Is your business ready for a disaster? Every day individual businesses are faced with the unexpected.
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These can manifest themselves in a variety of forms, from a malware attack or data breach as experienced by the likes of Equifax or Deloitte recently through to the inevitability of tube strikes or natural disasters such as floods or fire.
While many of these disasters may be beyond your control, what you do have control over is being able to plan for them by devising a ‘what-if’ strategy.
Best of times, worst of times
During 'business as usual', a robust process management discipline and a strong process culture provides a firm foundation for teams to document and develop new and innovative ways of working that will help a company prosper.
Such organisations typically focus on the processes that influence daily operations: financial management, project management, customer experience, HR and workflow, etc.
When managed well, these processes provide clear and helpful instruction to teams on how to carry out their different responsibilities and at the same time enable improvements in the quality and consistency of their day-to-day execution, and for some, drive innovation and competitive advantage.
But do your employees know what processes they should follow if there is an emergency? What happens if you lose your internet access or your phones go down?
What do you do if half your team can’t make it to the office because of severe weather? Who answers enquiries when your customer service centre is without power?
The ‘It won’t happen to us’ mentality
Over a third of businesses admit they don't have an official disaster recovery plan in place, and this is even higher amongst small businesses at a shocking 75%.
While the nature and impact of disasters may differ, there are certain business scenarios you can and should plan for in advance.
Here are a few crucial points to consider if you don’t already have a disaster recovery plan in place or even if you do!
Take preventative action
The time to plan for a disaster is not in the thick of it. There’s too much at risk for organisations to invent it as they go along when responding to a crisis, particularly when insufficient or ill-conceived actions can translate into loss of potential data, revenues, jobs, reputation, litigation, CSR or in the case of natural disasters, life.
As the well-known saying goes, ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ should form the basis of any contingency plan. It’s essential to have a clear definition of what circumstances or events could possibly represent a catastrophe in the future.
Put in the hard yards before problems arise
Think about access to places of work, employee safety, business connectivity, product recalls, data back-up and retrieval, or flexible working in the event of downtime. Every member of staff should know when and how to trigger a disaster recovery response, as well as know who else is part of the team.
Collectively, the team should decide when to set in motion the agreed processes or chain of events on the path to recovery, monitor and supervise that journey and ultimately switch back to ‘business as usual’ once the incident has been resolved.
Hardwire your processes
Business process management (BPM) can play an indispensable role in assisting organisations prepare for, deal with and recover in the best way possible from a myriad of challenges caused by both natural and man-made disasters.
Once you’ve identified common ‘what-if’ scenarios and estimated the likely repercussions on your business, you’ll need to modify or create new sets of processes for different teams to follow if those ‘what-ifs’ become reality.
For example, how will staff communicate either with other staff or customers if they are unable to get into the office, what steps are in place to allow you to divert IT systems and data flows to another location if a physical office site loses its ability to continue maybe due to a power outage, broadband issues or a break-in?
The true test of a robust process is when those that need to follow them are under extreme stress. Emergency situations demand rapid decision-making and unequivocal process execution.
Every business should always strive to design and build processes that are easy and clear for all personnel to find and follow. Processes that enable teams to act with minimum delay become absolutely critical in a disaster situation.
Cut complexity with checklists
As US doctor, writer and speaker Atul Gawande recommends in his book "The Checklist Manifesto" the introduction of simple checklists can cut through unnecessary complexity and encourage transparency - what Gawande describes as “tools that make experts better”.
It may sound basic, but well-designed checklists have been proven to improve outcomes for professions such as airline pilots and surgeons where safety is paramount. He also said that whilst you can’t make a recipe to be a highly skilled surgeon you can prepare a recipe to help a team deal with the unexpected.
With the adoption of checklists, hospitals were able to reduce complications by 35%. The same principle can and should be applied to teams responding to any calamity or extraordinary incident.
You also need to assess how and where you will store this critical process information, how it can be accessed and whether it provides adequate support for teams to respond appropriately and quickly when a crisis happens.
A checklist could be your best defence against irretrievable disaster
Stage regular dress rehearsals
Like an insurance policy, you hope that you may never need to put your DR recovery processes into practice, but it’s essential to regularly test and modify your procedures to keep them up to date and make sure they work. Simulation exercises can help you rehearse the measures everyone needs to take during an emergency.
While many organisations have spent the time to build an initial plan, many also fail to test and update their plans regularly.
With today’s pace of business change, a plan that might have been ideal two years ago will at best be less effective, and at worst useless if processes have not been updated to reflect business transformation and/or new threats. For instance what about the effects of impending legislation such as GDPR compliance that comes into force next year?
It’s imperative to assign process owners and experts to all of your processes, schedule regular reviews, make modifications as necessary and communicate these to all stakeholders.
Make sure sufficient resources are in place to fully implement the plan should a disaster occur, and test the plan and processes internally with regular drills so it’s fresh in everyone’s minds.
Get ready with team spirit
With the prevalence of natural and man-made disasters, it’s highly probable that one day your business will be affected. You simply can’t afford to think “this won’t happen to us” or rely on knee-jerk reactions to see you through.
But with advance preparation and business readiness you can and will make a tremendous difference to your customers, your employees and your future performance when a crisis strikes.
With a collaborative approach that encourages everyone to work as a group to create and follow agreed checklists, you can minimise any potential fallout as well as benefit from any lessons learnt.
If you haven’t already protected your business with a reliable ‘what-if’ strategy, then now is the perfect time to get the team together.
Ivan Seselj is CEO of Promapp Solutions, a provider of cloud-based process management (BPM) software for creating and managing business processes online.