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Business resilience beyond IT

By 6th December 2015 Blog, Resilience No Comments

If you search Google to find information about “business resilience” and “business continuity”, you may be surprised to discover that a lot of the results relate to IT. But there’s more to it than that.

We’ve probably all suffered a loss of IT and telecommunications capability at some time or other. Whether it’s simply the result of a delay migrating your broadband to a new supplier, or taking a server offline for maintenance, not being able to access information or the Internet can be very frustrating, even if only for a short duration.

So it’s easy to see why business resilience is often framed around the need to safeguard valuable IT and telecommunications assets.

And yet the range of things that can go wrong and disrupt your business is practically endless, and by no means limited to technology.

For instance, a key member of staff might suddenly take ill and be unable to work for 6 months – right in the middle of a critical project you’re conducting for your top client. Or a delivery driver could be involved in a serious motorway collision that sees a truckload of hazardous cargo spilled all across the road.

Fire, theft, workplace accident, payment of bribes by a colleague, loss of client data – these are all real threats that businesses face.

But then there are others of a more environmental nature. Flash flooding, severe gales, and even shortages of crucial raw materials as a result of global over-consumption.

Whatever the cause, they all have a number of things in common:

Firstly, they can harm your reputation.

Secondly, they can undermine your competitiveness.

And, thirdly, they can distract you from the pursuit of growth.

The good news is that, whilst the “when” might be unpredictable, the “what” and the “how” are entirely predictable.

Business resilience: hope for the best, plan for worst

If you haven’t already read this book, you should. The Magic of Thinking Big is one of those self-help books that’s actually packed with genuinely good tips.

Amongst other things, it tells us that “winners have parachutes”. What does that mean? Well, in short, it means that successful people always have a Plan B for when things go wrong, as they inevitably sometimes do.

Businesses that plan ahead for abnormal and emergency scenarios are much more resilient and able to rebound from setbacks more easily.

So, where to start?

In this blog about crisis preparedness, we discussed how it’s a good idea to approach it like the sort of risk assessment you might conduct for a particularly dangerous manual task.

Let’s explore that a step further in the context of business resilience.

The first thing you want to do is create a Risk Register. This is a list of all the things in your business that present a risk to your operations. It helps to group similar risks under collective headings, for instance:

– people
– places
– governance
– supply chain
– energy and resources
– infrastructure

So, under governance, you could include things like not submitting your annual accounts on time, for example.

For each business risk you identify, you then need to perform a separate but linked risk assessment that identifies the likelihood of something going wrong, the consequences if it does and risk reduction and mitigation measures. Make sure you consider reputational consequences.

Sticking with the submission of your annual accounts on time (and the impacts of not doing so) your risk assessment might indicate that the likelihood is low, because your finance team is on top of it and there’s no history of late submission, but what happens if the person who is normally responsible for it takes two weeks’ paternity leave and forgets to get it done?

And what about the consequences? There’s the potential for escalating penalty payments and a downgrading of your credit rating which could affect your ability to trade with customers and suppliers alike. Continue to overlook it, and Companies House can even apply to have your business struck off the register of companies.

What at first seems like a pretty unlikely administrative oversight suddenly looks like a costly, time consuming and reputationally challenging headache.

Considered in advance, it’s possible to develop risk reduction (procedures, supervisory checks) and mitigation (rapid response to a Companies House reminder) measures that prevent a genuine administrative error from snowballing into something that will distract you from your growth ambitions, even if only slightly.

Act on it

There’s nothing worse than undertaking a risk assessment that identifies risk reduction and mitigation measures, only for it to end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere or, worse still, insisting on control measures that aren’t implemented.

Some years ago, in 2006, a sub-contractor to one of our construction sector clients compiled a risk assessment covering access to the top of a single-storey structure within a new build shop. It identified Work At Height risks, and committed to a number of risk reduction measures that included the use of edge protection, Mobile Elevated Work Platforms and access ladders that would be permanently affixed to the edge protection scaffolding. In practice, none of these measures were implemented, leading to a worker falling from a height of almost 2 metres and very badly breaking his leg. He’s never worked since.

When investigating, the Health and Safety Executive rightly went to town on the sub-contractor for having identified risks and then done nothing to prevent them. It also didn’t share the details of its risk assessment with the workers doing the job.

So, having put together your Risk Register and associated risk assessments, it’s crucial that you then act on what they tell you and put in place any identified risk reduction and mitigation measures, which you can build into written crisis plans. Furthermore, you must communicate key details to relevant employees so that they understand what’s expected of them – especially in the event that one of your identified risks is ever realised and it becomes necessary to execute your crisis response.

These simple steps will help to improve your business resilience considerably, and keep you on the road to growth. Now, stop reading, and go pack your parachute.

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