UK Whiteout - SMB's need better Business Continuity Planning


With SMB's facing severe disruption the Continuity Forum asks is it always someone elses fault?

As business struggles in the face of economic recession, heavy snowfall across the UK has added to their woes, but also highlights the lack of Business Continuity Planning in most businesses.

Despite the warnings of likely disruptions given by authorities, many firms and organisations ground to a halt, and staff struggled to cope with transport system cancellation and the closure of many schools.

Estimates of the impact on the UK economy exceed £3bn. Mainstream media have been critical of some local authorities for the perceived failure to do enough to keep business working during the arctic conditions despite a massive amount of work by many local authorities to keep roads open.

Criticism has been levelled at London’s government in particular for not doing enough and hordes of interviews have populated the airways and press criticising or justifying the response to the February Snowfall. Perhaps though a little more time should be spent asking business what is it doing to minimise the impact of what after all is something that could easily be anticipated ... Snow in the Winter!

We've seen this happen many times before, yet despite huge strides in building resilience through legislation, regulation and standards far too few have heeded the calls and implemented proper BCM plans to cope with disruption. It’s far too easy to point to the finger of blame towards the public sector, but this masks a deeper issue and just provides a convenient option for organsiations to pass off their responsibilities to someone else.

Business needs to understand that it is really a bit silly to look to transfer blame when its them that’s losing money. They could have done far more to help themselves. Our latest research shows that across the whole SMB sector fewer than 14% have BCM plans in place, and most of these lack the depth to deliver real resilience and continuity.

Larger organisations tend fare better, with more than half having plans in place, but it is only once you look at the top tier of business that you see adoption levels in excess of 80%. SMB owners and managers tend to feel that BCM is ‘just’ for these large corporates or government and not for them; they see it as ‘red tape’ or another burden on them - right up until the point an event strikes and they are affected.

Is it a communications failure? Is the message not getting out to these folks? I think not … It’s something else…

Since the inception of the Civil Contingencies Act in 2004, the public sector generally has had the duty to promote Business Continuity, and many have been very proactive trying to support local business develop plans that will help them cope.

Across the country, workshops and seminars have been held, highlighting the benefits of BCM and guiding enterprises on the key activities that will help keep them working when disruption occurs. Events have repeatedly shown the need for BCM to be in place and yet 5 years after the CCA (act the A in CCA is the act) came into force and 3 years after the BSI Standard for Business Continuity was released, most UK business has done little or nothing to improve their preparedness.

The Continuity Forum is a key partner of many of these Authorities and a common theme has emerged over the past few years; the difficulty in getting SMB’s in particular to act.

To illustrate this point over the past few months we have helped half a dozen public sector bodies with Seminars, Workshops and Forums held locally and promoted to literally 10,000’s of organisations. The sessions have all been free to access and offered sound advice and much of the guidance needed to keep business rolling with minimal investment.

These sessions were a success, with great content delivered and the feedback received was excellent. One thing that sticks in the mind, though, is the difficulties faced in engaging and getting attendance… you’d have thought that the chance to get world class support and advice that could save their business - for free - would have folks knocking down the doors and that the booking line would be ringing off the hook, but no.

It’s a well known problem in the industry, it’s a split between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’. Some that have realised that having a plan, developed from decades of expert experience and distilled into a simple structure as we see in the British Standard makes excellent financial sense, and those who adopt it reap the benefit of Continuity when the Snow comes (or any other type of disruption for that matter).They have been responsible enough (and thoughtful enough perhaps) to recognise that playing a blame game after the event is pretty pointless.

Those that have chosen to do nothing struggle and blame others, but really achieve  little and leave themselves them open to the question “Did you not have a plan?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all unsympathetic to the challenges facing the SMB sector, exactly the opposite in fact. Yet it is incumbent on those in charge to act on the advice and support available, and it’s here that the work needs to be done if we are truly to get business resilient to disruption.

At a time of economic uncertainty, SMB organisations need to be aware that they are even more exposed to the vagaries of chance than in boom times. Failure to recognise that puts at risk everything that they have built.

A rather blinkered view seems to prevail amongst most of the executives, owners and managers of the SMB Sector that makes them feel immune; it’s a culture of denial and a belief that it won’t happen to them as if they are above Risk and indeed even Nature.

This attitude reminds me of King Canute facing the tide and commanding it to retreat … the oft forgotten lesson intended to be shown by this tale is that even a King cannot overcome everything, but it is now more commonly seen as the ‘folly’ of Canute.

The effects of this winters snow should have come as no surprise; bad weather especially in winter has a record of creating disruption. The surprise is that folks still think they don’t need to prepare for the inevitable.

Advances in knowledge and technology especially in the areas of ICT can provide insulation from the effect of disruption at minimal cost, and, managed as part of a BCM plan, can yield a real return from far more than weather events.


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