Business Continuity

What is Business Continuity

So, what is business continuity anyway? It’s a great question. It’s also a question that comes up all the time. It should have a simple answer, yet the definitions and answers I hear are often long-winded and complex. So, what is business continuity? Before I give you my answer, let me provide you with the definition from the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 1600 (Which is their Business Continuity Standard).

According to the NFPA 1600, Business Continuity is An ongoing process to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to identify the impact of potential losses and maintain viable recovery strategies, recovery plans, and continuity of services.

I like to keep things simple, so the above is the simplest of all the definitions out there. What do you think about the definition? Do you like it?

Yeah, me neither. As I said, I like to keep things simple. So, let me give you, my definition.

What is business continuity? It is disaster preparedness for business.

Disaster Preparedness for Business

There you go. Now it doesn’t get much simpler than that, does it?

Just in case, here is a video by the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) explaining what business continuity is.

Now that we know that business continuity in its simplest form, is disaster preparedness for business; we need to discuss more how as a business we properly prepare for disasters and disruptions.

Let’s start by looking at the Professional Practices for Business Continuity Management created and maintained by the Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII).

According to the DRII, Professional Practices are a body of knowledge that provides a framework to develop, implement, and maintain a business continuity program that reduces the likelihood for significant gaps and increases the cohesion of the business continuity program.

The Professional Practices are broken down into ten areas as follows:

  1. Program Initiation
  2. Risk Assessment
  3. Business Impact Analysis
  4. Business Continuity Strategies
  5. Incident Response
  6. Plan Development and Implementation
  7. Awareness and Training Programs
  8. Business Continuity Plan Exercises, Assessment, and Maintenance
  9. Crisis Communications
  10. Coordination with External Agencies

Addressing each of the areas named above as part of your business continuity program increases your ability as a business to recover and operate the business. To continue to provide goods and services to your clients and limit potential losses to revenue, reputation, and customers.

Business Continuity Program Initiation

One of the most important parts of a business continuity program is getting it started in the right way. Doing so sets both you and your business up for a successful program.

Here is how to get your program started the right way.

Establish the need for a business continuity program

The first step is determining the need to start a business continuity program. While every business has the need and should have a business continuity program and plan, establishing the need for a program within the business is not always easily accomplished.

To establish a Business Continuity program, you will need to gain the support of others within your business.

Obtain support and funding for the business continuity program

Sometimes gaining support is easier said than done. Here is how to go about gaining support for your business continuity program.  You will need to speak to your colleagues, managers, and executives within the business to obtain both support and funding for the business continuity program.

While business continuity is often looked at as a cost center in that it doesn’t directly attribute revenue to the business, it is an extremely important activity that reduces potential and real losses in revenue in several ways. It also reduces costs. Let me provide you with real examples that some of our clients have had results with.

One client recently obtained a $500 Million dollar increase in insurance coverage with zero increase in premium costs. This was done based on the Business Continuity Plans and Program developed after meeting with the insurance providers and providing details of the program and progress made.

Another client was able to reduce potential losses of over $149 Million by reducing Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) from 45 Days to just three days and planning accordingly resulting in a savings of 93% or $139 + Million Dollars. With the new strategies in place, the potential loss over three days was approximately $10.5 Million dollars. However, since the RTO was reduced to just three days, the likelihood of a loss in revenue was effectively reduced to zero since the customers being served would likely not leave based on just a three-day disruption. This assumption was made based on historical data from other national labs.

 Additionally, many businesses are asked to meet business continuity and disaster recovery requirements from their customers that want them to ensure that the products and services they provide to them are met even after a disaster or disruption. This allows for businesses that have robust business continuity programs in place to increase their pricing as well.

One of the methods we use here at the Erwood Group is to provide our clients with a Financial Impact Analysis that allows them to visualize the monetary and economic value and utility of implementing a business continuity program. Additionally, we also like to educate them on the many ways in how business continuity provides value to a business.

Once we change the conversation with business executives and managers to how business continuity provides value and show various ways the business can reduce costs and obtain a return on investment (ROI) implementing a business continuity program just makes sense.

Build the organizational framework to support the business continuity program

Support from executives isn’t the only type of support you’ll be needing. An effective business continuity program needs to create an organizational framework, systems, methodology, teams, charters, and supporting statements and policies to be in place to support the needs and requirements of the program.

Additionally, you’ll need someone, preferably a team, that works on and within the business continuity program on a continual basis to keep the program running smoothly.

Charters. Polices, and Statements

Charters, Policies, and even statements can and should be created. The biggest question is which do you need? Ultimately it depends on the needs and requirements of your organization. However, at the very least you should have a general Business Continuity Statement that you can provide to customers that ask if your business has a business continuity plan or program in place. I’d also recommend having a client-facing business continuity statement on your website that is viewable to all current and potential future clients. Keep these statements at a very high level and provide a point of contact if someone wishes to formally ask deeper questions.

A business continuity charter outlines the overall program in its scope, timeline, standards used, its purpose, who heads it and has ownership, the departments, team members, or key players, the implementation of a steering committee, the lifecycle of the planning and program, the actual details of the framework to develop, implement, and maintain the plan and programs over time, and how often reviews and exercises will take place. Ultimately, it is a highly detailed document with executive approval and signed that details the processes of how the business continuity program will be run, managed, and overseen.

A policy is a high-level document that states business continuity is part of the business, is organizational-wide, and discusses standards and rules as enforced by the business. It is not as detailed as a program charter is.

Do you need a Charter and a Policy? No. However, if given a choice a charter with its details should be the first and optimal choice. If your organization requires a policy, you may opt to develop both or create a policy that has the depth of a charter.

Steering Committees

Depending on the size of your organization, or as a matter of policy within the organization you may need to or want to create and have the support of a steering committee for your business continuity program. In a smaller business there may not be a need for one, but in a large business with a lot of resources, moving parts, and constant changes it is almost a necessity.

It is usually best to have steering committee members made up of upper management teams that oversee the departments that will be involved in the business continuity program so that they add authority and convey the importance of getting the program off the ground and running smoothly.

In the beginning initial stages of the project, it may be necessary to meet more frequently, but ultimately meeting once per quarter is often enough.

