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Why is having a robust Business Continuity Plan important?

August 28, 2018

We live in a progressively complex business environment. Fuelled by the rapid growth in globalisation and digitalisation, organisations are finding new ways to penetrate new markets, or serve existing markets in more efficient and customer-oriented ways. Whilst this undoubtedly creates new and exciting opportunities (not least here in the Channel Islands where our economies continue to thrive), it also creates new pressures and complexities on how each local business configures its operating model to ensure it exceeds or at the very least, matches the increasingly high expectations of today’s customer.

Customers are certainly less tolerant to any disruption in the services and standards they have come to expect. Downtime to an organisations operation during periods of unforeseen disruption, has been widely proven to negatively impact on revenues, leading to the potential loss of business to competition and possible reputational damage. Just look at the adverse publicity encountered by British Airways in 2017 following a major IT failure.

For these reasons, and against a backdrop of increased threats not least relating to critical dependencies on complicated technology networks, local organisations should perhaps more than ever, consider the significant value in having a robust Business Continuity Plan (‘BCP’) as part of their overall strategy.

Here, I explore a few pertinent factors relating to BCP in the local context of the Channel Islands. Perhaps the most logical starting point centres on the question I am always initially asked by clients, “what is the best BCP solution?”. Unfortunately, as is the case with many commercial decisions, it is difficult to provide an instant answer as there is no “one-size fits all” solution. Every business is different and a detailed examination of all the vital components required to minimalize downtime to an organisation’s operations in times of potential disruption need to be carefully undertaken. These are wide and varied but largely consist of the three minimum available requirements of data, technology and people.

Whilst I would always suggest that a BC plan needs to be tailored to an individual business, below are my top considerations for organisations here in the Channel Islands. Prior to reading on, please if you may, consider a BCP as an insurance policy, nobody ever wants to use it but when an effective plan is in place, you can take comfort that your business is suitably protected in times of future crisis!

Power Cut or Telecommunications Outage

In November 2016, a ship dragging its anchor on the seabed in the English Channel severed the three main internet cables to the Channel Islands. Consequently, all communication traffic from Jersey Telecom had to be re-routed through a single submarine cable link with France. This unexpected turn of events resulted in considerably slower broadband speeds and in some cases, a noticeable impact on service delivery from local organisations. Whilst exceptionally unlucky, this example strongly reiterates why both islands need to have thorough BC plans in place.

Across both Jersey and Guernsey, local organisations have (on occasion) seen negative effects on their power and communication networks caused by building work accidents. This is certainly not a Channel Islands only issue. Indeed statistics shared by the Business Continuity Institute (www.thebci.org) report unplanned IT or telecommunications outages caused by similar undeliberate mishaps accounted for 30% of disruptions in the UK and has remained the top cause worldwide for a number of years! This issue is very real and with businesses increasingly reliant on technology and power to support this, contingency plans for organisations that have a heavily reliance on these inputs should factor this in.

Another example of the disruption that can be caused was witnessed in the third largest Channel Island, Alderney in 2016 where an electrical power surge damaged equipment belonging to Sure, Alderney’s internet service provider. The blackout caused widespread negative impact. Banks were unable to process transfers and many organisations whose business model is predominately online were incapacitated.

Extreme Weather

Whilst we are lucky to be seen as the sunniest climate in the British Isles, the Channel Islands still experiences some relatively adverse weather! Over the past few years we have witnessed severe storms pummel the islands. Clearly in small island geographies, this can impact all areas but businesses close to the coast are particularly exposed. For example, in March 2016 strong winds battered Jersey leading to the Planning & Building department losing parts of its roof and exposing internal areas to rain. Fortunately, whilst this undoubtedly led to disruption, the department had a BCP in place allowing temporary relocation while the building was repaired

Cloud Technology

Nearly every business is now deploying cloud solutions as part of its operation. BCP considerations allows further reason to embrace the cloud, enabling staff to access important office resources and documentation remotely from several different devices. This offers a high level of flexibility and certainly supports the option of employees working from home or another location where there is access to the internet during a time of crisis. From a cost perspective this is certainly the cheapest option and a compelling option for smaller businesses.

Having acknowledged this, the cloud cannot prevent unwelcome disruption if either Jersey or Guernsey suffered an island-wide telecommunications or power outage, as the internet is still required to access the cloud. This could impact a working from home BCP due to the lack of resilience or backup generator power.

