In my training sessions with clients I often use the expression “plan for the unthinkable”, which is rather common for those working in business continuity and crisis management. Still, if I had ever told my students that an unknown virus living in a bat in some rain forest could have affected the global population and switched-off the economies of well-established and fully-developed countries in a couple of months, I would have probably been called crazy.
Now, many colleagues are wondering whether the Coronavirus pandemic is the worst thing that can happen to organizations and, since optimism is not my thing, my answer would be: “Yes, until something even worse happens”. However, I think a different question is actually more interesting, and it coincides with the title of this article:
“Can you afford not to have a full-time business continuity management team”?
Recent facts have proven that most businesses are not ready for a large epidemic. Bill Gates – who is far more influential than myself and anybody else I know within and without the resilience industry – warned all of us about this in 2015 (please watch this video). However, organizations did not invest enough time and effort – more important than money! – to build solid business continuity management systems and, specifically, epidemic-pandemic crisis plans. The ugly truth is that many large enterprises do not even have a full-time business continuity management team.
The logical consequence is that we now have a wide number of organizations that are trying hard to deal with an extremely complex situation not only with no or very little preparedness, but also by relying on managers and professionals who are only partly dedicated to crisis management and business continuity. How is this possible?
As many of you know already, PANTA RAY is based in Milan – Italy, which is at the heart of the current epidemic focus in Lombardy. You can easily imagine, then, how many clients and prospects have approached us in the last few weeks to discuss the Coronavirus and its business continuity implications. Based on these conversations, I have decided to provide you with a short and simplified selection of the most common issues that business continuity managers who are burdened with other responsibilities have to deal with in an epidemic-pandemic scenario:
- Business continuity or crisis managers working in the IT / Information Security department:
- They need to provide technical support to employees working from home;
- They need to make sure employees working from home adopt sufficient information security measures.
- Business continuity or crisis managers working in the HSE / Physical Security department:
- They need to constantly remind employees of appropriate hygienic measures to be adopted;
- They need to take care of possible contagions within the organization, and liaise with health authorities;
- They need to protect sites from possible lootings, especially if the organization provides commodities to the general public.
- Business continuity or crisis managers working in the HR department:
- They need to constantly communicate with employees and, potentially, their significant others / next of kin as well;
- They need to manage a potentially high number of absences due to illness or even strikes;
- They need to make sure that the psychological needs of employees are taken into account during such a complex and stressful situation.
- Business continuity or crisis managers working in the Facilities department:
- They need to manage building closures and sanitations / sanitizations procedures;
- They need to deal with activating/managing alternative premises, as needed.
Please note that I do not mean this list to be comprehensive, but it should be enough to prove how business continuity has no chances of being successful when it is not entrusted to a fully committed group of professionals.
Large organizations do need full-time business continuity management teams coordinating the general response to an incident, an emergency or a crisis through the active support of other departments (including the ones mentioned above). Otherwise, business continuity managers are just condemned to work long hours, while still being unable to keep up with events. And this is very dangerous and detrimental for the organizations themselves.
I really believe it is time for everybody to realize how much work is needed to prepare for a crisis (especially a pandemic) and how continuity and resilience management are strategic to the success of any enterprise in the long-term.
This current Coronavirus Crisis has demonstrated that the impacts of these kinds of disruptions are significantly higher than any financial investment needed to build a strong business continuity management system by establishing a competent and dedicated team.
What else do we need to go through before our business culture takes this essential step forward?