How Many and What Departments Will Be Involved

This is the best time to start planning how many and which departments will be involved. What you want to do primarily is focus on core critical business functions. The difficulty arises when you have a large enterprise with many critical functions spread across the globe.

In the case of large global businesses with many critical core functions, it is best to start this planning early and this is how many larger companies run into trouble or get ‘Stuck’ in one of the phases of the business continuity program process. If you have gotten stuck – Learn How to Get Unstuck in Your Contingency Planning.

At this stage, it’s best to start planning your strategy for how you will move each department through each of the phases of the program. Usually, with 10 or more departments, I usually recommend breaking them into groups of five. This allows you to conduct your first set of Business Impact Analyses and then to quickly move this first group into a strategy selection phase while the BIA is still fresh in their minds.

The BIA phase is a key area where many businesses get stuck. They try to cycle everyone through the BIA phase before moving to the next phase. The reason this becomes an issue is it takes time to do over a large set of departments, functions, and groups. By the time you reach the end, often years later, the original BIAs become stale and irrelevant, and people also have forgotten what was discussed.

This also accounts for a lack of progress and therefore executive buy-in starts to wane and diminish as well.

Here’s what we at Erwood Group do. As we move the first cohort into the strategy selection phase, we also bring the second cohort into the BIA phase. We continually cycle each group through the phases this way to avoid getting stuck, to show progress, and keep executive buy-in, and group participation high. It allows others to see progress being made and achieved. It also assists in boosting results and maintains the momentum of the program.

As soon as you can determine what departments or functions will be taking part break them into smaller cohorts. Then begin laying out your project roadmap through the phases of the business continuity program.

Introduce key concepts, such as program management, risk awareness, identification of critical functions/processes, recovery strategies, training and awareness, and exercising/testing

This is also the best time to introduce and discuss the key concepts around developing and implementing your business continuity program. You’ll want to discuss the following with your colleagues and management.

Business Continuity Program Management

It’s important to lay the groundwork early on around how the business continuity program will be managed over the short-term including how the program will be initiated, developed, and progress into a long-term, everlasting program and how over time you will get there.  It’s important to discuss as you will want to include these key details into the charter we discussed earlier.

Risk Awareness

You’ll want to address and raise risk awareness around the risks that the business faces as well as their impact on your business and operations. This is particularly important if you do not have a risk management team in place currently.

Identification of Critical Functions & Processes

Before proceeding with the various phases of the program initiation and development, time should be spent identifying core and critical functions and processes that are required to keep the business running.

These Functions and processes should be focused on:

  1. Life Safety
  2. Revenue Generating or Revenue Sustaining
  3. Customer-Centric Contractual Agreements (SLAs)
  4. Regulatory and Compliance Related
  5. Other Legal Obligations

Note: In many cases, most businesses will need to worry about things like shelter-in-place or evacuation of people and that’s as far as their life safety concerns need to go. However, for other settings such as in healthcare facilities, life safety considerations need to be first and foremost prior to considering revenue generation. Not that revenue generation is not important in these facilities, but that life safety considerations need to be at the forefront.

Also, doing this early and having a clear determination on which functions and processes to consider for your business continuity program and which will have business continuity plans developed will prevent you from getting stuck on which areas of the business or organization should participate.

If not done with the outline presented above, you will, and still may face a lot of pushback from other functional areas that consider themselves critical. They may in fact be during normal business operations, but in the grand scheme of continuing operations during or post-disaster or disruption these will have little impact on the organization until operations return to normal.

Recovery Strategies

Now is the time to meet with executives to establish sensible and workable business continuity recovery strategies.

For instance, most businesses today declare that employees can work remotely, and this is perfectly fine. We just need to be sure that processes and systems are in place to handle this. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns have occurred, this is generally not an issue in most cases today.

However, some businesses can’t have every staff member work remotely. Such as manufacturers, laboratories, distribution centers, and other warehouse workers are needed to keep working at specific locations and in many cases, they require specific pieces of equipment to continue working. 

In some situations, employees need to shift work to an alternate worksite. Considerations for notifying employees, and even providing transportation and/or accommodations to employees may be required as well.

You’ll need to select viable business continuity recovery strategies for the following areas:

  1. People
  2. Properties
  3. Processes
  4. Technology
  5. Vendors

Training and Awareness

This is also a great time to begin to think about how you will conduct training and awareness within the business continuity program. There will be two key times for raising awareness and several opportunities to conduct training.

The first real opportunity to generate awareness will be to have business continuity program kick-off staff meetings. Holding these meetings is your best first chance at providing high-level awareness around the business continuity program, how it will be conducted, who will be participating, who at the executive level is supporting the effort, what resources are required, and how much time will be needed, and key the phases. Another key time for raising awareness is during exercises.

Depending on how you implement, develop, and run the program you’ll have several opportunities to provide training. There can be training provided prior to or during key phases of the program. The number one method of providing training throughout the program into the future will be during exercises.

Exercises, Training, and Testing

As we just mentioned, you will be conducting exercises once the plans are developed. This is done to look for weaknesses, gaps, learning (training), awareness, building confidence, developing new strategies, working with interdependent groups, discovering new interdependencies, and more.

While many use a “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach (I hate that saying) we at the Erwood Group developed our own methodology and system developed by our own Keith Erwood Called Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™.

The reason I hate the crawl, walk, run saying is that it is too vague and provides no real insight into what you should be doing during the exercises. It provides no information on what the overall goal of the exercise should be or at what stage in the process or program the teams are at.

This is the main reason why Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ was created. It provides a clear set of objectives that should be happening at each stage. It also provides a logical progression of where we should be over time. Ultimately, the end goal of a mature program is that we should be able to hold exercises that push seasoned plans and their teams to grow and expand and find new ways or strategies to overcome any obstacle. It also provides a safe environment to learn (potentially to fail and learn in a safe way), and to build skills and confidence in the teams’ capabilities.

We’ll talk more about exercises later. Just know that the Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ methodology can and should be implemented as part of the business continuity program development as well.

Risk Assessment

Risk Assessments are extremely important to conduct and it is in fact one of the reasons Why Business Continuity Plans Fail when they are not done or done inadequately. 

A Risk assessment can be basic or complex as to its depth, but it should not be glossed over or skipped. If you’re part of a large organization that has some type of existing risk management team in place, partner with them to obtain the latest risks to the business.

