Browsing articles in "Management"

Have you really thought about getting ready for Winter?

Nov 8, 2011   //   by David   //   Business Continuity, Management, Reputation  //  No Comments

It’s that time of year again…. It’s November, the clocks have been changed and leaves are rapidly leaving the trees. Almost exactly 12 months ago we had the first falls of snow. Last year’s problems were that the temperature stayed below zero from November through to almost the end of January. So the snow became ice and even more snow fell. Repeat for 6 to 8 weeks and that’s what happened last year. I’m sure you remember the problems this caused with roads being gridlocked, trains and planes being stuck and a general sense of “oh no”. Sure, it gave us a nice white Christmas, but for many businesses it was a stressful period. Retailers suffered with a dramatically reduced footfall in what is normally their busiest season. Distribution businesses suffered because, although main roads had been kept open, many smaller roads were dangerous and even un-driveable for weeks. Healthcare was under pressure with many more slips and falls injuries than normal. I remember all too well the number of mornings I spent shovelling snow from my driveway. Roads closed, airports closed, schools closed, businesses interrupted. We’ve already seen the east coast of America having a severe snowfall which resulted in massive disruption.

The question has to be, have you actually learned the lessons from last year?

What have you done to ensure that your business is ready for winter? We all know what happens in the UK when there is a significant snowfall. Everything stops. Despite the latitude of the country we seem to manage to be taken by surprise – every year. Why? Why should it be a surprise that when it snows transport becomes difficult? It can only be because we don’t really think back to the problems of previous winters and actually make preparations. Although the weather forecasters can give us a decent forecast for the next 48 hours or so, we’re not good at taking it seriously. A statistic from a Transport Scotland survey is that 70% of journeys to work are by car/van/minibus. Public transport only accounts for 15% of journeys to work. So when the roads become difficult it’s no wonder there’s an immediate impact on workforces. Have you considered asking your staff how they commute to work? (look out the window at the staff car park and do a quick estimate of the impact road disruption will have.)

Last winter, one of the most challenging days in Scotland came on a Monday morning when there was a severe and heavy snowfall across most of the central belt between 07:00am and 10:00am. This snowfall was forecast, but when the morning commuter traffic started the snow hadn’t. It fell at the worst possible time and led to pretty much all of central Scotland being gridlocked and closed by lunchtime. It took several days to get the main roads clear again and many weeks before all the side roads were cleared. Much criticism of the local authorities and Government followed. Now, to be fair the Scottish Government has taken this seriously and has made plans to ensure that wherever possible they are better prepared for winter. There is an increased quantity of grit/salt available across the country. All in all, it is an encouraging sign that the Government taking the problems which we had last winter seriously. There is a Ready Scotland website which will be used as one of the communications channels : http://readyscotland.org . Twitter feeds and various other real time information services will be used.

Regardless of the preparations being made by Government and other public sector bodies there are simple steps which can be taken by any business and by each and every one of us :

For Businesses/Organisations

  1. Be sure you know what your business critical processes and services are. Can you readily say what you will *not* do if the weather prevents your staff from travelling to work? If you can do this, by implication you must know what you *will* do.
  2. Be sure that you have an up-to-date and reliable (i.e. tested) way of getting a message to all staff outside of normal working hours. Likewise for suppliers and customers. Use your website or use Twitter (with care). Use a call-in messaging service for your staff, but make sure they know the number to call before the first fall of snow.
  3. Review your policies and procedures for staff working from home (if appropriate, and remember that employers still have duties under H&S law for staff working at home). Also review your staff absence policies. What decision will you make if schools are closed and staff need to look after children? How much pressure is your staff under to travel to work if the Police and Government advice is not to travel? It’s not easy, but war-gaming this scenario now could avoid considerable stress and problems later.
  4. Consider what you would do if your staff needed to stay overnight closer to their place of work. Can you help with accommodation?

For everyone who commutes by road (and surveys say that’s 70% of us)

If you travel to work by car you really should take sensible precautions to prepare yourself.

  1. Carry suitable clothing and winter shoes/boots in the car (and gloves, possibly a hat)
  2. Carry a suitable charger for their mobile phone in the car
  3. Consider buying winter tyres (most tyre dealers now have stock of common sizes. Some will store your “summer” tyres for you)
  4. Carry a grab bag of emergency resources – e.g. foil blanket, hi-visibility vest, torch/lightstick, bottle of water, something to eat –sweets maybe.
  5. Keep car fuel level higher than you may in good weather. Sitting idling for hours in traffic jam can burn more petrol/diesel than you’d expect.

 

This is probably the most common sense thing we’ve ever written about but…………

ARE YOU READY FOR WINTER ? Really??


 

Me – I’ve bought a couple of plastic snow shovels and have them ready and waiting………. And my grab bag is in the boot of my car.

 

As usual please feel free to post your thoughts and comments on this blog entry.

 

 

 

 

How Brittle is your Business?

