Magazine article Risk Management

Why Do Business Continuity Plans Fail?

Magazine article Risk Management

Why Do Business Continuity Plans Fail?

Article excerpt

Business continuity plans (BCPs), once the narrow focus of risk managers and continuity practitioners, are on the front pages of the business press and on the minds of the world. September 11 brought BCP successes and failures; by analyzing what went wrong, companies can help prevent history from repeating itself.

Business continuity plans fail most often because of a lack of initial effort and subsequent commitment; this is largely due to the fact that developing and implementing BCPs can be an arduous and politically sensitive project. The BCP planning team must have a penchant for detail and the fortitude to follow through with the requisite testing and documentation of alternative recovery scenarios. It must move across organizational boundaries, eliciting cooperation from the various groups that will eventually rely on each other in disaster situations. It must regularly update and test the BCP. And throughout this process the team depends on the ongoing commitment of company resources.

If any of these planning, implementation and maintenance processes break down, a business continuity plan is exposed to potential failure.

Eight Points of BCP Failure

1. A one-size-fits-all solution. The traditional one-size-fits-all solution typically relies on small recovery teams--often 20 percent of staff--for a short period of time or requires clustering leadership in single sites to achieve economies of scale. This cannot be counted on.

Creative and customized thinking leads to a more successful plan and better chances of surviving disaster.

2. Deficiencies in the tests. Organizations that spend the time, effort and expense to construct BCPs but do not test them are not man aging their investments wisely. Most likely, these firms will not be able to successfully enact their BCPs when a crisis begins. Merely documenting a plan does not guarantee success. To ensure usability: a BCP must be diligently, comprehensively and consistently tested. Live testing also trains the staff. When a crisis ensues, staff members who have been through the tests are prepared to act with confidence.

3. Inadequate maintenance. To prepare for a roadside emergency means more than carrying a spare tire; it means checking the tire regularly to make sure it is inflated. The same holds true for BCPs. Without adequate and aggressive maintenance, BCPs become obsolete quickly--sometimes within months. In organizations that use cutting-edge technologies or have high employee turnover, the recovery process after a major disaster could stumble if plans are not updated consistently. And even stagnant businesses constantly undergo process-related changes, involving new products and reengineering.

These changes must be addressed within the BCP process. Additionally, alternative business operation and backup sites should be constantly evaluated to assess functionality and compatibility with changes to the BCP plan.

4. Lack of senior management involvement. A BCP project will not get off the ground without backing from the company leaders. The tone from the top can eliminate resistance to the tedious tasks of building, testing and maintaining BCPs.

Senior management must mandate enterprisewide compliance. BCP coordinators need to know they are empowered to work with line managers to protect the business.

5. No enterprisewide accountability and coordination. A lack of centralized accountability creates varying levels of preparedness among divisions, putting the entire organization at risk. Organizations must establish a visible and prominent unit to coordinate the enterprisewide BCP. Whether in the form of a project management office or a department with a full-time senior manager and support staff, a single point of accountability is imperative for success. Charging a unit with leadership and accountability allows other department managers to concentrate on defining specific trigger events, mapping high-level workflows and documenting first drafts of the BCP. …

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