If your business or organization has no risk management team or process in place visit the Chief Financial Officer as they are the ones responsible for operational risk and find out if a risk assessment has been done.

If no risk assessment has been done, it is easy to do a basic risk assessment. If you need a resource for this, you can click the link to obtain our free basic risk assessment. If you need something more robust for your risk assessment than our free resource, contact us to see if you require our Advanced Risk Assessment Tool.

One thing I want to add in this section is a brief statement on risk management. Risk management is important to all businesses. Done properly, risk management allows you to take advantage of upside opportunities, while mitigating downside or negative risks and outcomes.

Overall, risk management is looking at the impacts of what if this scenario occurs. And business continuity, as a subset of risk management and business preparedness preparations, is what we do when that situation occurs.

Identify risks that can adversely affect an entity’s resources or image

The purpose of the risk assessment is to identify the business or organization’s exposure to certain events (most likely negative at this stage) and put mitigation strategies in place to reduce the impacts

Additionally, we at the Erwood Group like to define the top five and top ten potential risks to a business or organization and directly call those out so risk mitigation and controls can be put into place.

Assess risks to determine the potential impacts to the entity, enabling the entity to determine the most effective use of resources to reduce these potential impacts

Once the risks and the probability of occurrence are assessed, we begin to look at the impacts on the business should these events occur.

This brings us to conducting an in-depth Business Impact Analysis. 

Business Impact Analysis

 

The Business Impact Analysis commonly referred to as the BIA is one of the most important phases of your overall business continuity program. It is the method used to gather data about your core and critical functions and processes, essentially setting the foundation for your business continuity program and business continuity plans. You’ll use the BIA to gather all the data and information you require to analyze and make key decisions in the development of your business continuity plans.

Here are the key things you’ll be doing with your BIA.

Identify and prioritize the entity’s functions and processes in order to ascertain which ones will have the greatest impact should they not be available

 

The first step is to identify and prioritize the functions and processes within the business. You’ll then usually work with the most critical and core functions and processes first. This is especially true if you have many business functions and processes within your enterprise. 

Assess the resources required to support the business impact analysis process

 

Prior to beginning the BIA you’ll need to identify the best resources and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for each function and process.

You’ll need to schedule time for each resource and SME for interviews, completing surveys, and potentially completing workshops. It’s best to separate each cohort by department, function, and process to gather the necessary data and ask questions during the interview and workshops.

Key Data to Collect during the BIA

Recovery Time Objective (RTO)
Recovery Time Objective

You’ll want to gather some very specific information during the BIA phase for each function and process. This includes:

  • Recovery Time Objective (RTO) of the process
  • Any Dependencies and Interdependencies on other internal or even external groups
  • Applications, Data, and other Technologies the process requires
  • What is the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) of any data that is input into the system?
  • How many people are required to complete the process?
  • What vendors are relied on for this process?

You’ll also want key contact information, especially for vendors and key employees required to complete specific processes.

While many businesses try to collect the absolute minimum data required for expediency, we at the Erwood Group like to utilize the BIA phase to gather all key data we can during this time. This allows us to complete in-depth analysis, Financial Impact Analysis, Downtime calculations, and more. It also requires the same amount of effort and time, so collecting additional data during this phase just makes sense.

With that said, some people forgo the BIA entirely. This is not a good idea and is in fact one of the common reasons why business continuity plans fail as mentioned earlier. It’s better to do a rapid and minimalist BIA than to not do one at all.

Analyze the findings to ascertain any gaps between the entity’s requirements and its ability to deliver those requirements

Once the BIA is complete this is a time to look for obvious gaps in capabilities, lack of manual processes, and a heavy reliance on specific technologies, groups, or key people.

This is also a time to create a BIA report to share with team members, steering committees, stakeholders, and executives.

Business Continuity Strategies

The development of viable business continuity strategies is an essential part of building your business continuity plan. In fact, I would say it is the keystone required to build an effective plan.

As mentioned earlier you’ll need effective and viable strategies for the following areas:

  1. People
  2. Properties
  3. Processes
  4. Technology
  5. Vendors

Select cost-effective strategies to reduce deficiencies as identified during the risk assessment and business impact analysis processes

Selecting cost-effective strategies as stated by DRII is important but selecting strategies that are effective and viable are just as if not more important. There are strategies that can be implemented that are in some cases zero or low cost, however, most strategies will incur some or significant costs.

For example, asking people to work from home (WFH) seems like a zero-cost solution, that when implemented thoughtfully and correctly requires at least some expense like laptops and VPN. When compared to the cost of an alternate location though, the cost is significantly less.

I’ll do a follow-up post on developing and selecting effective strategies in another post soon.

Incorporating Steps that support the strategies

Once you have the strategies selected you to need to add actionable steps that align and support those strategies that will be implemented.

These steps should be written in such a manner that would allow other team members or other personnel with the same skill sets to complete the steps should one of the main members of the team become unavailable.

For instance – rather than say we’ll relocate to an alternate location, say we will relocate to 123 location address, City, State, Zip.

Or rather than say we’ll utilize an alternate vendor, state something like the following:

  1. Notify Vendor Name of need
  2. Work with vendor to establish timeframe (to reach need or requirement)
  3. Set or establish communication guidelines
  4. Receive notification from a vendor that processes to support you are online (if needed)
  5. Shift work, personnel, processes, etc. to vendor

Remember, the above is an example, but the more details and steps you have the more smoothly things will fall into place during a crisis. You don’t want someone to have to think through a missing step or requirement that will be needed.

Make certain you list any steps that would need to occur internally as well. Will approval be required to complete a step? Would you need to contact procurement? What about facilities? Lastly, be certain you communicate steps to the incident response team.

Incident Response

Once you complete your Business Continuity Plans, you’ll want to consider how you’ll respond to incidents and develop formal written plans on who is involved and how to respond.

There is quite a bit involved here, and though first responders and emergency responders have a formal set of incident response systems in place, organizations develop their response plans to fit their own internal and perceived needs. Due to this the private sector is literally all over the map on incident response.

I’ll cover a high-level overview of what your Incident Response Should look like in a separate post.