For larger organisations, remote working might also be problematic from a people interaction perspective. Whilst the advent of applications such as Skype for business has certainly assisted in enhanced remote working, it cannot fully substitute the advantages of having critical staff in the same location, working in a face–to-face environment and better placed to collaborate in person on mission critical activities and decision making. For unwanted periods of extended disruption, the productivity and also morale of employees may start to be negatively affected. Individuals have different skills, attitudes and needs which shouldn’t be ignored when designing a BCP.

Back Up Offices

The prevalent alternative to a work from home BCP, is to consider the availability of a backup office. Often this type of solution works well for medium to large sized organisations, whose business models depend upon high levels of collaboration amongst their employees and whose operation benefits from onsite technical support. There are two options in this regard; for businesses with more than one office footprint, they will often have a BCP that outlines a transfer of impacted and critical staff to another of their office locations. This is a very valid solution assuming that the second office is unlikely to be at risk to many of the identified threats that might impact the primary office.

One point to note here, particularly in Jersey, relates to the significant investment in the Jersey Financial Services Centre. Whilst this has led to the provision of world class facilities, it has also enabled larger organisations to consolidate their fragmented office network into a single location. From a collaboration and cultural perspective, this affords many benefits but a vital question here should be whether the BCP plan remains up to date and fit for purpose?

The second (and increasingly popular option) relates to an organisation engaging with a specialist third party to provide contingent back up operational facilities. These are effectively ready–to-go office suites, containing all the resources an organisation would require to maintain critical activities during times of crisis. Of course, this outsourcing option will come with a cost but third-party providers are expected to maintain the facilities to the highest professional standards and are mandated to enable their readiness as soon as a crisis occurs. This route helps alleviate the pressure of maintaining a fit for purpose BCP internally for your business.

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CASE STUDY – Saltgate

Whilst the threat of natural disasters should never be ignored, more often the cause for invoking a BCP comes from less dramatic scenarios. However, whilst less extraordinary, the negative impact of these scenarios can still cause considerable stress to an organisation and its staff, rendering business as usual operations during a period of disruption as impossible.

This was the case with a leading independent alternative investment services provider, Saltgate. In January 2015, over a weekend the office above Saltgate suffered a serious plumbing breakdown. As the incident occurred over the weekend, it went undetected for several hours. By this time, the volume of flooding was significant and had caused widespread damage not only at the root cause but also in the offices below, very much including Saltgate.

Recalling encountering the water damage, Tim McBain, Director of IT at Saltgate explains, “the flooding was considerable and it was instantly clear that the office was unworkable.

C5 worked closely with Saltgate across the weekend to ensure that remote systems were fully accessible from Saltgate’s dedicated BC suite. This meant that by 09.00 a.m. on the Monday morning all 60 Saltgate employees had been successfully relocated to their new temporary place of work and were able to commence their duties with very little impact to any of their clients.

When reflecting on the overall experience during this period, Tim McBain explains, “whilst the situation was clearly less than ideal, we were very grateful to work with C5 and use our business continuity suite. The team at C5 were extremely responsive when we needed them to be and we appreciated their support throughout the whole process.

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Independent Specialist Consultation

Whilst considerations regarding BCP will be significantly influenced by factors relating to technology, it is important to understand that an effective BCP extends beyond pure technological requirements. It is fundamentally about having a strategy in place to minimalize any adverse impact a crisis may have on the successful delivery of an organisations operation. An effective BCP will be one well understood by key employees, ensuring they are all on the same page and ready to act if the plan is invoked. All core business requirements must be covered in the BCP and whilst many organisations are capable of doing this themselves, seeking outside specialist support often provides executive management with added comfort that their plans have been independently assessed and reflect best industry practice.

In terms of independent specialist support, this is where people like me come in! Having studied with the Business Continuity Institute in London, I am a fully qualified BC Consultant and work with a broad range of clients advising on their BC strategies. I am passionate about understanding all aspects of the business in order to determine what is required should an undesirable occurrence create a disruption to business operations. My role includes defining the strategy and then ensuring this is well communicated with in-scope staff and ensuring they are suitably trained. Thereafter, I work with clients to provide regular testing and assessment of their BCP strategies and will help adapt these where it is viable to do so.

Reviewing or creating a BCP

Here at C5 we are one of the prominent providers of outsourced BCP solutions in the Channel Islands. We have invested significantly in our facilities across both Channel Islands to ensure they remain at the forefront of industry standards and we also ensure that we have industry recognised expertise across each island.

If you would like to like to discuss your existing BCP strategy or in the absence of having one in place, discuss how you might create a BCP strategy, please click the link here or get in touch with me at phil.heath@c5alliance.com.