Sep 9, 2011   //   by David   //   Business Continuity, Management  //  No Comments

The biggest news in emergency and operational resilience this week has been the massive power outages in the West Coast of the United States. You can read the details in many places on the web, but the summary is:

  • A very large area affected (Arizona, California and Mexico
  • 5 million homes without power
  • Major cities without power (people stuck in elevators, traffic gridlock because of lighting failures)
  • Nuclear power stations taken off-line for safety

And it seems this was caused by a power company engineer carrying out a planned piece of maintenance work. I guess this is the law of unseen consequences in action. What it illustrates to me is just how “brittle” our services really are. If the action of one man can cause such an enormous area to be hit, what would happen if there had been a major incident which triggered the power outage? Because the source of the failure was almost immediately identified the power companies were able to commence their plans for turning the power back on very quickly. Although, as I write this there are still large areas where power may not be restored for a further 48 hours.

Can we be confident in how our business/organisation would recover if such a failure occurred where we work? We may have conducted our own operational risk and resilience planning but do we really understand how brittle the services we take for granted may be? This probably relates more to our reliance on power and telecommunication utilities. These are supplied by very large companies where it’s difficult to audit the real inherent resilience in their networks of cables and pipes. All we can do is plan for the worst. If you can answer the following two questions then you are probably in as good shape as you can be:

  1. If power fails for an extended period do you know how it would impact on your business? Have you got tested and proven plans? (remember, *everyone* will be reaching for the Yellow Pages to call the generator hire companies)
  2. If voice and data network connections fail for an extended period, how will that affect your business? (Should you consider having a satellite phone for emergencies? Can you control your voice and data network from a remote site?)

There were more than two questions, but it’s designed to make you think. With all organisations under pressure to achieve the very best results with the minimum resources, maybe we’re giving our organisations osteoporosis without understanding the risks this brings.

So how do you fix it? Fortunately help is at hand. Getting back to the basics of understanding what is critical in your organisation and developing plans to ensure that those most critical parts are protected are the essential steps. These can be done by following the guidance laid out in many business continuity planning and management standards. Yes, get help in if you can’t make headway on your own. Then test the plans. Shut off the power to your office/site. See what really happens. Don’t make assumptions about the help you’ll get from the emergency services. They’re going to be very busy and stretched dealing with real emergencies. Make your plans. Don’t assume that because the flood or power failure or severe weather only happens every 40 years that it’s not going to happen tomorrow.

If something as seemingly simple as a routine maintenance/repair task on a single strand of the power grid can have such a huge impact it makes it even more important to be sure that you know how to protect and recover your business. This incident in America proves just how brittle our businesses could be.

After all, if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, what might the consequences be………..

 

 

 

 

What Price – Business Continuity?

Aug 3, 2011   //   by David   //   Business Continuity, Management, Reputation  //  No Comments

As a professional services company working in the risk/resilience/recovery field we’re often asked by our clients to advise them on what they should be spending on Business Continuity. Now, leaving aside the old jokes about consultants borrowing your watch to tell you the time, this does put us in an interesting position. What price is the “right price” for business continuity? Read on for some suggestions.

How do you know that your organisation has prepared well enough to be able to recover from unforeseen events? No international standard or regulatory body can force any organisation to commit a sum of money towards resilience. Yet worries about resilience and reputational risk come up time after time in audit committee reports. While many millions are spent on I.T. technical disaster recovery, this on its own doesn’t make an organisation resilient. “Business continuity” is still something of an anathema for boardroom spend, which is why they ask our advice. The board don’t yet think they have a good yardstick to measure the value of resilience and business continuity. The obvious answer to this is to work out what you stand to lose from an incident. Think carefully about this before you answer. You may like to think about your business in ways like this:

  • How many widgets do we manufacture (or consume) in a day/week/month?
  • How much does our Business Interruption Insurance cost?
  • Where will we keep working from if we can’t get into our normal site? (hint – think about what might happen if you had to vacate your site in hurry and left all laptops and paperwork in the site)
  • How many people work at the site?
  • Who manages our communications capabilities?
  • How do we communicate with each other and head office in the middle of an incident?
  • Where is the report from the last resilience/recovery incident management test?
  • What did we spend on technical I.T. disaster recovery?
  • Have we ever fully restored our backup I.T. systems and how long did it take?
  • We’ve two I.T. rooms, but they’re both on the same site. What level of resilience are we really getting here?

So, my challenge to all readers of this blog who are involved in any kind of on-going business is this: What value do you put on being confident that you can recover from any incident? Always think about the bigger picture. Sure you probably know all your colleagues and peers phone numbers (mobile and home) but an event way beyond your control could be the trigger that stops your operations. In recent years we’ve seen outbreaks of flu, severe weather, volcanic eruptions, fuel shortages, stock market volatility. These are only the big events, smaller scale incidents of floods and technology failure have impacted on many thousands of businesses. It all comes back to the question in the topic for this post – what price business continuity? Is it a responsible management attitude to spend as little as possible in the hope that an incident never happens? Is it a responsible management attitude to consider how much turnover/profit and reputation will be lost if an incident occurs then base a business continuity budget on the cost impact of one major incident?

To us, the answer is obvious and it’s not an answer any consulting firm can influence. Before we reveal our method – I’d be interested in hearing from other people in business (and consulting) for your ideas.

What price – Business Continuity?

 

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