Develop and assist with the implementation of an incident management system that defines organizational roles, lines of authority and succession of authority

Some sort of incident response needs to be put into place to manage all the parts of an incident, be it a major disaster, a significant disruption to the business or operations of the business, or even a medical emergency on-site, as well as other potential incidents.

The first step will be to determine who will be on the Incident Response Team (IRT) and what each member’s role and responsibilities will be.

For instance, who will be appointed as an Incident Commander? Does this person have ultimate authority to run the incident, and make recovery decisions? If not, who does? What does that look like?

Do any of your personnel have experience with the Incident Command System (ICS) or Incident Action Planning (IAP)?

If you do not have anyone on your team that has experience in these areas I highly recommend taking the IS-100.C: Introduction to the Incident Command System, ICS 100 training available through FEMA. It is free and all members of your team should take the training.

Additional training is available and should be taken as well through the FEMA National Incident Management System (NIMS) site.

Once you determine who will be on the Incident Response Team and what their roles will be you’ll also need to have an assessment team.

Incident Assessment

You’ll need a team to make initial assessments and ongoing assessments of the situation over time. You’ll also need to develop a formal written process and reporting document to make assessments to provide to the Incident Response Team.

These initial assessments can and should be done quickly by the assessment team. As an example, as a former first responder, we would always do a quick 10-second scene survey upon the first arrival at the scene of an incident. It’s a simple quick look around, what do you see, and what determinations can you make in that initial look?

For instance, if you had to evacuate a facility due to a fire, and it is actively burning and you can see flames and smoke, odds are your facility will be unusable and require repairs. It is possible during a later, secondary or tertiary assessment that it is determined that damage was less extensive and only to a specific portion of your facility and only a section or sections will remain unusable.

For a business organization, you should have someone knowledgeable and capable from facilities and information technology to be on your assessment team. Others may need to be added depending on the business type or industry as well.

Define requirements to develop and implement the entity’s incident response plan

Next, you’ll want to establish requirements for how you’ll develop and implement the incident response plan. When it will be activated, how it will be activated, how members will be notified of an incident, and the activation of the plan.

Over time, your incident will evolve and incorporate lessons learned from other incidents and protocols will be developed for when specific key things occur within your business.

Initially, you need some starting points as to how and when the Incident Response Team should meet. Additionally, they should be able to meet in person, virtually, and by phone or radio as needed.

Ensure that incident response is coordinated with outside organizations in a timely and effective manner when appropriate

At some point, you should exercise and coordinate with outside organizations when possible. At the very least you should have contact information for your local emergency responders, such as your local fire department, police station, office of emergency management, hospitals, utility providers, and more.

Reach out and talk to the local fire and police chiefs and invite them to come to visit your facility.

When an incident occurs, you will have members of your team speaking with and coordinating with these agencies.

You should also have certain information available to present as needed to responders. Some of this additional information could be:

  • Floor plans
  • Location of fire risers and standpipes
  • Location of any hazards or hazardous materials on site
  • Location of shelter in place

Plan Development and Implementation

When it comes time to develop and write your plans there are a few key things to know. First, when it comes to developing business continuity plans, especially for larger enterprise businesses plans should be developed by department or function. If this is not done, the plans tend to contain too much information and become too large, and that’s when people tend not to want to look at them.

That said, they should be filled with any pertinent information required to recover your business processes, instructions for manual workarounds, and other steps required to continue performing those functions.

If you’re a smaller or mid-sized business with fewer functions and processes, you can get away with developing a single plan for all your functions. But I strongly recommend as you grow, and the plan becomes harder to manage and maintain that you break it into small and more manageable department-based plans.

Document plans to be used during an incident that will enable the entity to continue to function

When you create and document your plans, you’ll again want to cover key specific areas that we previously mentioned:

  1. People
  2. Properties
  3. Processes
  4. Technology
  5. Vendors

Each of the above should be a clearly defined section and lay out the previously selected strategies and supporting action steps for each strategy selected.

Traditionally, all plans were written or printed out and put into binders, and given to key personnel to carry with them at all times. This also presents some potential problems. The biggest issue is the size and weight of the document. No one wants to carry large binders around, especially when they have the perception, that they don’t need them today.

Some organizations have resorted to printing and carrying Quick Action Guides that detail initial responses and details of where to locate copies of plans. Others have resorted to paperless electronic versions and have done away with printed copies altogether. Some have resorted to using Business Continuity Software and only store plans within the software.

These solutions are fine but depending on how the documents are stored present other issues.

First and foremost, do not let your technological solution to business continuity become your biggest single point of failure. I have witnessed several clients store their documentation within their business continuity software solution only to be unable to access the documentation later when it’s needed most.

At the very least store the electronic documents in other locations. Create a repository on a shared drive or better yet, use geographically separate locations to store the electronic versions of your plans.

Keep additional copies in your physical Emergency Operations Center (EOC) if you have one. If you have a Virtual EOC (VEOC) make certain the documents are accessible there as well.

Utilize other methods as well such as push notifications, forced saving to a laptop or desktop, etc.

Of course, refer to your organization’s security and other related policies that relate to this.

Awareness and Training Programs

It’s essential to create effective Awareness and Training programs around your overall Business Continuity Program. The awareness and training should start early on by incorporating kick-off meetings that explain at a high level what will be taking place.

This helps to build awareness early on. At each key stage, some training should take place and it doesn’t need to be complex. It can be a simple overview of what will be occurring during the current or next phase.

As an example, as you get to the BIA phase you can have all or some of the participants attend a workshop explaining what you’ll be doing together. Show the participants the document you’ll be using which builds awareness and familiarity. Explain to them the information and data you’ll be looking for.

When it comes time to sit down with the members, you’ll be meeting to complete the BIA it will be easier to obtain the information you’re looking for. At the same time, you will be building on the previous awareness the participants have at each stage.

Establish and maintain training and awareness programs that result in personnel being able to respond to incidents in a calm and efficient manner

Once the plans are established, I find that it is helpful to put informational material together and send it out in the organization’s preferred method. Such as a monthly newsletter, a weekly chat message, a bulletin board, etc.

