In today’s atmosphere of continuous turbulence, in which stability has become a distant memory, the discipline of business continuity management (BCM) is more relevant and strategically important than ever. However, the application of BCM remains a daunting prospect. Before we focus on its application, however, let’s have a quick look at the concept itself.
Gone are the days of organising businesses around stability and predictability through traditional command-and-control structures. The search for a tranquil business environment has been replaced by the constant need to navigate choppy waters.
Handling the unexpected
Unpredictable business environments and severe disruptions to longstanding models, markets, and systems are rife these days. To further complicate matters, change seems to be coming at us from all angles. Take the rapid succession of technological innovations, for instance, not to mention the broader drive towards digitalisation. In addition to technical failures, there’s the dangers of human error or malice such as sabotage, cybercrime, and terrorism. And let’s not forget climate change and the resultant natural disasters such as floods, fires, hurricanes, and even earthquakes. Then there’s pandemics, geopolitical tension, wars – the list goes on, seemingly forever. Any one of these examples could impact every aspect of society, potentially on a global scale.
The ability to effectively manage your business through severe and unexpected disruption is a key competency for today’s managers. This is reflected in the discipline of business continuity management, which is about anticipating disruption so that you can prevent the destabilisation of your core business, even in extreme circumstances. BCM allows you to maintain an acceptable level of reliability in the most turbulent and demanding environments.
Initially perceived as a trendy concept, BCM has evolved from best practice to standardised protocol, finding its way into legislation and industry regulations, to the extent that it is now crucial to any long-term business strategy.
Although the concept itself has matured, its actual application has become more diverse. An early application of business continuity principles was seen in safety management. Whenever the interruption of an activity or process might create a safety risk, measures were implemented to protect human life and ensure business continuity.
Today most high-risk industries (nuclear, chemicals, aviation, railways) have a long track record of applying BCM measures, in line with legislation. In many cases, that legislation was only passed in the wake of tragedy, when there is little debate about the benefits of safety controls.
Going beyond safety
Business continuity management has evolved since those early days, and it no longer focuses on safety alone. Instead, it’s concerned with threats that could put the very survival of the business at risk. While that makes for a more flexible discipline, it also creates a much larger risk map, with many more threats to explore.
That’s why business continuity management demands a holistic approach that looks at technology, suppliers, organisational structures, market evolutions, the business environment, and, last but not least, the human factor. This can be a daunting approach to adopt, but the exercise of identifying and controlling vulnerabilities or threats often reveals new opportunities. And isn’t balancing threats and opportunities what business is all about?
Read my next post to find out how to strike the right balance. I’ll also look at how to successfully install a business continuity management system.