combined with integrated monitoring systems, provide BCM leaders and human resources with a unique and powerful opportunity to advance their organization's resilience posture, while also streamlining day-to-day organizational communications processes.