Some of the messaging could be:

  • Through contests where the first to answer correctly might win a prize
  • Messages about current disasters, and disruptions occurring in the world or to the organization
  • General details about current plan statuses’
  • Nonspecific (or very specific) details about what to do
  • Asking teams to run through a small scenario for 3 – 5 minutes – What would you do if/when?

 

Business Continuity Plan Exercise, Assessment, and Maintenance

Shortly after creating your business continuity plan, a tabletop exercise should be held. As I mentioned earlier in this article this stage is about learning and building additional awareness. You’ll be looking for gaps, additional interdependencies, and weaknesses within the plan.

Overall and over time throughout the remainder of the business continuity program I like to use the Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ methodology I implemented for conducting exercises, assessments, and ongoing maintenance of the plans.

For a deeper dive into the Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ exercise methodology please visit that specific post on the topic.

Establish an exercise, assessment, and maintenance program to maintain a state of readiness

The establishment of a program to exercise, assess, and maintain the plans should be built into the overall business continuity program itself and should be called out and detailed in the business continuity program charter.

Ideally, you should be holding annual exercises at a minimum. Each of these exercises should be progressing through the Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ stage of the exercise methodology. Some plans and teams might need to conduct several stages of practice and implementation of the plans, but the goal should be to achieve a point where teams and plans can be challenged to achieve future success and enhance current strategies.

After each exercise, an assessment should be done (post-incident assessment or after-action review) and clear objectives, outcomes, and lessons learned should be documented.

The plan should then be updated according to the outcomes to make the existing current plans better. The new version should be documented, dated, and signed off on by plan owners and reviewers.

Additionally, a formal process should be documented as to who owns the plans and that person should be responsible for yearly reviews and plan maintenance.  

Ideally, plans should be maintained and updated as changes occur to personnel, processes, technology, and vendors. If done as it happens, they are much easier to maintain over time and less likely to become stale and outdated.

Crisis Communications

Making crisis communications part of your business continuity plan and the program is another essential element to a successful program.

It is much easier to communicate during a crisis rapidly and effectively if you establish crisis communications frameworks and templates ahead of time. Rather than potentially omitting key information or providing incorrect information and making a mistake.

Provide a framework for developing a crisis communications plan

Start with building a framework and team around crisis communication. Select who will be on that team and appoint key spokespeople to make statements internally and externally.

You may need to separate and provide guidelines around internal and external crisis communications as well. Ideally, internal communications will come from key people depending on the situation.

Externally there will be times you want the CEO to make statements and there will be times you do not want the CEO to make a statement. Some businesses may choose to have the CEO always be the public spokesperson, and some may elect to never have the CEO do this. In any case, the spokesperson should have some training.

You will want to establish general information to communicate to employees as to what they should say or how to respond if approached by the media, or anyone else. You also want to send out reminders to employees as needed.

Create templates to communicate to internal and external recipients so that the communication is effective, addresses the key information about an event as needed.

Ensure that each message ends with a date and time the next expected communication is to take place. And, if multiple people are making statements, they remain consistent in the messaging. Ideally, it is best to select one spokesperson and an alternate.

Ensure that the crisis communications plan will provide for timely, effective communication with internal and external parties

In addition to the information above make certain that additional updates will be made in a timely manner. In major, rapidly changing events it is normal to provide an hourly update. However, information and situations can evolve rapidly. Sometimes it is best to let the media or others wait on an update (but not for too long) to know that an update will be delayed by ten or fifteen minutes. Optionally, early on it is best to state the next update will be provided in 3 hours or more. Make the cadence of the updates part of your framework.

One important additional item for internal communications. You will experience update requests from managers, frontline workers, stakeholders, customers, etc. as to when you can expect a specific process, technology, application, product, or service will become available again.

I will leave you with these three key points regarding this:

  1. You will not want to repeatedly interrupt the people implementing recovery strategies to ask them when it will become available. Work this into your plans and how this is reported and managed.
  2. Develop a system to provide notification to pertinent individuals when these things become available again.
  3. Always end each official update with a time or date and time as to the next update. Make no other updates until that time.

 

Coordination with External Agencies

Finally, once you have everything else in place, your plans, your incident management team, your crisis communications, and you have practiced a few times you will want to include external agencies when you can in your exercises.

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your incident response team is ready to speak to and coordinate with external agencies as well.

Establish policies and procedures to coordinate incident response activities with public entities

Ideally, you can create and incorporate policies and procedures on how to coordinate the incident response with external agencies.

Include policies and procedures on communicating with Fire officials on the scene. You may even want to ask them what their needs will be ahead of time and make certain that information is available on their arrival.

Do police, Paramedics, EMTs, and other first responders know their way around your campus? If not, who will meet them and escort them where they need to go?

How will you coordinate if utility companies need to respond?

Do you know other key agency details and contact information such as hazardous material response teams? Local Office of Emergency Management? Your local Emergency Operations Centers?

So What is Business Continuity Anyway?

Now I hope you learned that business continuity is preparedness for business and you now have the method in which to implement it in your business. 

Learn Practice Implement Challenge

 

Here at the Erwood Group, we’ve created a new exercise methodology. A new paradigm for the way a business exercises, trains, and prepares for a crisis. It is called Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ – The new exercise methodology to Increase Your business endurance. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “crawl, walk, run” before, right?

Now, go ahead and tell me what you mean by that exactly, and I bet you’ll have some trouble.

“Crawl, walk, run”is a phrase I commonly hear especially around exercises. It’s a phrase that I hate. It’s just too vague, overly simplified, and completely nondescriptive, leaving out key details about just how we are supposed to progress through to something bigger and better. Can you tell me what you’re supposed to be trying to achieve?

Of course, you can’t.

That’s why many years ago I came up with the phrase Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ which provides not only the descriptive details but the overarching goal of what we’re trying to accomplish with each stage of our exercise progression.

First and foremost, we have our Learning stage:

Learn

Sounds simple enough. At this stage, we teach our new plan owners and participants what they should be doing. Learning. It is designed to get everyone in the same place. As a team. They learn they have a plan, what is in the plan, where to find the plan, how to update and maintain the plan (and who is responsible for that maintenance), and we go through the plan, especially the strategy section and steps based on the strategies.

At this point we walk the participants through each strategy, asking questions about the strategy validity, any potential for this not to work, dependencies required for the strategy to work, and any additional strategies or sub-strategies we can add.

