INTRODUCTION TO BUSINESS CONTINUITY MANAGEMENT
We all need the support services that we often take for granted to be available to us 24/7 and whenever needed. Right from the telephone that we use to the internet connection, any downtime that this service faces is viewed unfavorably by us. But, given the uncertainties of the 21st century where a minor dislocation somewhere can have a cascading effect on the infrastructure, there is a need for business continuity management.
Simply put, the term denotes the recovery of the business or the service from an outage or disruption. The rapidity with which the service is restored depends on how well the business continuity was planned for and managed during the downtime and subsequent recovery.
Business continuity management has been at the forefront of corporate planning in recent years because of the interconnected and integrated global economy where one outage to one service threatens the whole chain involved.
In recent months, after the Fukushima disaster, business continuity management has become a buzzword for companies and governments alike with increased emphasis on how fast the business or the department recovers in case of disruption. And the example of banks like Citibank and Standard Chartered which have well-planned business continuity programs is a classic case of corporates thinking ahead and planning for emergencies.
For mission critical applications like the software in banks, power stations and airports, the criticality of the service means that there is zero tolerance for downtime. We have seen in the last one year how the automated system at the IGI (Indira Gandhi International Airport) went down throwing the entire airport into chaos and severely impacting the travel plans of thousands of passengers. Hence, it becomes a matter of vital importance that such systems have continuity programs in place which would minimize the downtime and reduce the outage effect.
Business continuity management is not just about having systems in place for backups and to fall back on. There needs to be a mindset change in the employees who operate these systems and hence what is needed is the ability to switch to the backup system or the offshore site and resume operations within no time. For this to happen, the workforce must be adequately trained to react swiftly in case of emergencies and load the backup system or rush to the offsite to ensure uninterrupted service. These abilities call for agility and speed in the workforce and this can be achieved only through mock drills and procedures that stimulate the actual disasters.
Of course, however much corporates plan for emergencies, “when it strikes” the spur of the moment reactions from the workforce and the robustness of the backup systems determine how well the business continuity management program works. To achieve the scalability that is needed and to ensure reliability the corporates must invest in state of the art business continuity programs which manage the downtime well and ensure that the users are not affected in a major way.
In conclusion, business continuity management is not just about people or machines but the combination of both which needs to click in the event of an emergency. The best laid plans go waste if there is no backup hierarchy to manage the continuity program. So, along with the workforce and the systems, astute management and visionary leadership are required.