Next, we walk through each step required to implement the strategies. Making sure details needed are captured and not left too vague makes the information impractical at best and unimplementable during a crisis at worst. For instance, if a recovery strategy calls out the reliance on a secondary vendor that vendor should be called out by name. And then tertiary vendors and so on. Think in terms of, if someone else other than my main team members had to implement this plan, what information would they need? 

At the end of this exercise, we still conduct an after-action review and collect all the appropriate data such as lessons learned, what went well, what worked, what didn’t and how can we improve. We’ll also ask if they would like to add any additional input and what kinds of other disruptive events have, they experienced in the past. All of this is done to create familiarity and training for future exercises as well. The entire process is about having the participants learn new skills and improving their current existing plans. 

Once these learning stage exercises are conducted and the plans updated to reflect the exercise outcomes and additional strategies the work begins to set up the next round of future exercises for the practice stage.

Practice

Usually taking place about a year after the learning stage, the practice phase starts to get a little bit more intense. Still, in a tabletop setting in most cases, the participants are expected to know how to access their business continuity plans, how to access information within the plan, and how to walk through the steps to invoke the plan successfully. This is usually done and presented as part of a scenario impacting the business and forcing the plans to be activated.

At this practice stage, the idea isn’t to do anything too hard but to present the exercise, have the team attempt to achieve a predetermined set of goals, and even guide them into the next steps through a series of questions or injects. They may do so exceedingly well or may fail and learn a series of lessons. The idea though is to allow them to practice their plan in a controlled environment where they can feel safe and make mistakes. But not to push them to the brink where it becomes a stressful overwhelming event where they learn nothing and feel defeated.

In some cases, it may be necessary to hold several practice sessions with the team before moving on to the next stage of maturity in the exercise progression. Perhaps twice a year or more. More on this later in another post. 

The point is some teams will need to practice a few times before their comfort and confidence levels allow them to move onto the implementation stage. As with the learning stage, we hold an after-action review session immediately following each exercise.

Implement

Next, will be to implement the plans during an exercise. Here we start with what is the overall purpose of the exercise, as in, what are we exercising? Are we testing the ability to send notifications? Implement strategies? Can the steps be followed that are needed to initiate and complete the strategy? Can vendors be notified and coordinated with? Can customers be notified and coordinated with as expected? Can key personnel go to and work from an alternate location or remotely?

For all these implementations and more, are they successful? Did they fail? If so, why? Can the cause of the failure be easily determined? What worked well? What didn’t? Where is there room for improvement? How were internal communications? Were there errors? What were they? Did we use alternate applications to access information? How did that go? Are we tracking things manually? Did it work effectively? Where are there stumbling blocks and bottlenecks?

So, to summarize this section, Implementation exercises are exactly that, implementation of parts of the plan such as a select strategy, communications internally or externally, notifications to team members or other teams, or the implementation of the whole or parts of the plan that would be needed to fit the scenario.

Once teams have had the opportunity to implement their plans, we will start to Challenge them.

Challenge

The challenge phase is exactly what it sounds like, we create a scenario or series of scenarios that begin to challenge the plan owners and participants. This is done to expand the teams’ capabilities, build massive confidence, and the capability to learn and improvise based on what they know and the strategies available to them within the plan.

This challenge phase is never done with the idea of forcing the team to the brink and forcing failure, but to provide a safe learning environment to expand their capabilities. In other words, don’t make it so impossible that they do fail, but challenging enough that it forces them to think, act, and improve upon what is there so they can be ready for real incidents should they arise. Put another way, the challenge level exercises should elevate the team involved and make them better for participating in the exercise.

I’ve seen some exercise designers and facilitators develop exercises where they knock-off (kill) many or all key personnel, make it impossible to contact vendors, and inject failure at every turn. Not that some of these things can’t happen. They do. But the idea is to provide a positive learning experience for the people involved.

If they aren’t learning at every stage or phase along the way and are just placed in a stressful situation where failure is the only or main outcome, they will walk away unhappy, discouraged, with less confidence, and less likely to look forward to or participate in another exercise.

In fact, if this has been the case, you may need to reinitiate the exercises at the learn or practice phase level again just to build up your team. 

So, get out there, and Learn, Practice, Implement, and Challenge your business continuity, disaster recovery, and crisis management teams.

As part of our challenge phase as businesses mature in the exercise phase to improve their preparedness, we offer world-class training and exercise to take their endurance to the next level. We have partnered with an academy award-winning special effects team to create real-world events and scenarios in a safe and controlled environment.

 

Keith Erwood is the COO, Co-Founder, and Principal Managing Consultant of the Erwood Group. The Erwood Group focuses on business preparedness, business continuity, disaster recovery, and crisis management. We create enduring businesses that Prepare, Prevent, Profit through planning, mitigation and exercising. #Endurance>Resilience

Are You Up to the Challenge?

 

Introducing the View 360 Report

The View 360 Report is our weekly subscriber-only Business Intelligence Report. Designed to provide the reader with Situational awareness of emerging threats that could impact their business and personal lives. Unlike other reports that just bring you the potential threats and risks, we provide direct actionable measures to mitigate the impact to your business and life.

View 360 is also designed to supplement our yearly Emerging Threat Report (sold separately) published in January of each year.

The contents of each View 360 Report are sent out to subscribers each week in an easy-to-read PDF text-based format. It includes a Situation Awareness Points Overview where we highlight each threat in bullet point form, below that we go through each bullet point highlighting the details of the threat including our opinion on the topic and what to expect, along with an occasional deeper insight providing additional comments, then finally actionable measures where we provide details on mitigations that can be implemented. Then we provide a Cyber Event update on cyber events that have occurred since the last View 360 Report. Next, we bring you information surrounding planned protests around the United States detailing the cause, the place and time the event is happening and the latest intelligence on how many are planning to attend or how many are interested in the protest. Finally, we bring you our weather outlook for the week.

We have also started a private Facebook-based group for subscribers only where we can provide additional updates on key events daily as well as host discussions.

Currently, subscribers can try the View 360 Report for free for 14 days and then will be charged $49 per month thereafter. You can subscribe directly to the View 360 Report here. Cancel at any time.

Grab a free sample copy of a previous View 360 report and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any emerging threats in the future.  

 

 

Yesterday, I shared some Golden Nuggets on the benefits of exercising your Crisis Teams and why we exercise. Today, I am going a little deeper on another major hidden and often overlooked benefit that exercises create.

Confidence.

Whether this is for Crisis Teams, Incident Management teams (or whatever you like to call your team), Business Continuity Teams, and especially Information Technology Disaster Recovery (ITDR) teams. Frequent, repeated exercises build confidence.

Confidence among the team(s) themselves, confidence in managers and executives of the business, and confidence from your customers and business partners. The most important place to build this confidence is among the teams that are doing the recovery work.  

As you might expect, a lack of conducting exercises among your teams has the opposite effect. It can cause your team to break down and literally destroys their confidence, which also negatively impacts recovery times and overall recovery.

Let me provide some deeper insight by using an example from some previous work I did.

Several years ago, I was consulting for a major airline assisting some of the IT teams to develop Disaster Recovery Plans, getting them to move beyond tabletop walkthroughs and doing “functional” exercises, as well as documenting the exercise to get credit during an audit.

It is important for me to state here that this was a project based on an internal audit outcome. I was working with the bottom performers on remediation based on that audit. These were groups that either:

  • Had zero plans in place
  • Never conducted an ITDR exercise beyond a tabletop walkthrough
  • Conducted a functional exercise but didn’t document it properly and received no credit for doing the exercise

I want to talk about a particular group within that project that I worked with and why they never conducted anything more than a tabletop walkthrough, and why they lacked confidence and were afraid to even think of doing anything functional.

During my first meeting with this group, I specifically asked the simple question:

Why haven’t you done a functional failover exercise in the past?

The reply may come as a surprise to many of you but didn’t surprise me at all. The response they provided to me was that they weren’t allowed to do anything beyond a tabletop walkthrough.

My follow-up question to them was, who said that they were not allowed to conduct a functional exercise?

The Response: “The Business” (specifically operations).

After some discussion, I learned that the “business side” in the operations leadership felt that the systems and application were too critical to do a functional failover exercise while the application was running in production.

However, the systems and application weren’t deemed or signed off as an application that was too critical to for such an exercise. Yet, every time the team submitted a request to conduct a functional failover exercise operations would reject it and say it was too critical.

Normally, with a set of systems and or applications that the business deems too critical to complete these failover exercises they elevate them as such, and the business signs off on it as well as accepting the risk of not having these exercises done.

Not really the best decision as there are ways to do these exercises even while in production. But that is not the purpose of this story.

You see, this team not only lost confidence but felt a distrust in their capabilities from business leadership. So much so. that after working with them in both the development of a runbook and tabletop walkthrough that when I proposed having them submit permission to conduct a functional failover exercise, I was told, “there’s no point, they’ll never sign off on it.”

I told them, let me worry about that, you just pick a date and submit the request.

Behind the scenes, I was working with my engagement manager to either get the business to approve the request, or bump the criticality up to properly accept the risk, and sign off on it.

We got the approval.

Over the next 30 days, I worked with that team on their runbook to ensure that every step was in there and that they knew how to properly document and track the failover exercise, including backout procedures.

When the day of the exercise came, they performed wonderfully and did everything right.

They hit a glitch late into the exercise and couldn’t do a 100% successful failover. But did achieve the following:

  • They learned a lot. They ran into several issues during the exercise and were able to overcome them and move forward
  • They properly documented what they were doing. Conducting log capture, taking screenshots of before and after states, taking notes as they moved through the process for later use
  • Completed an after-action and discussed lessons learned, things that went wrong, and things that went well

All of this, even though the outcome wasn’t a successful failover during the exercise. They learned immensely during the exercise. They learned they could depend on one another to complete their assigned tasks. And the business learned they could trust the team to do the failover exercise, without disrupting the production environment.

The most important part. They were happy as a team and gained massive confidence in their own capabilities. This allowed them to continue to conduct exercises, gain further confidence and learn new skills.

In the end, a successful exercise isn’t always about a successful failover or other such success. In fact, you can learn a great deal when you fail. And when you learn and build the lessons into your plans, that is when the real success comes.

That, and the confidence you gain will boost you and your team during the next exercise or incident.

So. Get out there. Exercise and build confidence in yourself and your team.

 

The reasons why we exercise are often varied yet sometimes misunderstood by many. Below I will share some of the many reasons why we exercise and perhaps you’ll gain some insights into Why We Exercise.

Let me let you in on a little secret – A Golden Nugget – even the professionals make mistakes.

This is at all levels, in all industries, it even holds true in sports.

But what I am talking about specifically here are first responders and emergency managers. We all make mistakes.

Why am I telling you this? Perspective!

First Responders and Emergency Managers consistently drill, practice, and run exercises regularly. Yet they still make mistakes. They also have great outcomes, but they do make mistakes.

After each exercise, drill, or real incident they hold a debriefing. This is done whether it was a tabletop or a large-scale multi-agency functional exercise or a real incident.

The debriefing covers:

  • What went well
  • What went wrong
  • How can we do better
  • This worked great and we should implement it more
  • What did we learn – Lessons Learned
  • What are your takeaways
  • Let’s revisit and have a conversation on what we need to improve on

The reason why they exercise so often is because  make mistakes. It’s also part of training and educating. Taking corrective action and using criticism and critique in a positive way. The repetition of doing assists both actual memory and muscle memory. Some actions also become habit. These habits can be both good and bad. It’s also an excellent way of highlighting bad habits so they are corrected.

When it comes to businesses, crisis teams don’t exercise nearly enough. Many will do this once, maybe twice per year. And if they do, that’s a lot.

But more than just frequency alone crisis teams in the business world need to also take a different approach and outlook. Every exercise should be looked at as an opportunity to learn, expand skillsets, stepping beyond comfort zones, and training for the future.

Additionally, every exercise does not need to be disruptive. It can be as simple as getting in a room, conference call, or zoom/teams/insert your other favorite video conference provider and having a discussion that asks:

  • What do we do when (insert event or impact)
  • How will we handle (insert event or impact)
  • Are we prepared for (insert event or impact)
  • Have we considered (insert event or impact)

In fact, this can be done far beyond crisis teams. Each of your departments and teams that hold regular team meetings or get-togethers can take 3, 5, 10, or even 15 minutes to discuss topics depending on what is on the regular agenda. This can be done every meeting, every-other meeting, or even quarterly.

You’ll see changes to your planning and preparedness levels. You might even see changes to your long-term culture. Trust me that’s a good thing.

This is why we exercise.

 

Over the past few years, business leaders have been reminded repeatedly of the unpredictability of doing business in an uncertain future. This has certainly been the case for the past two years as business owners faced devastation from both humanitarian and natural disasters.   

As the world gets riskier, being prepared for disruptions and disasters impacting your business is extremely important. Why? In addition to preventing severe financial losses, it can prevent companies from “closing their doors”.   

To celebrate April’s Financial Literacy Month, I will share examples of what happens when you do not have a plan and outline strategic steps on how to build a resilient organization during the next crisis.  

NOT PLANNING FOR THE UNEXPECTED 

Even seemingly small events can have major impacts on a business. Consider the following events causing major impacts to businesses:  

  • A car hit a fire hydrant in front of an antique bookstore causing damage to 1,500 antique books costing $300,000 in restoration and repairs. 
  • A bad database upgrade and upload resulted in the database transaction processing idled for seven days; resulting in the loss of two major clients.  
  • Even a trader was impacted by a power loss at his home.  Due to the outage, he was unable to execute a trade to exit a position and lost $70,000.00 in a single day.  

Tessco Technologies 

Let’s look at what happened with Tessco Technologies, a supplier of wireless communications products for network infrastructure, site support, and fixed and mobile broadband located in Baltimore, Maryland.  The business was not in a flood, fire, or earthquake zone.  In this case, the culprit was a faulty fire hydrant, which caused several hundred thousand gallons of water to be blasted through a concrete wall leaving the company’s primary data center under several feet of water.  It also left 1400 hard drives, and 400 SAN disks soaking wet and caked with mud and debris. 

PREPARE, PREVENT, PROFIT

Businesses don’t need to be located in a disaster zone to be impacted by a disaster.  The key to protecting your business is to prepare with a plan that is well documented and has strategies you can rapidly put into place.  

Below are five reasons why business leaders should prepare: 

  • Quickly respond and adjust to a disaster or disruption with strategies that allow you to shift and pivot your business for a more expedient recovery 
  • Reduce or even eliminate financial losses by implementing strategies that reduce the impacts 
  • Obtain better insurance rates and coverage for instant Return on Investment (RIO) 
  • Meet government, regulatory, and customer requirements calling for contingencies 
  • Maintain business reputation and share price 

A well-documented plan can help you quickly respond, adjust, and pivot to alternative strategies. As part of proper planning, it is important to know what the delayed and lost revenue to your business will be as well as the potential for increased expenses and other recovery-based costs that will impact your business.  

The first step is to calculate what your downtime costs would be. This is usually directly representative of lost revenue. It is important to note that even delayed revenue can have a significant impact on a business’ cash flow, whether daily, weekly, or monthly. Even if all your income is only delayed, having a reduction to cash flow can shut a business down quickly.  

By taking the time to do even basic downtime calculations you can begin to take steps to protect your revenue-generating processes. 

ASSESSING THE FINANCIAL IMPACTS OF BUSINESS DISRUPTIONS 

Many organizations skip the Financial Impact Analysis.  This is a mistake. Conducting a Financial Impact Analysis is critical to helping a business understand the actual financial impact a disaster or disruption can have on a business. With this process, businesses can select strategies to enable a recovery that makes sense financially and gives leaders peace of mind that no matter what uncertainties the future may bring, organizations will thrive and even profit for years to come.  Let’s take a look at the top five: 

  • Providing insight into Business processes and Applications that when impacted by disruption will cause the business to have lost or delayed revenues 

This first step will allow a business to determine estimated or in some cases exact dollar amounts in lost and delayed revenue from a disruption. Even a basic calculation of these lost revenues can quickly inform a business where they can and should focus their preparedness efforts. Notice this is preparedness, not recovery efforts. This is because a large part of getting this right is done during the preparedness phase pre-disaster.  

  • Allows for proper cost-benefit-analysis of (to implement) right-sized recovery strategies 

This calculation then allows the business to focus its strategies on key critical core functions that are most likely to be impacted by revenue losses and cash flow issues. This deeper insight helps the business to focus resources, time, and money on these critical functions with better data backup, record retention, and manual recovery strategies rather than through resources in business areas randomly that may not need as much or any strategies.  

  • Potentially reduced insurance premiums along with increased insurance coverage 

Additionally, presenting your insurance company with a well-thought-out preparedness plan in many cases can reduce your insurance coverage premiums, provide you with increased coverage, or both. Just recently I helped a large Biotechnology company obtain an additional $500M in coverage for a total of $2B in total Property and Casualty Insurance Coverage with zero additional increase to their premiums.  

  • Better insight for the selection of Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs), Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs), and Maximum Allowable Downtime (MAD) 

Another key benefit is rather than selecting arbitrary Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) for your business processes or Information Technology Disaster Recovery (ITDR), you can tie these to your financial impacts and set clear goals that are meaningful to your business.  

This would allow you to implement a preparedness or IT recovery strategy that enables you to recover in the time you need and more importantly, save money. 

  • Greater ability to measure effective Return on Investment (ROI) of Business Preparedness Measures 

When you take the time to do even basic financial impact calculations, it also becomes much easier to measure and obtain better ROI. Yet, many do not take the time to do these calculations because they believe it is too difficult, they don’t know where to start, or even how to apply the outcome of these calculations.  

MAKE YOUR BUSINESS MORE RESILIENT  

At the Erwood Group, our business is helping your business stay up and running after and ideally during a crisis or disruption. Whether you need help with business continuity planning, crisis, and incident management, or need better disaster recovery options, we’ve got programs and services to make your business more resilient so that you can prepare, prevent and profit even in a disaster.  

To celebrate April’s Financial Literacy Awareness month, I am offering a free consultation to help your business survive the next disaster and provide critical strategic steps to prepare, prevent and profit in an uncertain and unpredictable future.   

Contact Keith Erwood, Business Preparedness Expert, ERWOOD GROUP.